It’s not always so easy to get your American partner in to the UK

You would probably have a heart of stone not to feel pleased for Harry and Meghan. They are clearly two well-suited people who are very happy together.

While I’m delighted for them, I’m also very conscious that their experience is very different to that of many who try to live in this country with their partner from abroad and I want that to change.

I want this country to be a place that recognises that the world is much smaller than it used to be. It’s much easier to fall in love with someone from another country than it used to be. Mind you, one of my closest friends met her husband nearly 30 years ago at Victoria Falls when they were travelling around the world in opposite directions. They now live happily in Scotland and he is a British citizen and got to that state without too much hassle.

It can be very difficult to be allowed to live with your British spouse. A few years ago, party member Holly Matthies, who comes from the States, went through all kinds of traumas trying to get a British visa to join her husband Andrew. She wrote for this site about the toll it took on her mental health.

That first time I flew to the UK, my feckless answers to the questions I was asked — I’d just had to drop out of university due to poor mental health, so I was met with suspicion because they weren’t sure I had any reason to go back home — led to even more questions, and having to wait while the whole next planeful of new arrivals were processed, and then more questions. My partner, who was waiting to meet me, was found and asked questions to see if his answers matched mine. My checked luggage was fetched and searched. Eventually the border guards had to admit there was no reason to prevent me from entering the UK, but they seemed almost disappointed by that fact.

Think I sound paranoid? Well as the old saying goes, it’s only paranoia if they’re not actually out to get you. And as an immigrant I can be in no doubt that the country I worked so hard and sacrificed so much to move to is out to get me, more lately than ever. I watch with not just intellectual interest but visceral panic the conversations unfolding on social media and down the pub. I cringe when even the party I joined for being pro-immigration is proud of cutting interpreters for people taking their driving test and talks about “British workers” and “British families.” it feels like we non-British are only talked “about”, never “to”. Much less talked _with_.‎ What is an abstract debate to some is a matter of life and liberty to us.

The closest I got to a honeymoon was wandering the streets of Chicago in hysterics, face red and tear-stained, because it was looking like bureaucracy might prevent me from getting a spouse visa. We were at the British consulate, armed with paperwork but still we’d missed something. Could it be sorted in time? We had flights booked back to the UK; my husband was due in work on the Monday because we couldn’t afford for him to have any more time off.

Eventually it worked out, but not before I was too panicky even to be embarrassed at what a pathetic figure I must have seemed. At first I worried I’d be a famous spectacle at that British consulate, but it struck me that they must see people frantic and hysterical all the time: this may be just paperwork to the staff there, but on this side of the bulletproof glass it’s our lives and futures at stake.

The first time I felt truly ashamed to be British was seeing a queue just off a flight from India at Birmingham airport. The disrespect and hostility with which they were met by the passport control staff was horrible to watch.

One of the things we did in coalition that I am most ashamed of is letting the Tories introduce the minimum income rule. This means that you have to be earning £18,600 a year to bring your spouse in. That’s not always achievable if you are the one looking after children and working part-time. This has split up 15000 kids from one of their parents. It’s so unfair. As a party we talked about love being equal when we passed equal marriage but we didn’t follow that logic in this case.

I don’t grudge Harry and Meghan one second of their happiness and togetherness. I want other couples who love each other as much as they do to have a much easier experience of the immigration system.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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8 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Dec '17 - 2:05pm

    Caron
    you write of and about a subject I share your feelings and views on, and , indeed,do so with clarity and passionate expression too.

    The, not, one of, the worst things the coalition did , was that policy on income thresholds. It must be said though, it built on a whole agenda, the Labour governments built on.

    The Blair government opened up our rules to EU accession countries as they made it impossible for many to enter if not obviously feeding into the economy quickly.

    Joanna Lumley was not alone in shaming the wretched Phil Woollas, minister for immigration, over the Gurkhas. He also insisted that retired people , aged and dependent for comfort, not on the state , but on a relative here, say a mother , widowed, had to have twenty five thousand a year to settle to join a loved one , as well as the personal savings.

    The Labour government turned government itself into a business, fees for every application which was never at that level prior to those years.

    I am no leftist, but it was this agenda made me as off that party as I was when in it and it was t left wing. Knee jerk is not my thing.

    The policy you mention on spousal income is set at a level , unfair, and must be scrapped.But we must be more like our EU colleagues on entry from there to here bringing with it the need to have a job first. We cannot be cruel to those who happen have a real and essential connection to this land through love, and laissez faire to people who merely want to come here because they fell like it, from Europe. That is inconsistent and prejudiced in favour of nearer neighbours.

    This agenda is too important to let the left and right nonsense, soft or tough rhetoric dominate.

    The case of Holly gets to the heart , literally , of it.

  • The Lib Dems introduced these obscene, draconian Anti-British laws that is destroying the lives of TENS OF THOUSANDS of British Citizens, you are as culpable as the odious Theresa May.

    Whats worse is that these laws do NOT apply to any non-British EU Citizens living in the UK, EU Citizens can sponsor their non-EU Spouse to live with them in the UK IMMEDIATELY! – and at a fraction of the cost, about £100 for an ‘EEA Family Permit’

    It costs the British Citizen about £5000 for the entire Process!.

    It is quite obviously a ban masquerading as a rule in order to cut immigration by targeting and discriminating the only ones left the ‘UK Government has any control over – ie British Citizens and family Sponsorship.

    All the while there is still a complete open border to the entire EU! (510 MILLION) where any of them can simply come to Britain, even with no connection to Britain, no skills, not even the ability to speak English.

    Unemployed EU ‘Citizens’ living in Britain can sponsor their ‘non EU’ Spouse to live with them in Britain immediately, Employed British Citizens earning a penny under £18,600 a year (42% of UK workers) are ‘banned’ from doing so.

    Never has there been a more disgraceful law introduced in the history of modern British Politics than this vile ‘Minimum Income Threshold’, the excuse being so the Sponsored non EU Spouse is ‘not a burden’ on the UK taxpayer – but the rules quite clearly State the Sponsored Spouse can NOT claim Benefits!, No Recourse to Public funds is the official wording! and furthermore they must pay an annual NHS surcharge of £500! – there is no Burden to the UK Taxpayer!.

  • If the Lib Dems wish to make amends for these disgraceful laws they were jointly responsible for introducing you should be releasing statements and shouting from the rooftops how you would scrap this draconian disgraceful ‘minimum income threshold’ if in a position to do so,it should be in your next Manifesto and you should be raising awareness at all times.

    It is a massive vote winner for you, and lets face it, it seems like that is Politicians only concern.

  • Well said and well set out. You are the third person in my small circle who has experienced this sort of thing. Funny how MM will soon obtain British nationality apparently so easy! One law for the etc etc

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Dec '17 - 7:28pm

    Ste

    Your comments do resonate but the process started earlier read my post, the charges obsession began years before. As did the rules on family. You say much the better for it, what I do on the EU, for which I applaud you, the really appalling thing is the inconsistency.

    I am of the view the income threshold is , as I said , the worst that this party signed in government.

  • Ste
    Speaking as someone with a foreign spouse I will say that there was a time where upon getting married to a British man a foreign woman would become a citizen and get a British passport but marriages of convenience finished that.
    The need to not become “dependent” has been a long standing restriction, the Liberal Democrats were responsible for lowering the income limits. However I would agree in cases where families are split up under these regulations the right to a family life should prevail.

  • Ste
    I should add anyone who has a foreign spouse who lives for a number of months in the EEA can then enter Britain. (of course this may change withy a hard Brexit)

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