Today I came across yet another example of how the British approach to immigration law is completely inconsistent, and penalises those of us with non-EU spouses disproportionately.
There are various ‘global entry’ style schemes where frequent travellers can pay for additional background checks, which lets them go through an expedited customs and immigration process when travelling to certain countries.
Here’s a recent explanation of how Canadian and US nationals who are a member of this scheme can get preferential treatment when coming to the UK:
Registered Traveller was launched by the UK Border Force to give faster and more convenient entry to the UK for eligible nationals from the United States and Canada. Membership of Registered Traveller costs £70 in the first year and £50 per year thereafter.
Membership of Registered Traveller includes the following benefits:
Access to ePassport gates
Use of the UK / EEA queue
No requirement to complete a landing card on arrival in the UK
No routine credibility interview with a Border Force officer.
All of that sounds great, until you consider how this approach differs from the way we treat British citizens who have non-EU spouses.
For example, my American wife has lived in the UK for the past 2 years. We have gone through two (soon to be three) separate visa processes, paying thousands of Pounds, and providing an incredible amount of evidence about our backgrounds, finances, and relationship. Yet, she still has to fill out a landing card on arrival in the UK. This landing card includes questions like: “How long do you intend to be in the UK?”, which is totally inappropriate for residents – but who cares about that?
That’s the logic of British immigration law. Give foreign business travellers a pass on basic checks if they spend fifty quid a year and do an interview, but completely shaft British citizens and their sposes that go through the most thorough of application processes and spend thousands of Pounds.
Makes you feel really proud to be a British citizen.
Immigration. The ugly political topic that quickly ignites guttural feelings from across the political spectrum, allowing fundamentalists to gain ground whilst those seeking compromise rush to take shelter from the crossfire.
Whilst we in the UK have questions about freedom of movement within the EU to deal with, the situation in America is decidedly different. With far poorer neighbours just across a land border to the south, a history of ignorance, and marriage regulations that vary from state to state, it is a complex issue.
As part of his Presidential election campaign in 2008, Obama promised to be the one to bring much needed reform to the immigration policies of the US. His voting record at the time (#) appeared to back up his stance on a more liberal approach – such as giving permanent residence to particular categories of workers who are without a legal right to remain in the country.
In amongst a litany of other broken political promises (Guantanamo Bay, anyone?), there was the specific guarantee to deliver an immigration bill within his first year of office – something that has drawn substantial criticism.
‘I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting. And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.’ (#)
Finally, it was announced a couple of days ago that Obama plans to take executive action to make changes in the way that immigration is handled.
This is to concentrate on three main areas:
Providing more resources to ‘stem the flow of illegal crossings’ at the border.
Making it easier for ‘high-skilled immigrants’ to stay and work in the US.
Moving to ‘deal responsibly’ with those immigrants who already live in the US illegally.
The first two issues are almost a necessity to be mentioned in any proposed change to immigration rules, in order to appease those who will (and have) inevitably been outraged by the prospect of any sort of move that isn’t seen to be ‘cracking down’ on the problem. (#) There’s always a feeling in immigration discussions that political parties are simply moving chairs around on the deck of the Titantic; a lot of what’s being proposed (such as ‘Visa Modernization’) sounds fine and well, but isn’t really anything different to what we’ve been told by any other government before. (More detail #)
The thirdissue however, made for some interesting reading, and it’s what Obama spent most of his time explaining in his speech. Obama-Immigration-Transcript.
The gist of it is as follows:
There are millions of undocumented immigrants living in America, who contribute to the society. (That’s putting it lightly. Arguably, the whole American economy relies on the exploitation of those living there illegally).
It is impractical to track down and deport all of those people.
Giving an unconditional amnesty would be unfair to those who had followed the rules to migrate legally.
If people (who have been in the US for a certain amount of time, as well as other conditions) are willing to pay taxes, they can register to ‘come out of the shadows and get right with the law’.
Unsurprisingly, this was a clever speech, designed to appeal to all parts of society… Biblical references and all.
‘Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.’
It is clear that this was as much about a President in his final term forcing the hand of Congress to act, after the Democrats recently suffering a heavy defeat in the midterm elections. This was about throwing a political stake in the sand to try and force change.
‘And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.’
It is symbolic, and an admirable aim. However, it appears that this might be all it is.
Obama’s speech was heavy on rhetoric, and almost non-existent on actual content. Looking closer, it is unclear what it actually means to ‘come out of the shadows and get right with the law’. He explicitly stated that this would not grant a permanent right of residence, or any other rights of citizenship.
‘It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive’
It isn’t obvious then, why exactly anybody who is currently living in America illegally (and who meets the criteria) would come forward. All this does is give a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation, which as the President admitted himself, is a threat that would never realistically come to fruition for many people. Wo why take the risk of stepping out of the shadows in the first place? I wouldn’t.
Whilst a highly symbolic, and sophisticated political move, this doesn’t actually confer any real benefit on those who Obama spoke passionately about in his speech: those who ‘work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs’, who go to the same churches and schools as everyone else, who support families, whose ‘hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours’.
The end game of this move way well be to try and push Congress to make positive changes, but that isn’t the way Obama dressed it up. Instead, he painted a red white and blue striped picture of a glorious America that was embracing brothers and sisters with open arms; as if these changes would give people fundamental and significant protections that they currently don’t have.
It’s infuriating enough on its own to listen to yet more politicking on immigration, but especially so given the false hope that Obama has given to those people that he praised as part of American life.
‘That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration; we need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.’
These are powerful words, but words which ring hollow in the face of scrutiny.
Sadly people seem more interested in whether this is ‘smart politics’ or legal than about the people the proposed changes are meant to help.
