Over the last few days, the leaders of all three main political parties have been competing to show who has the biggest dick by showing they can simultaneously bash poor people and foreigners, two groups of people who simply have too much power in this society. They’re all proving they’re real men because they can kick those at the bottom.
In particular, we’ve been hearing a lot about how Britain is simply too welcoming to immigrants, how we’re too generous to them, and how they are drains on what we must now apparently call the “welfare” system (because using the term “benefits” isn’t macho enough). “We can’t continue to have an open-door policy” say all the leaders [and before anyone starts talking about the Greens, remember that they have an immigration policy that specifically says their policy is not intended to increase the numbers of immigrants. They are no better on this than any of the major parties]. “We need to be tougher, but fair”.
Let me tell you about this “open-door policy” that we supposedly have. There are various ways that people can come over here, and the rules differ depending on where the person is coming from, why they’re coming over here, how much money they have, and so on.
I have no experience of most of these (except distantly, when I was working on a psychiatric ward with a few patients who had developed mental illnesses as a result of the asylum system, which was trying to throw them out of the country back to countries where they would be tortured), but I *do* have experience with what most people think of as one of the “good” or “acceptable” kinds of immigration.
My wife is American, and for various reasons when we got married it was better for us to live in the UK than the US. Most people I’ve spoken to about this — in fact *everyone* who hadn’t found themselves in the same position — thought this goes as follows:
We get married, she becomes a citizen.
The process is actually this [note that the process has changed, for the worse, since we did this. :
She had to go back to the US. We married over there, but if we hadn’t, she would have had to apply, while over there, for a fiancee visa. This would have cost £750 at the time — the cost now is £885. You pay that cost even if you’re turned down. That visa would have lasted six months, after which we would have had to do all the rest of the stuff below.
But as it is, we didn’t *have* the money to do that, and got married in the US. We had to pay for a marriage visa, which again cost £750, and which again now costs £885 (and would cost £1285 to do the way we did, with a same-day service at the consulate). We had to pay this in cash, because my wife is a dirty foreigner who can’t be trusted to pay by debit card or cheque, but weren’t told this until we were actually halfway through the process at the British consulate in Chicago, prompting tearful phone calls to my wife’s bank, who were thankfully able to temporarily increase her withdrawal limit.
I don’t know if you are married, and if so whether the first day of your married life was spent being bullied by bureaucrats until your spouse is in tears, while stuck in a city you don’t know and having to pay a month’s wages for the privilege of someone making the person you love cry, and with the possibility hanging over you that if at any time you make a wrong move you can end up being forbidden to live in the same country as your spouse, with no appeal. It’s not the best honeymoon ever.
We also had to provide multiple pieces of evidence that I had a job and could support her, that we really did have a life together, and so on. No-one in our position then could do this now, because while back then you just had to prove you were earning a reasonable amount (I was on £15,000 a year at the time), now you have to prove you’re earning more than the average wage.
But then she was a British citizen and had the right to live over here, right?
The marriage visa, back then, gave you permission to live in the UK for two years. That permission could be revoked at any time, and while you’re in the UK you have no recourse to public funds — no benefits, whatsoever. This was particularly wonderful when I lost my job three months after we married when the company went bankrupt, and definitely didn’t cause us to both develop major anxiety disorders which are still with us eight years later.
But THEN she was a British citizen and had the right to live over here, right?
No. When Holly came over, at the end of that two years, you had to apply for indefinite leave to remain, which involved further proofs (many of which we simply didn’t have, which required a lot of frantic pleading and begging on our part — anyone less articulate and willing to manipulate the system would have failed at this hurdle) and, yes, pay more money. That was another thousand pounds at the time, but now the amount you pay after two years is less, “only” £601. The reason for this is that now, after two years, you can’t get indefinite leave to remain, only “further leave to remain”, which gives you another three years, still without recourse to public funds.
If, after that time, your marriage hasn’t fallen apart under the strain of dealing with all this, the immigrant spouse, then and now, had to pay (£1093 is the current amount) to be granted indefinite leave to remain. They also have to take a test, which costs £50, on “life in the UK” — a test which covers all sorts of useful information like what year women were first allowed to own property, which I’m sure will come in very useful if my wife is ever transported back in time to the 19th century.
But THEN she was a citizen, right?
No. Despite people calling it the “citizen test”, it doesn’t grant you citizenship. You get indefinite leave to remain, and can finally claim any benefits to which you are entitled, but you have to (or at least this is how it was when we did it) wait another year after being granted ILR before you can become a citizen and get voting rights. This costs ANOTHER thousand pounds, and also involves an oath of loyalty to the Queen (something that no-one born over here has to do for citizenship).
Holly still hasn’t actually done that bit, even though we’ve been married eight years, because we’ve never had a spare thousand pounds just lying around. So she’s still not eligible to vote in the country where she’s lived for the last eight years.
