Love Knows No Borders: For Love or Country?

17 July 2012
The Forum

The eyes of the world are fixed on the UK. Britons have spent the ‘Great British Summer’ feting the Queen and making ready for the London 2012 Olympics. The bunting has been strung, the Pimm’s has been poured, and Kate Middleton’s hair is just as shiny as ever. Clearly, there is much to celebrate.

Even so, not everyone is rejoicing. With recent family migration rule changes announced in early June, the ‘great’ British summer has also witnessed a clampdown on family immigration and settlement in the UK. London might be ready to ‘welcome the world’, but for non-EEA family members, the welcome doesn’t feel very warm.

Much of the discourse surrounding the rule changes centres on the idea of ‘Britishness’ and ‘attachment’ to the UK. Indeed, the UKBA mentions the‘integration’ of immigrants into British society as one aim of the new Immigration Rules. Although the controversial ‘attachment test’ has been thrown out, existing requirements for an intermediate level English test and the introduction of a revised, mandatory ‘Life in the UK’ test from October 2013 have us at The Forum concerned. It appears that the hurdles are getting even higher for families hoping to reunite in the UK. We oppose these changes, and we want to make sure nothing like the ‘attachment test’ is ever proposed here again.

[h4]What was the ‘combined attachment requirement’?[/h4]

The idea behind the attachment test was that a couple’s ‘combined attachment’ to the UK would have to be greater than to any other country. Despite the fact that a similar Danish attachment test has exiled thousands of couples to nearby Sweden, the UKBA’s family migration consultation (2011) recommended the Danish approach as its model with the following potential qualification factors:

[ul style=”arrow”]
    • How long each person has lived in the UK
    • Whether one or both parties have families and/or acquaintances here
    • Whether one or both parties have custody of or visiting rights to a child under 18 in the UK
    • Whether one or both parties have completed an educational programme here, or have a solid connection to the UK labour market
    • How well both parties speak English
    • Both parties’ ties to another country, including whether extended visits have been made there
    • Whether the applicant has children or other family members in other countries
[/ul]

[h4]The Twisted Logic of National ‘Attachment’ Requirements[/h4]

The Government might view its proposals to quantify migrants’ attachment to and knowledge of the UK as straightforward and objective, but as migrants we are well aware that it is possible to feel ‘attached’ to more than one country at once. The identities we possess are overlapping, and our allegiances are multiple. Testing ‘attachment’ to UK or ‘Britishness’ with an arbitrary checklist is impossible because tests cannot capture the essence of what it means to be ‘British’ any more than they can measure migrants’ personal motivations to build a successful life here.

Due to their subjective nature, ‘attachment’ tests in particular leave the door wide open to discriminatory interpretations. It is perhaps no coincidence that they come down hardest on couples with family or cultural ties in another country. This would have a huge impact for members of ethnic minority communities in the UK, particularly if they wished to marry someone from their ancestral homeland.

[h4]The Danish Approach[/h4]

In Denmark, the ‘combined attachment’ test is now the most common reason for couples to be denied settlement. In fact, the Council of Europe’s European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance has recently criticised the Danish government for racism and discrimination, since its immigration policy disadvantages non-ethnic Danes.

The Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) has found that in Denmark:

[ul style=”arrow”]
  • Family reunion policies for integration are the second least favourable in Europe, especially concerning eligibility and conditions for immigration and settlement (first is Ireland).
  • The new immigration test may test ability to pay, but not the willingness to integrate.
  • State policies to help the victims of discrimination are still weak.
[/ul]

In a 2012 study, Mikkel Rytter analysed the Danish approach to family reunification and determined that the state’s attempt to limit transnational marriages would have long lasting and detrimental effects on the relationship between minorities and majorities in Denmark[1].  He concluded that policies like Denmark has enacted will only widen the gaps between the Danish majority and immigrant minority. In light of the evidence, claims that policies like this facilitate ‘integration’ ring rather hollow.

[h4]Troubling Trends Emerge in the UK[/h4]

Similar patterns are emerging here as language and culture tests work to transform the territorial borders of this state into a set of moral boundaries that control whom UK citizens marry and how they organise their family life. Recent rule changes treat UK citizens who have married non-Europeans like second-class citizens.

For now, it looks like the Government has abandoned the idea of the ‘attachment test’, but we at The Forum want to speak out to make sure this ugly policy doesn’t rear its head again. The UKBA’s consultation gives us a peek inside the many other ways they are developing tools to break apart families. That this racist, discriminatory policy was ever on the table is reason enough for concern.

[h4]Enjoy the ‘Great British Summer’ everyone![/h4]


[1] Ritter, M. (2012) ‘Semi-legal family life: Pakistani couples in the borderlands of Denmark and Sweden’, Global Networks, 12(1), pp. 91- 108.

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