Fury grows over Tory visa rules where ‘only the rich’ dare fall in love | Immigration and asylum #Fury #grows #Tory #visa #rules #rich #fall #love #Immigration #asylum

There was growing anger on Saturday night over the government’s “love only for the rich” plans that would force thousands of British families to choose whether to split or go into exile.

James Cleverly, the home secretary, announced last week that a British citizen who wants to sponsor their foreign spouse to live with them in the UK will need to earn at least £38,700 a year to qualify for a family visa application.

The changes are expected to cut the number of family visas by about 10,000, according to reports of government briefings, adding to the thousands of “Skype families” who have already been separated by the previous rules where the British partner needed to earn an £18,600 salary.

Campaign group Reunite Families UK said that hundreds of people joined it last week after the announcement that would mean only about a quarter of British people would earn enough to sponsor a spouse.

“Everyone feels the rug has been pulled from under their feet,” said Jane Yilmaz, co-founder of the group. “They’ve dropped this bombshell just before Christmas, and it’s devastating for our families.

“We’ve got people who are separated because they couldn’t reach the £18,600 threshold. There’s no way those families are going to reach the new target,” Yilmaz said. “And we’ve got loads of members who are exiled who have always lived in hope they might be able to come back to their own country. The government harps on about family values and how important the family unit is, then they do this.”

Andreea Dumitrache, co-CEO at the3million, representing EU citizens in the UK, said the rise was “a blatant attack on families across the country”, and that ministers should scrap it. “Our British friends living in the EU will struggle to come back to the UK, with many having to choose between their own families abroad and a parent needing care in the UK.”

Conservative commentators and politicians have also voiced concerns, including Lord Barwell, Theresa May’s former chief of staff, who said it was “morally wrong and unconservative to say that only the wealthiest can fall in love, marry someone and then bring them to the UK”.

And in a piece for Conservative Home, the website’s deputy editor, Henry Hill, said the £38,700 figure “potentially stands to bar an awful lot of Brits from marrying a foreigner”. “It’s hard to imagine this was ever actually a priority,” he added.

Hayley and Elvin Cartagena with their son Benjamin. Elvin, from Honduras, would not be able to live permanently with his family under the proposed new visa rules.
Hayley and Elvin Cartagena with their son Benjamin. Elvin, from Honduras, would not be able to live permanently with his family under the proposed new visa rules. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Hayley Cartagena met her partner, Elvin, in 2015 while they were working on a cruise ship. She became pregnant the following year, so she gave up life at sea and moved back to Tyneside. Elvin, from Honduras, had a six-month visitor visa, so had to leave the UK a month before the birth of their son, Benjamin, and continued working on cruise ships until Hayley could get a job earning enough to sponsor him. They eventually got a family visa in 2022.

“It was all going great, and then they drop this bomb on us,” Hayley said. “We had six years of fighting to get him here. Now he’s working seven days a week at the factory, doing overtime to make sure we’ve always got the money for the next visa.

“I look at parliament and think: ‘half of you are descended from immigrants and some of you are married to foreign nationals’. But that sort of money means nothing for you. I live in the north-east – we’re not a high earning area. Even those down in London will be panicking.”

Trainee mental health nurse Ryan LaBorde.
Trainee mental health nurse Ryan LaBorde. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Observer

Benjamin, who is now six and autistic, missed years with his father. “We had to take him to the factory to show him where papa works,” Hayley said. “So he could visualise it – he had anxiety because he was frightened that papa would just disappear again.”

Hayley, like other British people at risk of exile, is particularly concerned about proposals saying that people already in the UK will need to meet the higher threshold when they renew their visas.

“If this is true, it would be quite surprising as typically the government does not apply rules changes retrospectively to people who are already here,” said Ben Brindle, a researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.

Ryan LaBorde is one of those hoping Brindle is right. The American is in his second year of training to become a mental health nurse and was about to get indefinite leave to remain next year. He came to the UK in 2018 so that his wife of 14 years could be closer to her parents in Wales.

Yet instead of looking forward to helping the NHS address the mental health crisis (one in five mental health positions is vacant) – he has spent sleepless nights since Cleverly’s announcement. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “I may be packing my bags to go back.”

Jessica Mason with her husband Sanas Sahib and their children Tariq and Layla
Jessica Mason with her husband Sanas Sahib and their children Tariq and Layla

With more notice, he could have found more shift work in the NHS as a trainee nurse, but because he needs to show six months of payslips, he fears the deadline has already passed.

“We’ve put down roots here. My wife’s got a really good career going. I love nursing. Everything was looking good.”

Jessica Mason, a language teacher from Newcastle, and her two children were separated from her Sri Lankan husband, Sanas Sahib, for nearly a year. “I was effectively a single parent for 10 months while my husband was left in Sri Lanka,” she said. “You are forcing single parents to stay on benefits. This is a horrific hike.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have a longstanding principle that anyone bringing dependants to live in the UK must be able to financially support them. The minimum income requirement ensures that families are self-sufficient instead of relying on public funds, with the ability to integrate if they are to play a full part in British life.”

People on family visas are not able to claim UK benefits, except those accrued through national insurance contributions, such as sick pay.

#Fury #grows #Tory #visa #rules #rich #fall #love #Immigration #asylum

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