(We’ve half-jokingly talked about running a campaign to get her on the Lib Dems’ elected list of suggested peers, because getting her into the House of Lords seems like the *least* complicated way to get her UK citizenship. Seriously.)
Of course, even if she did get citizenship, she still wouldn’t be “really” a citizen, because unlike anyone born here her citizenship could be stripped at whim by the Home Secretary, with no appeal.
Meanwhile, every time my wife, who has something not far from PTSD as a result of all our dealings with the immigration authorities, despite her having about as easy a time as it’s possible to have in our situation, goes to the pub, or turns on the TV or radio, or looks at the newspaper, there are people — including the FUCKING LEADER OF THE POLITICAL PARTY SHE AND I ARE BOTH MEMBERS OF, WHO KNOWS BETTER BECAUSE HE’S MARRIED TO AN IMMIGRANT! — denouncing immigrants, for the way they just come over here and take all our benefits, for the way “we” make it too easy on “them”.
Before you tell me that immigrants have it easy, try spending your life on a constant alert for what’s in the news, so you can warn your wife when she shouldn’t turn on Radio 4 in case she’s reduced to a sobbing fit by all the powerful people talking about how evil she is. Try holding someone in tears because the entire culture is telling her, constantly, that she is not welcome, and never will be welcome, in her home, no matter what she does.
Try facing the possibility that if you can’t pass a multiple choice quiz with questions like “Which TWO kings believed in the ‘Divine Right of Kings’: the idea that the king was directly appointed by God to rule”, “The independent police complaints body is called the Independent Police Complaints Commission in which TWO countries?”, “Which two highest-grossing film franchises have been produced in the UK (Choose any 2 answers)” and “The Paralympic games have their origin in the work of which German refugee, at the Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire who developed new methods of treatment for people with spinal injuries?” you’ll be deported.
Try losing your job, being unable to claim benefits, and then *still* having to scrape together a thousand pounds out of nowhere while looking for another job, because if you don’t you’ll be deported.
And then try being told that the biggest problem this country has is that it lets all those immigrants in and gives them free money.
So, given this is reality – why is the public perception so different? Where are they getting their anecdotes from – and are those anecdotes at all accurate?
An Australian friend of mine seemed to not mention any real hassles in connection with either his own, or (now ex) wife’s gaining residency/vote/etc. [though I think they had plenty of cash]. Is it perhaps easier for some nationalities than others? How about those with UK grandparents?
How does it ‘work’ if you choose *not* to be legal?
The public perception comes from *somewhere* … is it ALL total lies/propaganda? If so, how on earth does that work – why do people believe it?
Australia is a Commonwealth country, which have slightly different rules to non-Commonwealth countries (although immigration from them is still very restricted, since the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act) — I don’t know exactly what rules apply there. There are also special rules for someone with at least one grandparent born in the UK, and there’s a special visa that people from Australia or New Zealand who are under thirty can get, which might apply in this case.
However, just because your friends didn’t talk about the problems doesn’t mean they didn’t have them. They’ll still have had to go through the Marriage Visa-ILR process described above, just possibly without the extra stage of the fiancee visa (I don’t know how that bit works for Australia). Most people, most of the time, don’t talk about this — largely because no-one believes them. Everyone “knows” that we “have an open door policy” and “let everyone in”.
There *is* free movement between EU countries, but far more British people have used that to go and live on the mainland than continental Europeans have come over here. Most people in the EU don’t want to come to Britain — we have a reputation for being extraordinarily unwelcoming.
If you’re over here illegally, you can’t get employed by a reputable employer, can’t rent from a reputable landlord, can’t get NHS treatment, can never leave the country, can’t open a bank account, can’t report any crimes you’re a victim of to the police, and basically have no kind of life whatsoever. You certainly can’t claim any benefits.
Most of the anecdotes come from people who don’t even know any immigrants at all — polls show that perception of immigration as a problem is inversely correlated with number of immigrants in an area.
I have friends who (in their opinion) see their work possibilities and rates undermined by ‘foreign labour’. Mainly people in the private elderly/disabled care/nursing arena on the south coast. How true this is, I really can’t say – not having the stats to hand. I do know for a fact that one (British) boss of a carer supply firm that i know pretty much refuses to hire British workers as “they do not work hard enough”. [he hires only live-in, I guess that rules out a fair proportion of locals anyway, and prefers Australians!].
They’re really missing the point. It’s their employers that are undermining them by using weaker (legally, politically and financially) and more easily manipulated migrant labour, and using the label of ‘laziness’ to tar anybody who suggests decent pay and working conditions.
