Immigration restrictions still affecting mission workers

Can they ever live together in Britain?

Can they ever live together in Britain?

This time last year Syzygy alerted you to the impact of new immigration laws which have a potential impact on UK overseas mission workers who want to return to the UK bringing foreign national family members with them (click here for a reminder).  In a nutshell, unless you can prove that you are earning at least £18,600, you will not be able to bring into the country with you a spouse who is not a citizen of a country in the European Economic Area (EEA – the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).  The minimum income requirement rises where children are immigration too.

This attempt to restrict immigration has inadvertently affected many mission workers already.  Syzygy is personally connected to four couples who cannot permanently live in the UK because of these regulations, and we have heard of many others.  Working together with Global Connections and several other mission agencies, Syzygy lodged an official representation with the parliamentary committee reviewing the impact of the new rules.

Our principal argument was that people working overseas for the benefit of others were accidentally caught up in these regulations and should be given an exemption, for which a precedent already exists in the special arrangements for accessing NHS services and paying discounted rates of National Insurance which are available to mission workers and voluntary development workers respectively.  We also pointed out that the government was liable to face legal challenges from UK citizens who felt they had been denied a right to family life.

Last month the committee’s report was published.  The committee said that they had heard evidence of British nationals effectively being denied access to settle in their home country, and of children being separated from non EEA-national parents.

The committee did not challenge the principle of the new regulations, or make any mention of our suggestion of an exemption.  Their only recommendation was that the government should establish an independent enquiry into the minimum income requirement, particularly in view of the fact that no allowance is made for the savings or unearned income of the immigrating British partner, the potential earnings of the non-EEA partner, or the willingness of other family members and agencies like churches to provide support for them.

Baroness Hamwee, chair of the committee, wrote

‘We urge Government to consider the emerging evidence about what must be the unintended consequences of these rules, and hope they will agree the need fully to review whether, one year on from their introduction, these rules have struck the right balance between different interests.’

We can only hope that the minimum income requirement will be lowered, or at least reduced to a more realistic level, but this would not be commensurate with the government’s aim of radically reducing immigration.  Syzygy does not expect a change which will help those missionary families affected by these regulations during the life of this parliament.  The fact that fewer than 300 submissions were made indicates that this issue is of minority interest which does not attract much attention despite its critical significance for the lives of those families affected.  When MPs had an opportunity to debate the report last month, only 30 attended.

One creative way around this problem is to immigrate not to Britain but another EU country, in which case EU rules on free movement of labour trump British immigration law.  However, in order to make this work, the applicant and partner will have to:

  • demonstrate that the British citizen genuinely live in the country
  • prove their address and length of residence in that country
  • prove their integration into the country (e.g. learning the language, having children born there)
  • show that they were either employed or self-employed in the country

The only practical solutions that we can propose under the current circumstances are:

  • Ensure you have a job offer worth in excess of £18,600 before attempting to bring your non-EEA partner into the country
  • Immigrate into another EU country first, work there for three months and then immigrate under EU regulations governing the free movement of labour, which will circumvent the UK restrictions.  Find out more here.
  • Pray

You can download a full copy of the report here.

Crackdown on inter-cultural marriages?

Can they ever live together in Britain?

Readers are probably aware that immigration has been a hot potato in British politics since the Romans arrived uninvited on our shores some 2000 years ago.  Since Enoch Powell made his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968 it has been a touchstone topic for both major parties.  Relax controls on immigration and you risk being accused of endangering the ‘British’ way of life and sacrificing ‘British’ employment opportunities, be too strict and you risk being accused of racism.

Any conservative government walks a tightrope between appeasing its right wing back benchers and being accused by the left of being racist.  In June Ed Milliband made a bit to capture some of the centre ground from the conservatives by admitting that Labour had been wrong to be quite so soft on immigration from eastern Europe when it was in power a decade ago.  But he’s trying to catch up with a government that’s already made moves to crack down further on immigration, moves which will inadvertently prejudice Christian workers abroad.

Under proposals announced by the government last month there will be a tougher test for new immigrants to prove they can speak English and understand British culture and history, but the most troubling change for those overseas mission workers who have non-British partners is that those partners will have severe restrictions placed on their ability to immigrate.  There will be rigorous investigations to determine whether their marriage is genuine, and the test will not merely be the number of years that a couple have been together.  Additionally, the British partner must earn a minimum of £18,600 pa, or £22,400 for a couple with one child, with a further £2,400 for each additional child.  So a family with four children will need to prove the authenticity of their marriage (!) and earn at least £29,200 before they can settle in Britain.

Families who do successfully immigrate will not be able to access the welfare system for at least two years, giving them further financial challenges.  If they want to bring an elderly parent with them, that parent will be banned from accessing social security benefits for at least five years and the family will need to demonstrate that they can pay for any care and medical treatment the parent might need.  These new rules will be in place from today (9th July).  The do not apply to families seeking to immigrate to Britain from within the European Economic Area (the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

The government’s intention is to reduce net migration to Britain, and at the same time to prevent immigrants claiming Britain’s generous social benefit payments.  This will be seen as a positive move in many quarters, but many British volunteer workers who marry nationals of the country they work in will not be able to pass the financial restrictions, so will be condemned to a life abroad.  Home Secretary Theresa May commented, “British citizens can enter into a relationship with whomever they choose but if they want to establish their family life here, they must do so in a way which works in the best interests of our society.”

One creative way around this problem is to immigrate not to Britain but another EU country, work there for three months and then come to the UK under EU migration rules – click here for an article on it.

The warning to British overseas workers is clear: be careful whom you marry, as you might not be able to bring your family back home with you.

For full details read the Home Office press release or visit the website of UK Visas & Immigration.