I’ve been hearing rumours lately from multiple sources that the government is expected to lower the minimum income threshold required for a British citizen to sponsor their non-EEA spouse to join them in the United Kingdom. If you’re not already aware of the new requirements, introduced in July 2012, and the effects they are having on British citizens, please check out the Brit Cits blog here. The current income threshold stands at £18,600 and rises for couples with dependent children, which is a figure well above national minimum wage and means that in 2012, 47% of the British working population would not have been able to reside with their spouse in the U.K if that spouse was a national from a country outside the EEA. In other words, the government have prevented 47% of the British working population from marrying a ‘foreigner’ if they wish to stay in the U.K.
Rumour has it that the government are expected to lower this minimum income threshold next year to bring it in line with the national minimum wage. While it must be remembered that this is nothing but a mere rumour, if it proves to be true then it would relieve many British citizens of the forced separation they have been enduring and reunite them with their loved ones. This is obviously great news and I have challenged the immigration minister Mark Harper myself on the lunacy of setting a threshold above minimum wage. Yet simply aligning the threshold with the minimum wage is not enough.
After hearing story after story of how the Home Office callously deals with those who are trying to traverse the complex web-and-waiting game that is our immigration system, I have turned into somewhat of a cynic. So, if you’re anything like me, you’ll know that even if the government do decide to lower this minimum income threshold, they will find a plethora of other ways to refuse visa applications and separate families. Lowering the threshold would merely be their carrot-on-a-stick approach to subdue the opposition to their unjust immigration policies.
Maybe that is too cynical, but it must be remembered that David Cameron has pledged to reduce net migration to the tens-of-thousands by 2015. The government has set itself a target. If it doesn’t meet its own targets, nevermind how arbitrary and impossible they are to meet, it looks bad. Especially if these targets relate to the sensitive subject of immigration. At the end of the day, the government are pursuing an ideology. They’re not in the business of dealing with actual people on a case-by-case basis, they’re in the business of money, figures and statistics. If you’re a divided family, it’s not a business where you fit in comfortably. The BBC home affairs correspondent has explained it best here:
“…if the government is going to hit its target, it may need to find more tools to increase departures while maintaining pressure on arrivals.”
While it might not be stated officially, it is evident that those ‘tools to increase departures’ include encouraging British citizens themselves to leave the country while ‘maintaining pressure on arrivals’ involves creating a hostile environment, full of impossible hoops for immigrants to jump through.
Furthermore, lowering the minimum income threshold is just a gesture because it doesn’t help those who are currently living abroad with their spouse, not earning the required amount and wish to return to make a life in the U.K. It still means they have to return alone, find a job and work and wait for 6 months before they can apply for their spouse to join them. This process itself could take many months so couples in this situation may face up to a year apart. This is a massive, unacceptable disruption to people’s lives and the problem is further exacerbated if there are children involved. Who do they stay with? What if both parents are working in separate countries?
For British citizens like myself, who have no income because they are currently studying (or maybe they’re retired, have recently been made redundant, etc.) the same problem exists. I still have to wait until I graduate, then work for a further 6 months until I can apply for my husband to join me. That’s nearly a year of my marital life I am never getting back, because the British government do not accept third-party support. They dismiss substantial amounts of savings and income attained through self-employment. They do not even consider the incoming non-EEA citizen’s current or potential earnings, nor their financial situation. They charge extortionate application fees and then make people play a lengthy waiting game, all to deter British citizens from even trying.
If they do lower the minimum income threshold, I will congratulate every single person who is now free to apply without worrying about their finances; but I won’t be celebrating. I won’t celebrate until the British government practice what they preach and support strong, stable relationships regardless of nationality and treat people as people and not just a statistic they can manipulate in order to meet their targets.