In just two weeks time, 9 July, new rules on family migrants are expected come into force. At the last count, in 2010, 54,000 people from outside the EU applied to come (or stay) on the basis of a family relationship with a British citizen or permanent resident. So it came as no surprise when the Government - struggling to deliver a cut in migrant numbers - turned its attention to curbing the entry and settlement of family members. But could tighter restrictions conflict with that other government objective, ‘integration’?
The new rules will certainly limit numbers. Only those with a minimum income of £18,600 will be allowed to sponsor the settlement of a non EU partner, with higher income thresholds for each child. So poor people, (or rather an estimated 47% of the working population) need not apply. Under the new rules, a couple will also be in limbo for five years before eligible to apply for permanent settlement. And it will be easier to refuse entry or the right to stay, following a criminal conviction: it is even anticipated that a single parent might be deported if there is another family member in the UK able to care for the child. In total, government estimates that up to 18,500 fewer people will be able to come and a further 12,000 have to leave.
One wonders if it has seriously considered the implications for the many thousands of UK residents who will now be denied the right to live with their partner or child. Its ‘impact assessment’, acknowledging that there will be negative impacts, says ‘it is not possible to accurately quantify this effect but it could be significant’. It could indeed.
These new conditions come on top of existing rules which say that family migrants must have ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’: no access to a range of welfare benefits or support if homeless. Clearly, there is room for debate on the extent to which newcomers should be able to access benefits and services paid for by public funds, or be able to vote in elections, from the day they arrive. But do we know the implications of exclusion, over long periods, from those elementary passports to participation; those minimum conditions of societal membership that are recognised as fundamental for everyone else?
Just four months ago, in Creating the Conditions for Integration, the Government emphasised the importance of residents sharing aspirations and values, of everyone being able to realise their potential to get on in life, of people of all backgrounds having the opportunity to take part in decisions in local and national life. It said our communities are stronger when people feel they belong - to their neighbourhood and the country.
Has it stopped to consider the effect, for those whose loved one is excluded, on how they feel about Britain, on their sense of belonging, or motivation and capacity to contribute to community life? Has it considered the long term impact on a child, brought up in the UK, whose parent has been required to leave; or the insecurity of those waiting for five years to know if they will be allowed to stay, unable to put down roots for fear of being told to move on? In its eagerness to limit immigration numbers and ensure no burden falls on the tax payer, could the impact of its new rules threaten the social well being of our communities in as yet unknown but more damaging ways?