A few years ago, I proposed to a blue eyed, blonde haired American girl named Grace. She lived in Denver, Colorado, and I in Glasgow, Scotland. I told her I knew it would be rough, but I was prepared to do whatever we had to so we could be together. We agreed that we would pursue the legal path of least resistance – which was for her to move to the UK. This was partly down to the minimum income requirements imposed by our respective Governments (I had a higher paying job at the time), but also to do with having more experience of the British legal system.
Despite being the lesser of two evils, the process itself was hellish.
There were endless contradictions, blatant flaws, and convoluted evidential requirements. Just when it seemed like we had gotten over one obstacle, another illogical one would present itself. Often, I would literally be ripping my hair out in sheer exasperation at the injustice of the whole thing. How could they get away with this? It seemed clear that the problems were there by design rather than incompetence. Every part of my being wanted to scream from the rooftops to tell people about what was really going on; to publicly question why – despite all of the rhetoric from the UK Government about wanting immigrants who add value to our society – my future wife was banned not only from working, but from volunteering.
I didn’t. To this day I am still wary of openly criticising the policies on immigration too heavily, as we are locked into the process for years to come. The decisions that we would be calling into question would be made by the very same people and organisations that could deny any of our future applications on a whim.
With just days before the people of Scotland decide to vote on independence, it’s important that I make this clear: The UK’s immigration policy is fundamentally racist, with the system deliberately left broken. As a result, British citizens have less rights in their own country than those from elsewhere in the EU.
Actual paperwork aside, here’s a specific example:
* Grace requires a specific residence visa to live in the UK. To avoid waiting weeks for a decision, we have to go to a dedicated UKVI (formerly the UKBA) office. As there is only one office in Scotland (with limited hours), this meant travelling to Liverpool to get an appointment. The cost for this privilege (which has to be renewed every couple of years) is around £1000.
* Each time Grace arrives in the UK, she has no automatic right of entry. She must present her passport and residence card, along with a completed landing form. Providing that entry is granted at the border, her passport is stamped with the entry date, and her fingerprints taken.
* If a German citizen came to the UK, they would have the right of residence under the European Union’s regulations on freedom of movement.
* The German citizen’s partner would automatically have the right of entry to the UK, as long as they were either travelling with them at the time, or coming to join them in the country. Their passport would not ordinarily be stamped, and they would not require any visa or residence permit, as they were there by virtue of the German citizen’s Treaty rights.
The UK cannot impose restrictions on the freedom of movement of citizens of the EU or their families (allowing for the relevant definitions in question), but they are able to impose whatever restrictions they like on their own people. This is because it is not counted as discrimination against the citizens of another member state.
In short, this means that because of Westminster immigration policy, I (as a British person) have less rights than somebody from anywhere else in the European Union.
In order to gain the same protection as other European citizens, I would first need to move to a different country within the EU, stay for three months (in the ‘pursuit of an economic activity’ – working, basically), and then return to the UK with Grace. This is a complicated route, and one established by the case of Surinder Singh.
So why does this ridiculous situation exist? Simple. The ideological pursuit of the Tory government. Hey, Better Together, right?
But hey, want to bring your dog with you from the USA? Not a problem.
Ever seeking to be seen as the ‘family man’, David Cameron has stated that in future, all government policies should pass a ‘family friendly’ test before becoming law. (#)
It should be pretty clear to anyone with a critical mind that this is nothing more than meaningless spin and rhetoric. Cameron’s government are focussed on what benefits the privileged, not the underdog, but they have to appeal to a moral position in order to condition skeptics into voting for them. However, there’s one specific example that immediately comes to mind that should illustrate the duplicity involved with this proclamation: that of immigration.
The usual bullshit position on immigration in the UK tends to be: “we’re here and it’s our right to be here – nobody else should be allowed. Foreigners should just go home.” – worded more or less diplomatically depending on who is involved. Immigration? Pah! Why should those immigrants be considered anyway?
Interestingly enough, experience has shown that this dogma transforms (as do many others) when the issue comes closer to home. It’s easy to dismiss immigrants of a different colour or nationality in the abstract, but not so much when one of your family members is separated from a loved one because of harsh and unpredictable immigration regulations.
The fact is that immigration policy in the UK is racist, and purposively both complex and contradictory in order to make the application process as difficult as possible. There are no elements of fairness or justice in how people are dealt with, and what results is a maddeningly frustrating and expensive undertaking for anybody who dares to fall in love with somebody from another country. When the system invariably break down, people are forced to appeal to the safeguard of the European Convention of Human Rights, which is then handily used as a scapegoat for undermining national sovereignty. Few point out the responsibility of the UK government to ensure that the system is fit for purpose in the first place.
There are endless amounts that have already been written about my own experience with the UK immigration process alone, but never published. It’s something I constantly swither over making public, partly through fear of any future reprisal. After all, we still have a number of years to go before we are completely out of the woods, and at any point our hard-fought battles could be revoked. Why is so little said about this stuff in detail by those who go through it? Because we are terrified of the possible consequences that might happen. People should know about what injustices happen in the system, and freedom of speech should guarantee the ability for that to happen, but who wants to risk it when their application may be denied?
For those of us who are on the receiving end of such policies, we know how awful it is. We know that immigration is a disgusting mess; one that has no concern for families, or for keeping them together. We know that kids get used solely as an excuse to raise the barrier for entry to the UK, not treated as human beings. We know that what really matters here is ethnicity, not family values. We know that it’s a specific kind of morality that is in mind here: that of the white, mother and father, British kind. We know that all this is true, and have resigned ourselves to being subjected to that, often silently… but to then turn around and talk about the importance of ‘family friendly’ policies is just flat out insulting.