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Spouse visa crackdown will segregate EU-UK families

Hal Fish / Jun 2019

Photo: Shutterstock

 

The act of obtaining a Spouse Visa in the UK is a notoriously hard thing to do. Indeed, of all categories, this visa has one of the highest refusal rates. Newlyweds and long-term couples hoping to either relocate to – or start new families in – the UK are faced with overwhelmingly stringent requirements and costs. The Spouse Visa minimum income requirement of £18,600 – which rises by £3,800 for one child and a further £2,400 per child after – is a massive hurdle for younger couples and low-income families to overcome. The actual visa cost of £1,523 per person means even middle-class families may find the application a financially draining process. And that figure does not even include the fees to take and pass the compulsory English language test, register all biometric information, pay for lawyers, and the recently doubled immigration health surcharge (IHS).

On top of all this, couples must also convince the Home Office that their relationship is ‘genuine’. This meticulous process allows for overzealous and even embarrassing levels of scrutiny from the Home Office, who have been known to count applicants’ toothbrushes during investigation. In 2018, a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian found that 2,868 registrations of marriages had been flagged as a potential sham which is a 40% increase from those flagged in 2014. More increasingly, Spouse Visa applications from legitimate couples are being denied.

It is, of course, understandable that the Government wants to crack down on sham marriages. However, there is a peculiar imbalance: innocent couples have been known to had their UK Spouse Visa application refused for submitting “suspiciously” high volumes of evidence, as well as too little, and yet forced marriages for the sake of visas continue to rumble on. As it is, the existing Spouse Visa requirements seem to mostly result in loving couples being wrenched apart while illegitimate marriages keep sneaking through the cracks. Something’s clearly wrong.

The sad consequence of it all has caused families to be split apart, left living in different countries. Communication from parent to child, brother to sister, etc, suddenly relies on scheduled phone/video calls where different time-zones may also prove to be a hindrance. Family members are left at the mercy of their internet connection in hopes of communicating during birthdays, at Christmas, weddings, anniversaries, and so on. It’s not unlikely that parents will have to miss out on their children’s first key moments of life.

According to the Children’s Commissioner report, Skype Families, there are 15,000 children living without a parent in the UK due to family visa restrictions. It is nothing short of backwards that financial restrictions, or the subjective suspicion that a relationship may be not be ‘genuine’, justifies the Government segregating children from their parents. Surely, in these situations, having children and a loving home is more than enough proof of having a legitimate relationship.

Worryingly, after Brexit it looks like the infamous spouse visa process will continue to be used and applied to multinational families. When the skills-based immigration plan has taken full effect in 2021, multinational UK-EU families will have to satisfy the requirements of the Government’s costly and administrative visa process and survive the Home Office’s overzealous, toothbrush-checking, interrogations. As a result, it is expected that “skype families” across the continent will become more and more common in the coming years. To make things worse, this March, a statement from immigration changes declared that Married Partner Visas were being clamped down even further.  

Undeniably, ending free movement will handicap multinational families across Europe and in Britain. Such a change in the law will exist as a detriment to marriage, family, parenthood, and love. Genuine relationships, even the most honest and determined, will be thrown into question and have their devotion put to the test. And then, even after success at the initial stage, long-term security is not guaranteed: couples are required to endure the same process once again if they seek a Spouse Visa extension to stay after two and a half years.

Brexit might seem like it’s just one big negotiation between the UK-EU trading relationship and a tightening of borders, but it runs a lot deeper than that. Boundaries are being setup to divide families, cut off romances, and distance meaningful relationships. While serious background checks are logical and necessary, there must be better ways of handling the situation. It is all too common that these financially overpriced, and emotionally taxing, applications fall into the hands of a subjective caseworker who routinely forgets they are handling real people whose livelihoods and family life are desperately reliant on a positive verdict. This vision of Post-Brexit Britain hardly seems like a place of love, compassion and tolerance – quite frankly it looks intent on becoming devoid of these qualities.

 

Hal Fish

Hal Fish

June 2019

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