Yup. But they seem to more easily blame the migrants than the bosses. Social conditioning/human (hierarchy – prone) nature. Nice work by the bosses if deliberate (maybe is by the überbosses and their political cronies… )
Having plenty of cash makes this much easier. You can hire people to sort out the forms and shit for you; you don’t have to get a high-interest poor-person credit card like we did to cover the ILR fees (we actually couldn’t get a credit limit high enough and had to put a couple hundred of our own quids on the card to top it up to the amount we had to pay), and you generally get to worry less because you’re the kind of person the UK wants if you’ve got money. So it’s entirely possible they didn’t have some of the problems and stress Andrew and I did, because we had /no/ spare money at the time — a situation not helped by me being too ill to work and Andrew’s work going bankrupt when neither of us could claim any benefits.
[Off-topic: is your nickname “Hollistic TendAncies” a clever joke that I’m missing, or merely a spelling mistake? Not the “Hollistic” part, I get that :-)]
A fellow quasi-Mindless One (I think he might since have been upgraded to full Mindless status but was new like me at the time) suggested this when I needed a Mindless-y nickname. I noticed the spelling but never asked if it was intentional; I kinda like it because it makes me think of “dance” and the sense of motion and activity that this gives the name.
And a friend of mine posted this follow-up on Tumblr:
CAN’T REPORT ANY CRIMES YOU’RE A VICTIM OF TO THE POLICE?!?
I can’t believe there’s something more horrifying than “can’t get NHS treatment”, but dear God, talk about yer taxation without representation!
Well, you *could* — but then you’d get deported. So no illegal immigrant with any sense would.
Oh my God.
I worked for 10 years for the Home Office in immigration and asylum. For a few years, it was possible to feel that you were doing some good. By the time I left,targets had gone from 1 case a day to 7 cases a day. The only way to meet targets – this was something I was explicitly told – was to refuse applications for indefinite leave to remain if there was any doubt at all. We were told that if the applicant was serious, then they would appeal. As rights of appeal were restricted, this was changed to if the applicant is serious, they will return to their home country and apply for entry clearance from there. Think of the amount of disruption i someone’s life if after several years they are told to pack up and leave the UK or face deportation and then to apply and hope that they may be allowed back in.
7 cases a day. 1 case an hour. Bear in mind that some cases involved assessing whether the applicant had spent 14 years resident in the UK – this would be assessed by looking at 14 years worth of supporting documents – bank statements, pay slips, utility bills etc – and deciding whether the were genuine or forged. Try examining several hundred documents for signs of forgery and then writing a letter explaining your reasoning, all in the space of an hour. Bear in mind the letter may have to be used as evidence should the case go to appeal. It’s physically not enough time. Add to this continuous pressure to achieve targets which are out of reach and half-witted managerial edicts, such as the one from a new senior manager saying that he didn’t want any below average performers… I was delighted to leave.
Bloody right, well done James. Its shameful how such practices (in the unemployment departments too) turn ordinary people against other ordinary people. Try to turn us into souless machines, lacking all empahty with our fellows. We should not put up with any such systems.
I am a British citizen who started out as a South African immigrant. My route is slightly different to your wife’s as I already had ILR when I married my British husband after spending 2 years on a working holiday visa (doesn’t count towards settlement) and 5 years in the old work permit system where if I’d have lost my job I’d have been given 2 weeks to leave the country. All the while paying tax with no recourse to public funds. All of what you have said is true and very easy to identify with, especially the part about feeling demonised as the scum of the earth by politics and the media. I keep my “temp contract to temp contract” husband out of the British welfare system. What a drain I am? Spent the weekend at a wedding being dragged into arguments with UKIP supporters on immigration. The things they believe are mind-blowing as is the fact that they appear to have no concept of how hurtful it is telling an immigrant to their face that they wish there weren’t any immigrant children in their grandchildren’s school! It’s easy to blame immigration for everything. Then you don’t have to think about the real problems.
Kirsty, I’m a Yank living in the USA, so take this with a grain of salt, and it’s mostly hearsay from what I’ve been told by friends who’ve immigrated (or had a spouse immigrate), but it appears to be much easier to migrate between countries within the Commonwealth than it is for people outside the Commonwealth to go to a Commonwealth country and vice versa. This is per a couple of Aussie friends who married Americans, an American friend whose husband is from England, and a classmate of my husband’s who moved to Wales to be with his partner.
One Aussie friend has told me about her difficulties with the US version of the above tale (much the same, with added Green Card hassle once she was able to work here, and added hassle because she does not intend to give up her Aussie citizenship & so will never be able to vote here), and has mentioned that had her first husband been a Brit instead of a Yank, she would have had about half as much paperwork & fees (possibly less). If not for her beloved pets quite likely not making it through quarantine again, I really think she would have caught the first plane back to Tasmania when her first marriage ended.
I feel your pain, my wife is one of those evil foreigners who will bring down western civilisation. We live in Scotland, and people are usually in shock when they hear the truth about how the immigration system actually works.
