Considering that the left has decided to step back and watch the current government implode in a dust cloud of its own incompetence, it seems a bit shocking how perfectly orchestrated and brilliant the Coalition’s recent move on immigration is, despite the roughness of some of the actual proposals. No, I am not talking about Theresa May dictating how the courts should do their jobs; I am talking about the announcement to the changes to how people who live here, British people and permanent residents, bring their immediate families, namely their spouses.
For a country that supposedly is not allowed to talk about immigration, we sure do talk about immigration a lot. Unfortunately, the conversation is usually ill-informed. But what can you expect with the state of the British media? To whose benefit is it to have people understand the difference between someone coming in from outside the EEA and someone who comes from say, Spain? How can you demonise someone coming here from Japan to live with their British citizen spouse if you understand that that person is already subjected to income and housing requirements (income over and above what’s paid for housing) and has no recourse to public funds? It seems there isn’t even an understanding of the current Britishness or English language requirements. It’s into this environment of ignorance and resentment that the Coalition has unleashed this monster of a rule change.
Perhaps you won’t ever have to worry about sponsoring a spouse. Maybe you don’t envision your daughter or nephew falling in love on a trip abroad. But don’t mistake the rhetoric for the reality. When we talk about human rights and family immigration, we are talking about the rights of British people. The rights of the immigrant, unless they live here, is not really the concern of the UK. When you hail changes like this, you are cheering the lessening of your own rights to choose whom to marry and to live with them in the country you were born and raised.
The financial requirements are really secondary and may not stand up in court as they are above and beyond what exists anywhere else. But of course, that in itself is genius because the Coalition can then throw up its hands and say that it tried or perhaps get into a huge media battle with the courts whose job isn’t to support majority, populist opinion, but to ensure the law is being applied fairly. No, the real genius is the extension of probationary leave to five years, awarded in two lots of 2.5 years a piece.
What this means is that if Joe Bloggs from High Wycombe meets a girl from Canada in a chat room, flies over to meet her, falls in love, and eventually after a series of visits proposes, he can expect to go through the following if he chooses to marry her in his home country (assuming he meets the maintenance and accommodation requirements): they will need to apply for a fiance visa (£826), further leave to remain (£581 by post or £867 if applying in person), another further leave to remain (£581 or £867 if applying in person), indefinite leave (£991 by post or £1377 in person), and finally, citizenship, £836. But that’s not even the real cost. Almost without exception, twice a year these applications go up in price providing an ever increasing income stream that the Coalition and even the previous Labour government have never made any bones about showing was mostly profit as the costs to administer these applications didn’t come close to the costs the applicants and their families paid for them. And each time, Mr and Mrs Bloggs will have to prove income and savings. The only other option to live in the UK together would be to marry outside the country and effectively cut out one round of FLR.
Most young families, even middle class families are going to struggle with the ongoing costs and bureaucracy. I am not saying that permanent residence and citizenship are not valuable things. The costs for those applications I listed are already in place and similar costs were in place during the second half of the last Labour government. The Coalition’s proposals build in a redundancy and extend the probationary period to a lengthy five years. It’s like they relied on a far-right anti-immigration pressure group to help come up with the proposals and they sought out the most draconian examples of requirements, made them even nastier and proposed that this would be fair and proportionate guidelines. But they wouldn’t do that. We’re talking about the lives of British citizens here.
So where’s the brilliance? May and the Coalition know that this will force many new families to consider living abroad. That will improve net migration because the immigrant won’t come into the country. But it will also mean that the British spouse will leave. That’s another tick out of the country as an emigrant. You could take this further to add in any potential children (who would be British citizens), but let’s focus on the emigrant. May and the Coalition do not care how they improve their numbers. They can’t do anything about EEA migration so a French man living here can bring his fiancee or spouse in under EEA rules, no fees, no requirements. But Joe Bloggs might just have to move to somewhere in the EU or to Canada. He will have fewer rights in his own country, and that’s okay for May and the Coalition. If it improves net migration, they want you to leave.
But at the end of the day, this won’t be the talking point. What will be is the lie that this country had unmanaged migration from outside the EU before the Coalition. As will the lie that this is good for the rights and well being of my fellow British citizens.