New immigration rules risk splitting up families and could cost the country more than they save, argues ANN McKECHIN

 

Every day people fall in love and every day in our country people decide to build their lives together with the person they love and get married. And for a growing number of people, that special person may be someone they met abroad or they have met a foreign citizen when they were staying in the UK to work or study.

A couple of years ago, this happened to one of my young constituents. He had started a friendship with a Chinese girl via the internet and after a while they decided to meet in person – he travelled to Asia,  they fell in love, got married and have ever since been happily living and working abroad. But then his mother who lives in Glasgow took ill with a serious degenerative condition – she is single and her son is her only child. His mother is going to require increasing care and support over the coming years so it was only natural that he and his wife considered where their responsibilities should lie. So they decided that the right thing to do was return to Glasgow next year and support his mother.

But what they hadn’t realised was that the goalposts changed in July when the Home Secretary introduced new rules on visas for foreign national spouses and dependents. She and her Government believe it’s appropriate to place an £18,600 minimum income threshold on people hoping to bring in a non-EU spouse, rising to £27,200 for three children. It is estimated that these limits will immediately impact on up to 60 per cent of current applications.

My constituent doesn’t think he can meet that income limit if he were to return to the UK; he doesn’t have the appropriate qualifications to allow him to do his current job – teaching English – in the UK and he fully anticipates he will need to start on a basic income job particularly as he will need to give time to help his mother too. The job market for those in their 20s is precarious; he would need to sustain that income level for a considerable period of time to allow his wife to settle here. He is now facing a dreadful predicament: either live apart from his wife for an indefinite period or watch his mother having to increasingly rely on care services without family support.

I raised this case with Damien Green, the Immigration Minister, just before Westminster stopped for recess in July. This was his reply:

It is not immediately apparent to me how the new rules would affect that particular case, but if the hon. Lady wishes to write to me about it, I will take a personal interest in it.”

I genuinely hoped that the Government might see how ludicrous it is to ignore the potential additional costs of care that would be incurred if my constituent is unable to look after his mother but, disappointingly, the eventual reply was merely a bald restatement of the Home Office’s position that such circumstances were irrelevant to their calculations.

What does this tell people? That poor people can’t fall in love? That only the rich deserve to be happy? Poor immigrants are not going to work hard to provide for their families? That UK citizens who live abroad may now find themselves as permanent exiles from their own country?

This country is built on a rich tapestry of immigration where people have come from places such as Africa, the Caribbean, India and South Asia with very little. They have worked tirelessly and many have built very successful lives for themselves, their families and our communities. Our National Health Service for one owes immigrants a huge debt of gratitude, and this is how they are repaid? With a slur that poor people can’t and don’t contribute to society?

I’m not married, but finding someone to share your life with is a desire that unites people across the globe. With people working abroad, frequent holidays and the internet, the world has never been so small and the possibilities to find love in the far flung corners of the globe has never been so possible.

We look for shared interests, for chemistry, for companionship, for someone to make us laugh and share our lives with. We do not look for someone who has a minimum of £18,600 in their bank account or any other ridiculous criteria this Government comes up with.

We need to start treating each other like human beings, not as statistics.

I know that we do need to build in protections in our immigration system as there will always be people who try fraudulently to gain access to this country and I have personally come across cases where a foreign spouse has tricked a local resident into marriage and then abused their trust.

That is why we should have checks and balances to ensure only those who are genuine get to come to the UK to live with the person they have fallen in love with, to build a life together and contribute to British society.

But this list of farcical measures will do nothing except rip families apart and create misery in people’s lives when there is already so much hardship and difficulty.

Government should never dictate who a person can and cannot love.

Ann McKechin is the Labour MP for Glasgow North. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnMcKechinMP.