As global communications and travel become easier, so it becomes more and more likely that people are going to fall in love with someone from a different part of the world. If that someone is from within the EU, as it was for Nick Clegg, then they have a perfect right to live together with them in this country. If, however, they are from outside the UK, the process was always a bit more complex. Last year, however, the Government introduced stringent and inflexible new income limits, based on the income of the UK spouse, which makes it much more difficult. The report shows that the number of applications refused rocketed from 1 in 10 in the first quarter of 2012 to not that far off 1 in 2 after the change came in.
The rules are particularly unfair if you are a woman married to a non EU resident. I have a friend who lives in Japan with her husband. She's not in employment because she's at home looking after her children. Her husband earns more than enough to support the family, yet there is no way they would, under the current rules, get in to live in the UK as a family. Women are doubly at a disadvantage because even if they are in work they are likely to be earning less than a man doing the same job. We're supposed to have equal pay, but as the Fawcett Society will tell you, if you compare all work, for every £1 a man takes home, a woman earns 85p.
The BBC has a number of examples of families affected by this, including that of a British woman due to give birth next month and feared her Japanese husband could be deported at any time. It's not as though she doesn't have enough money to support the family, it's just not salaried income as she is self-employed. Another example from the report tells how a 5 month old breastfed baby was forcibly separated from its mother because of these rules. How wrong and how heartbreaking is that? I remember dealing with a similar case. At that time it was against the Home Office's own policy to separate mother and baby in those circumstances but it ignored it anyway. How can we allow such cruelty to happen? There is no need. It's not as if spouses can claim benefits anyway.
How would you like it if you were separated from your spouse or your children in these circumstances? I have to wonder what would happen in the future if the Tory right got its way and we left the EU. There are so many people, including Nick Clegg, who are married to EU citizens. What would happen if they lost their right to live here? Leaving the EU is unlikely to happen, but maybe some people might like to think about the human consequences.
One thing I learned from this report is the situation regarding adult dependents, like parents. If you are over here working for the NHS, paying taxes, for example, surely you should be able to bring your Mum and Dad over if they become too frail. The report identifies that people who want to do this find themselves in an impossible situation. If they fail the income requirement, they can't do it, but if they pass on the amount of income, they are then told that they can financially support their parents in the home country. That is just inhuman, reducing care for a parent to simply a matter of handing over cash for others to provide a service. In your parents' last years, surely you want to be with them, holding their hands, reading to them, chatting about shared memories, enabling them just to spend time with them, soothing their pain or distress, comforting the other parent when things get really rough.
I'm glad to see that Liberal Democrats Sally Hamwee and Sarah Teather have been involved in the preparation of this report. Its recommendations include an independent review of the new income requirement with a view to changing it so that it doesn't adversely affect those of a particular gender, or religion or ethnicity. They also want the rules changed to enable adult UK citizens to bring their adult dependent relatives over earlier and more easily.
How would you like it if you were forcibly separated from people you love? If that is something you can empathise with, please sign the Migrants' Rights Network's letter to the Government asking them to change this deeply unfair policy.