We are fortunate in that at least the SNP and the Scottish independence movement more generally is sympathetic to migrant rights, stating that these unfair family immigration laws will be changed if we regain independence.
In the meantime however, there is little consolation and migrants live in a perpetual state of fear that Theresa May will change the rules, making them even more harsher, and destroying even more families in this country.
Very useful and interesting info. The couple I knew were BOTH Australians and already married – whether that makes it easier or harder I really don’t know. I have a personal interest in this, in a way, or at least in EU freedom of movement. as I intend to move to Germany. Though I’m of the opinion that should Scotland gain independence, the “rUK” may very well be daft enough to pull out of the EU. As a Scot long-term resident in England, I have no idea how that would affect me personally – but I intend to jump in advance!
The real situation is pretty dire. This should get WAY WAY more airtime…
I’m also an immigrant but from the EU and here already for close to 20 years. It was simple then. Only my citizenship cost a lot of money.
I know, it’s got much more difficult over time and way more expensive and I feel for you all.
Though I still object to be called up on my accent every single time I meet a new person and hearing remarks about Germans. No, Britain doesn’t want immigrants even though the NHS for example wouldn’t work without foreign dentists, doctors and nurses.
I’m a British-born NHS nurse and my wife is a (foreign) NHS care assistant in the same hospital. I’m afraid I don’t have a very high opinion of my countrymen anymore. The general attitude towards migrant nurses in the NHS is either deeply patronising or resentful. Conservative white British people don’t want nurses to be paid as graduate professionals (which we are) and they don’t want to see black faces or hear foreign accents in hospitals. They want nurses to fulfil a 1940s stereotype, which means being an unskilled, bullied, white teenage girl who will work for pennies simply for the ‘love of the job’ while providing ‘eye candy’ for the gents. Politicians exploit this to keep wages down and whip-up contempt for the workforce while distracting voters from deliberate cost-driven unsafe understaffing and corrupt privatisation. Really, we are fucked.
Thanks for writing this Andrew. Let’s also not forget the people who aren’t so ‘lucky’ and have been separated from their spouse by our immigration rules. There’s an excleent support group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/139807999382936/
I didn’t know about that group — thanks for the link. I hope it’s useful to anyone with that problem who ends up here (though obviously I also hope that very few people *do* have that problem — I suspect that’s a forlorn hope, though)…
Thanks for this article Andrew, really strikes a chord. For me I’ve gone through the new, Lib Dem approved system. Thanks to us the qualifying period is now 5 years, instead of 2, in which you have to reapply. Visa fees are almost £1000 a time, and the income limit which you have to prove you earn over or your spouse gets deported has been raised to £18,250.
Yeah, I voted against that at Conference in March, and was hugely impressed by Caron Lindsay’s speech against it. Sadly, Our Glorious Leader seems to think that even the policy we do have (which is horrible, but slightly less horrible than the other parties) might not hurt poor people and foreigners enough, so people might think his cock isn’t as big as Cameron’s or Miliband’s…
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My wife and I skipped the first few bits of your arduous process as she’s Romanian and therefore able to live and work freely in the UK (but only for the last 2 years, of course, and possibly only until June). But when registering for our civil ceremony, my wife’s National ID card was greeted with open derision, and when the vile registrar woman finally looked up how to do her own job in a ringbinder, and realised she been shown relevant ID, she then said “Is Romania even part of the EU then?” This was in supposedly multi-cultural Wandsworth, for crying out loud.
After the trauma of the wedding, we’re taking a breather and recouping our finances before we get on with the rest of the citizenship process. But we can’t hang about, because there’s this monstrous loony referendum on EU membership on the near horizon.
Being an EU citizen has made parts of the paperwork easier. But it would depress you to learn how much easier it’s been for my wife to get job interviews since her surname changed from Sfatcu to Lawston. We’ve shed several friends who displayed unthinkable bigotry. It’s been a window into exactly how shitty an uncomfortable chunk of people in this country really are.
American married to a Brit here. Extra money helps a lot! We had family help for visa costs, though not enough to pay someone else to do the paperwork as implied above!
What helped more was getting in early. I moved to the UK in 2006, Visa fees were less (Fiancee visa and FLR both £350 I think), and after 3 years I got ILR (can’t remember how much) and didn’t have the intermediary visa/fees to contend with. Also while you had to have a certain amount in savings, there was no minimum salary.
I only finally got citizenship last year when the government rhetoric scared me into it. I do wish I’d applied for it when I was first eligible as it as £600 vs the £1000+ it is now. (But we didn’t have the £600 then.)
2006 is actually when my wife moved here too.
Congratulations on the citizenship. We’re hoping to finally get Holly’s sorted this year (the rhetoric’s scaring her, too)