Opinion: Why aren’t Liberal Democrats complaining loudly about draconian new family immigration rules?

It’s not often that I find myself on the same side of an argument as Sayeeda Warsi. It’s even less often that I find myself on the same side when it comes to marriage equality.

I am thankful, however, that the Baroness was in Cabinet to lead the charge – along with Liberal Democrats – against the Home Secretary’s outrageous plans to impose a draconian income threshold (of up to £40,000) on British citizens who wish to bring their spouses to live with them in this country. The Coalition’s harsh immigration cap is hard enough for a Liberal to stomach without policies such as this being used to achieve it.

This policy does not just violate Liberal Democrat principles, it also violates the Conservatives’ principles as well. If the Conservatives believe that marriage is, in and of itself, a Good Thing for society, why make it impossible for some British citizens to settle into married life in our society? If the Home Secretary genuinely does believe that British citizens should be able to marry whomever they choose, why make it impossible for some British citizens to marry the person they love?

The policy is ostensibly designed to tackle ‘sham’ marriages and to ensure that foreign spouses do not need to be supported by the British state upon arrival. However, ‘sham’ marriages can be rooted out by the interviews that were already being conducted. And although the threshold of £18,600 is far lower than the eye-wateringly high £40,000 that had been mooted, it is still higher than the average wage in many regions, including my own. Although a far higher proportion of workers in my area will be on under £18,600 than in London and the South East, living costs are far lower up here as well, but this policy’s inflexibility means that is not taken into account at all. It’s worse when you consider that the limit rises with the number of children you have so that you would need to earn £24,600 in order to secure visas for a spouse and two children.

In seeking to stop ‘sham’ marriages being used by people who want to get into the UK, and to ensure that foreign spouses who come to the UK do not have to be supported by the state, the balance has been tipped against UK citizens who have foreign spouses and want to build a family life together in this country. What of soldiers who fall in love while on a tour of duty? What of students who fall in love while studying abroad? What of businesspeople working abroad for British companies?

There are many other examples I could use, both rhetorical and real. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Migrants’ website has many more, and I would urge you to take a look. The JCWI suggests people contact Chris Bryant, Labour’s shadow immigration Minister – but I would suggest, if you’re as troubled by this policy as I am, Liberal Democrats get in touch with their local Liberal Democrat MP instead, or with our Minister in the Home Office, Lynne Featherstone.

I am rather concerned about the lack of noise being made by Liberal Democrats about this issue. With the honourable exception of David Ward MP, I am not aware of any of our MPs publicly speaking out against these deeply illiberal plans. There is an EDM on this issue which urgently needs signatures by July 22 – to date, no Liberal Democrat MPs have signed this. Why not? The fact that only 5 MPs in total have signed it so far is just as worrying.

Liberal Democrats, both inside and outside of Government, have made sustained arguments in favour of equal marriage laws for people who have fallen in love with members of the same sex. We have done so based on the simple principle that love does not discriminate, so neither should Government.

* Stephen Howse recently worked for a Lib Dem MP and is now working for a not-for-profit while campaigning for the party in Newcastle.

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  • Charles Beaumont 18th Jul '12 - 7:57pm

    I don’t think this is as easy as it looks. There are significant groups in this country which have created an industry of selling a marriage to a UK passport holder. I’m sure lots of people are going to react badly to my writing this, but if you visit Mirpur in Pakistani Kashmir (where Baroness Warsi’s family originates from) you can see it take place. If a family makes a commercial contract for an arranged marriage, an element of which includes marriage to a UK citizen (and therefore, effectively purchasing UK citizenship) is it the business of the government to create incentives against that? Should we at least create a price? An arranged marriage is not a sham marriage but it might be arranged for sham purposes.

    BTW I’d be amazed if there is a single case of “soldiers who fall in love [with a non-UK citizen] while on a tour of duty” seeking to get married. I’m ready to be proved wrong, but let’s see the evidence.

  • Jonathan Brown 18th Jul '12 - 8:02pm

    Good article – I wholeheartedly agree. This is a completely shameful policy.

  • Richard Dean 18th Jul '12 - 8:10pm

    Possibly because the public reaction to a big fuss might be that £40,000 is too low.

