It was standing room only at last night’s parliamentary meeting on family immigration and settlement, hosted by Migrant Rights Network and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. The large turnout reflected the concerns of thousands of families across the UK, who fear separation from their loved ones as a result of the coalition Government’s migration rule changes, which took effect early yesterday. As JCWI Chief Executive Habib Rahman noted, it was ‘a dark day for Parliament’.
The meeting was preceded by a lively demonstration outside the Home Office. Concerned citizens didn’t let the rain keep them at home. As they gathered, chants of ‘Shame on you, Theresa May’ were followed by a moving dance performance from the Kanlungen Filipino Consortium, a mock wedding ceremony with a distraught immigrant bride, and speeches from a number of migrant and human rights organisations across London.
The mood grew more sombre after the crowd moved into Parliament’s Grand Committee Room for the meeting, which was chaired by Lord Judd (Labour). Following the remarks of the panellists, personal comments from the floor reminded everyone that, as Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn’s put it, these rules are not only ‘nasty in every way’, but ‘based on prejudice and inoperable in many ways’.
[h4]Families are hurting already[/h4]
The stories of those separated from their spouses, parents, and children served as a stark reminder of the fragility of family life in the face of the UK’s steamrolling immigration policy and the cruel whims of the Home Office.
Whilst the £18,600 income threshold has been most widely publicised, speakers from the floor reminded the audience of other troubling dimensions of these rule changes as well.
- One woman expressed her dismay that, although earning well over the required amount, she cannot bring her ailing father from Australia to live with her in the UK, because the new rules stipulate that a dependent parental applicant ‘must, as a result of age, illness or disability, require long-term personal care’ and ‘help performing everyday tasks, e.g., washing, dressing and cooking’. Her father is in poor health, but his situation is not yet so critical. Understandably, she is nonetheless upset by their separation during his time of need, and does not understand why she cannot bring him here to care for him.
- The reality of these policies is heartbreaking separation for families, as the story of Anna* also made clear. Anna was not able to attend the meeting last night because she was in the hospital giving birth to twins – alone. Emily Churchill spoke on behalf of Anna, whose husband Ahmed has been unable to join her from his native Yemen due to the UK immigration clampdown. Ahmed is still abroad, waiting for the day when he can finally join his wife and newborn children in the UK.
- A representative of Southall Black Sisters also raised the issue of the extension of the probationary period from two to five years, which will trap immigrants, and primarily women, whose status is linked to a spouse or partner in abusive relationship for longer periods of time. Perpetrators of domestic violence use immigration rules to their advantage, and with these changes, the Home Office has widened the window of time for them to do so.
- [ul style=”arrow”]
Even though these changes have already taken effect, all is not lost. In fact, the campaign to reverse the changes has only just begun. In the coming months, the opposition to these measures must be strong.
- Labour MP Keith Vaz, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, emphasised the importance of mobilising horizontal support among widespread members of different communities. He also asked affected parties to start speaking to their MPs about these changes.
- Echoing these sentiments, Labour MP Fiona Mactaggart added that what we must now do is ‘try to engage powerful people so they see how wrong they are.’
- [ul style=”arrow”]
[h4]A Britian we can all call home?[/h4]
Right now the coalition Government seems set on keeping immigrants out of the UK by whatever means possible. Perhaps, as Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn declared, they should ‘grow up and realise how much the UK relies on immigrants’.
Here at The Forum, we ask: is the fact that migrants want to come to the UK the real problem? Wouldn’t it be a bigger problem if the UK were the sort of place no one wanted to migrate to? This Government might just make that a reality, which should be a reason for concern for all UK residents, not just affected constituents. As Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz noted, these changes ‘damage the reputation of our country.’
*Name has been changed.