I’m glad to see that the SNP is highlighting an issue which is personally close to me, the UK’s restrictive and harsh immigration rules for spouses and family members. The SNP’s immigration spokesperson Stuart McDonald MP has released a statement criticising the UK’s policy for leaving many families in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK facing a bleak 2018. And after Brexit it’s only likely to get worse.
As regular readers of this blog may know, I’m planning to get married to my American partner and we would like to live our lives together as a couple here in Scotland. Because he just loves rain. Actually this weekend it’s forecast to be -20C in Connecticut, and Glasgow is positivle balmy and tropical in comparison. But him moving here is not going to be easy, thanks to Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, prioritising her political need to sook up to the Daily Mail and score brownie points with the Katie Hopkins of this world over the need of thousands of British citizens, their partners, and their children to live together as families.
Most countries demand that when one of their citizens marries a foreigner who doesn’t have the right of residence that the couple bears the financial responsibility for supporting their new spouse. That’s perfectly reasonable and is designed to prevent people entering the country and immediately becoming a burden on the state. That’s how immigration rules work in the USA or in Spain, to pick two random examples. What they don’t do however, is to set a financial threshold on how much the citizen needs to be earning before they qualify for the “privilege” of living together with their spouse in the citizens’ own country. Only the UK does that, and the threshold is a high one. If you want to marry a foreigner in the UK, first make sure that you are financially one of the better off.
The UK is the only developed nation to put a price on love. If you are a British citizen who wishes to wed someone who doesn’t have the right of residence in the UK, you need to prove to the Home Office that you earn over £18,600 a year before your spouse can apply for leave to remain in the UK. 41% of working people in Scotland don’t earn that much, and so will never qualify. If the couple have a child, that figure rises to £22,400, and the amount goes up by £2,400 a year for each additional child. Effectively, it’s a tax on love.
What the UK doesn’t do, but which both Spain and the USA do, is to take into account the potential earnings of the non-citizen spouse. Spain and the USA both expect people coming into the country not to become a burden on the state, but they acknowledge that people of working age have the potential to earn a wage of their own to contribute to the household income. Only the UK insists that it’s entirely up to the citizen to provide financially for their spouse.
In our case, my partner works in IT and has transferrable skills. One of the main reasons for us choosing for him to live here is precisely because he has a much better chance of finding equivalent employment in Scotland than I do of finding equivalent employment in the USA. Let’s face it, there is a limited demand for ranting about Scottish politics in America. However the Home Office will not consider his earning potential, only mine, despite the fact that he has the prospect of earning considerably more than I can.
The “preventing benefits tourism” excuse given by the Home Office and the right wing British press is a red herring. For starters no one in their right mind seeks to bring a spouse into the UK so that they can trot off to the job centre and be humiliated for £70 a week. The fact is that if you’re in any sort of paid employment for more than 24 hours a week your spouse isn’t going to be eligible for jobseeker’s allowance anyway. Benefits tourism is not prevented by not taking into account the earning potential of a foreign spouse or partner, and in any event it can be prevented by not making them eligible for social security support until after they’ve been in employment for a given period of time. The rule about not taking into account the earning potential of the non-British spouse exists purely in order to placate the editorial writers of the Daily Mail and the Express. It serves no useful purpose in the real world.
My partner and I at least have options, but a large proportion of working people in this country will never earn enough to satisfy Home Office requirements. People who are employed, who are productive, who are making a positive contribution to society and the economy, but the British state denies them the basic human right of living with their loved ones. According to the Children’s Commissioner for England, around 15,000 children in the UK are separated from one of their parents because of the UK’s immigration rules. It’s a national disgrace.
Scotland needs economically productive migrants. Scotland has an ageing population and the country needs people of working age like my partner Peter who have valuable skills which would benefit the Scottish economy. However Scottish immigration policy is determined by a Conservative government in Westminster which isn’t especially interested in Scotland’s demographic needs, or in any of Scotland’s other needs for that matter. It’s only interested in placating the gutter right wing press with its xenophobic headlines.
If you’re rich, if you’re marrying into the Royal family, none of this is a problem. Meghan Markle has no trouble coming to the UK and staying here indefinitely despite the fact that she’s marrying into a family of benefits scroungers. As we saw from the funding strategies of Scotland in Union, the UK works for the benefit of the rich, the powerful, and the well-connected. And after Brexit it’s only going to get worse, because the current inflexible and inhumane rules which apply to non-EU citizens who marry British citizens are likely to apply to EU citizens as well.
It’s another reason for independence. It’s only with independence that Scotland can have an immigration policy that suits Scotland’s needs. We can have a country which works for everyone and not just the rich. Perhaps even more importantly, Scotland can develop an immigration policy that doesn’t cruelly separate families and loved ones, and that doesn’t put a tax on love.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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