  • I think this policy will lead to families being split up, children losing their fathers or mothers etc. Its insane that a British person who say – marries a Brazilian might be forced to leave the UK, but a French couple can move here. This is not the right way to end sham marriages if that is what it is aimed at. If this is aimed at cutting immigration from the subcontinent – the Tories should come out and tell us. I haven’t seen information on what groups this will hit hardest, but this research must exist for such a policy change and should be publicised.
    The right of British citizens to marry freely in his or her own country must be higher than the right of foreign couples to move here. David Cameron talks about renegotiating our relationship with the EU all the time, when does he plan to start? I will be disgusted if this measure is enacted with Lib Dem support.

  • Charles Beaumont,

    You’re seriously proposing marriage should only be available to people of certain means?

    Mark Valladares ,

    The Labour government, 1997-2010, had a far more open and liberal immigration policy that the current Coalition government. It beggars belief that you’d seriously seek to argue that Labour are just as bad. You’re quite right to imply that your manifesto’s immigration policy has not been enacted, but that’s your party’s responsibility, after all you are in government, not Labour. All it takes for these proposals not to pass is for the Liberal Democrats to say ‘enough’.

  • Mark Valladares, leaving Labour aside, the rules are actually in place. The liberal democrat MPs didn’t stop them. The fight against it in parliament is already lost. What can your MPs do now?

  • Richard Dean 19th Jul '12 - 11:36am

    It seeems to me that wealth or the lack thereof is not an accurate way of identifying whether a marriage is sham or not. I imagine that sham ones

    > tend to have the participants living separately soon afterwards
    > tend to have participants that do not share their wealth equally

    If we must, could we use these kinds of characteristics, rather than wealth, as a basis for judgment?

  • local gvt worker 19th Jul '12 - 11:40am

    completely agree with this article

  • “I’d be amazed if there is a single case of “soldiers who fall in love [with a non-UK citizen] while on a tour of duty” seeking to get married. ”

    I know of a person who married their (wartime) Iraqi interpretor and is now living in Dubai with two kids.

  • g
    Labour imposed the restriction on UK citizens of having to obtain Home Office approval if they wished to marry a Thai citizen in the UK. This restriction was later quoshed by the courts. Thai women coming to work as waitresses in the UK had a condition placed on their visas that they would not marry during the duration of their employment here.
    A lot of British people who work abroad marry foreign locals.

  • Keith Browning 20th Jul '12 - 12:04pm

    Having been through the tedious and intrusive marriage immigration process myself, I noted with a degree of anger that one group of people are exempt from all this stuff – diplomats and members of HM government. They are regarded as being far too important and incorruptable to be questioned about their choice of marriage partner.

    Yet again one rule for one group and another for the rest of us.

  • Christopher Ward 4th Aug '12 - 2:36pm

    I have just sent this message to my local councillor of Gateshead – Frank Hindle

    Never in my life do I feel less British than I do now. The pain that the new immigration rules will inflict will be unbearable to most, our crime…we fell in love.
    The new rules did have some sense to them, but to tear lovers/spouses apart like this is unacceptable, what makes this even worse is the fact that the Conservatives have once again favoured the middle and upper class British citizens by imposing a minimum salary of £18,600. They seem to be unaware that in different constituencies, living expenses are cheaper and annual salaries are less than the living expenses and salaries in London.
    I would change the rules by basing it only on savings, assets and money left over after all living expenses have been paid. This avoids situations like Billy who earns £22,000 p.a, has 3 children, rents a 4 bedroom property, has no savings or assets and is £5,000 in debt, yet he wishes to sponsor his spouse. Then there is Chris who earns £17,500 p.a (£1,100 short of the new rules), has no children, owns a 2 bedroom property, has £2,000 in savings and has £7,000 (assets) tied up in assets, he has no debt and has never been in debt, yet he is unable to sponsor his fiancee as he is classed as a low earner. This example shows that the new immigration rules are unfair.
    Will the Liberal Democrats continue to challenge these harsh new rules? As a Lib Dem voter, I do not ask you to soften your approach towards immigration, all I ask is that you understand the damage that this will do to the lives of the affected and for you to take a different approch towards reducing immigration, it should not be based on salary alone.
    Remember my comparison between Billy and Chris.

    Yours sincerely,

    Christopher Ward

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