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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Perspective: All You Need is Love and £18,600

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Things got fairly desperate this week. I actually wrote a letter to David Cameron... (I know, I know, you probably think I'm insane.) Oddly, I'm more connected to him than I am to the faceless MP in my district (having only been here for seven months). I've met DC a couple of times, given he was the MP for my home district (before he was famous). It may seem like a futile gesture, and I nearly didn't send it for that reason, but it is his government which have introduced changes to partner and spouse visas which just aren't working.

The most strict and problematic of these changes in the £18,600 pa earning requirement. While to most, this won't sound like much, it's considerably over the £13,400 pa which is what someone on the minimum wage gets. I'm very fortunate to have a job which pays better than the minimum wage, working in the arts, but up until very recently, it has not met this £18,600 requirement. I made a choice, as a high achieving graduate to work in the arts sector, deciding to do something worthwhile rather than earn double what I'm on now in a job I hate (and I had offers), yet now I'm (almost) wishing I hadn't.

This figure does seem to have been pulled out of Teresa May's backside. I was doing some budgeting today, examining outgoings and living costs. As a couple who live in a cheaper part of the country, do not run a car, or own a television, or spend very much time in the pub, we can live comfortably on what I earn. And there is no consideration of outgoings in combination with this requirement. Nope, that would be bordering on a rule which made some measure of sense...

The reasoning behind this legislation is primarily surrounding the government's concerns over benefit claimants (or at least, this is often one of the reasons given), which seems entirely ridiculous when the terms of a partner or spouse visa forbid you from recourse to public funds...

Not to mention the fact that A is an American Citizen whose Grandparents and Father were born in the UK, and he spent time living in both countries as a child. You'd think these ties would mean something, but because his Dad was naturalized as an American before he was born, no such luck.

This brings me to the crux of the matter and a large amount of what is wrong with the current government. Policy is based upon a one-size-fits-all model, which simply doesn't work. There is no consideration of additional links or supporting factors. As applicants going through this system, they are looking for reasons to say no, rather than considering each person on their merits.

Another problem I have with the requirement is that we wouldn't even have to take this route, had the Post-Study Work Visa not been axed. To meet the requirements of one of the other work visas, A would need an employer willing to jump through hoops for him (register with the government as a sponsor and pay the costs involved). Good luck finding a theatre or arts organisation (the field he wishes to work in) willing and/or able to do that. As such, these new rules are biased against creative people wishing to continue to work in the UK after living and studying here for several years.

Ah, I hear you say, but you must have known about this requirement when planning what to do when your partner of five years finished studying. And you'd be right. We did know about this requirement, having been planning ahead to do the visa application well before his current visa expires. He has been searching for work for several months, only recently acquiring a casual job (we can't count anything he earns from this as under the rules, wages can only be counted when you have been working with the same employer for six months at a fixed wage).

Knowing his employment opportunities may be limited at first (his current visa only allows him part time work and he is banned from freelance work, which is a staple of many artist's earnings), I had taken on review writing since December last year, planning to use my cumulative earnings - all of which I can evidence on bank statements and invoices - to tip us over the £18,600 mark, which we were ridiculously close to anyway. So you can imagine my dismay when I looked at the requirements more carefully and found that you can only count freelance earnings you've made over a full tax year (I've not been doing it for long enough to have filed a tax return).

So now we find, that, having been doing everything right - working hard, storing evidence of our three years of cohabiting, biding our time until we're in a position to apply - that we are in something of a predicament. There will be a way around all of this - we've been seeking advice from 1st4Immigration, whose staff have well and truly earned the £70 advice fee with all of the questions and scenarios I have been presenting them with over the last week- but it's hard not to feel like we (like hundreds of other couples and families) are being penalized by a rule which is unfounded.

I'm not making any other claims as to what's right or wrong with regards to immigration policy, but when throngs of EU citizens can come to the UK to live and work without limitation, it seems particularly unfair that citizens of other countries are being bled dry through application fees and still being refused permission to join or remain with their loved ones.

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