THE SPOUSAL VISA CAMPAIGN - JUSTICE FOR FAMILY LIFE!
Community leaders in different constituencies in London, Birmingham, Swansea and Cardiff are calling upon their MPs to support their call to peg the minimum income threshold in order to sponsor the settlement of a spouse or partner in the UK to the national Living Wage.
The call from Citizens UK, national community organising charity representing over 350 civil society institutions, comes after the Government changed the rules in 2012 and raised the minimum income threshold to £18,600 per annum, placing the dream of a family life out of the reach of thousands of working people; 43% of British employees earn less than £18,600. The higher threshold was set in 2012, and increased dramatically, excluding a much larger number of people from bringing their spouses and children to join them in the UK.
The campaign to change the threshold level and peg it to the national Living Wage came out of thousands of face to face conversations with Citizens UK members from across the country who reported this as an issue affecting their communities. A report from the APPG on Migration in June 2013 reported that family visas issued dropped by 16% and in some instances children and babies have been separated from a parent both in the UK and abroad.
The Revd Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James’s Church Piccadilly and Citizens UK member institution said: “We want the Government to review what we believe is an unfair and unjust decision that severely limits people from being able to live with their family, something taken for granted by most of us.
“We’ve heard story after story of husbands and wives separated because of this rule. We are asking for a compromise and for the threshold to be linked to the Living Wage. An annual Living Wage salary works out at £15,350 per annum and is recognised as a wage that allows people to support themselves and their family without becoming a burden to the taxpayer.
“Families would still bear the cost of the visa application and family visa recipients have no access to public funds. This isn’t about an open-door immigration policy, but about recognising what a fair figure would be. The Living Wage is a robust calculation that reflects the real cost of living in the UK.”
The campaigners from Citizens UK differ from some other groups, as they are calling for the threshold to be linked to the Living Wage, rather than the National Minimum Wage, and argue that the Living Wage calculation reflects the real cost of living.
Dilowar Khan, the Director of East London Mosque said: “The East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre fully supports this life changing campaign by Citizens UK. Families shouldn’t be separated because of the minimum income threshold set by government.”
“Many of our communities are built on spouses coming from abroad to support their families and children. It is a sad state of affairs to see many testimonies of families being kept separated, because they are unable to meet the income threshold.”
“Tying the threshold to the Living Wage makes perfect sense – and government really needs to take this into account, as it is a realistic figure. Strong communities and families are the backbone of all civilised societies, and we need to ensure citizens are supported to keep their families together.”
According to the Government’s own estimates almost 18,000 British people are prevented from being reunited with their spouse or partner in the UK every year as a result of the updated rules.
Professor Eleonore Kofman, Co-Director of the Social Policy Research Centre and Professor of Gender, Migration and Citizenship, Middlesex University said: "The level of income required is far too high and applied much too inflexibly so that many who have been caught by it are forced to live apart from their partners and their children; even though the family is clearly able to support itself without increasing the use of public funds. In fact, the reverse is the case; keeping the family apart makes reliance on public support more likely."
Campaigners recognise that linking to the Living Wage will still exclude a large section of the population but hope that this would be a step in the right direction and open up debate around the issue.
Nigel John, Senior Chaplin of Swansea University said of the campaign, “Families are meant to live together not apart. I support this campaign”
Fellow Citizens UK member, Pastor Suzette Ashley, who is pastor of Taste of Glory Apostolic Ministry and also a health care assistant, explains: “My husband and I have been separated because my job as a health care assistant means I don’t earn enough to qualify for a spousal visa.
“I love my job, it is a real vocation, and you certainly don’t do it for the money. I work long hours and you are always being rushed from one job to the next, when all you really want to do is spend quality time with often lonely, vulnerable older people.
“I’m campaigning with Citizens UK because I believe that linking to the Living Wage is a much more sensible calculation. Even the Living Wage amount would be a struggle for me because of the sector I work in, but at least that figure makes sense to me.”
Citizens UK leaders across the country are sending Valentine cards to their local MPs this week and twenty delegations of Citizens UK members will be meeting their MPs armed with cards, flowers and chocolates to highlight the loneliness many separated couples are experiencing this Valentine’s weekend.
Pastor Ashley continues: “Everyone is talking about love and relationships this week which breaks my heart. The most important date I have this Valentine’s is with my MP to ask them to help us negotiate a change and give more people a chance at building a happy family.”