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.