The price they put on love
Call it what it is: a war on British multinational families
What they did yesterday is unforgivable. Very few people will care about it. Hardly any news sites will cover it. There won't be interviews with the couples it separates or the children it leaves without a parent. No-one will give a damn.
But in a few months time, a husband will lie alone in his bed at night, separated from his wife by the Home Office. A wife will acclimatise to life apart from her husband. And a child will start to call her father 'Zoom daddy', because that's the only manner in which she'll see him.
If all that sounds alarmist or emotive, it isn't. It has already happened. It's simply an empirical description of what we have already seen take place and what will now take place much more widely.
Yesterday, the government effectively banned the majority of British citizens from living in the country with a foreign partner. We should call it what it is. We should describe it by its qualities. It is a war on British multinational families.
In 2012, as part of the Hostile Environment policy, Theresa May set a minimum income level for British citizens to be allowed to bring their foreign wife or husband to the UK. There was no need for it. People on spousal visas are not entitled to claim welfare and most of them have to pay the NHS surcharge on application. But May, despite her recent rehabilitation as some kind of imaginary liberal haunting the conscience of her former self, was in fact a deeply authoritarian and mean-spirited home secretary, so she did it anyway.
The minimum income requirement was set at £18,600. That might not sound high, but it is. People who work part-time in retail or hospitality - often women raising a child - don't reach it. But even where someone could satisfy the threshold, it frequently hit them as a sequencing problem. They'd meet their partner when they were living in another country, fall in love, settle down, get married, maybe have a kid. Then, one day, they'd decide they wanted to come home. And that's where the problems started.
Usually they would have no idea what was happening. Most had never heard of the spousal visa requirements. It was typically beyond their moral comprehension that the government would put obstacles like this in front of their family life. They assumed, on some deep instinctive level, that being able to live with your husband or wife was a core individual right as a British citizen. But the requirement, if they didn't have savings, was to show six consecutive months of income at that level. So they'd have to go home, find a job, wait for six months of income slips to come in and then apply, which would activate the expensive, laborious, Kafkaesque nightmare of the Home Office processing system. It would often take a year or more.
Yesterday, as part of the government's panicked response to the immigration figures, the income threshold was raised to £38,700. It makes no sense. Inward migration last year was 1.2 million. The total number of visas in this category was 65,000. Even if the move eradicated them all, it would barely dent the numbers. No voter is going to give Rishi Sunak credit for knocking 50,000 off the overall figure. But for the sake of the impossibly small chance that one does, he is mutilating the lives of British citizens.
This is higher than the average and the mean income in the UK. It's unachievable for around three quarters of British citizens. Indeed, the government itself considers this a high income. When education secretary Gillian Keegan was being asked about nurses' strike demands last year, she chose to highlight how well they do financially, saying: "I think the average when I last looked was £34,000 before these increases, so it's more than the average salary across the country." But in fact many nurses do not earn anything like that much. They'll be barred from living with a foreign partner. Many teachers do not earn anything like that much. They'll be barred from living with a foreign partner.
We don't have words in politics for what this does. It involves discussing the world of intimacy and tenderness. When I interviewed several people affected by the income requirements a few years back, the main things they would talk about - in quieter moments, often hesitatingly - was about touch and sex.
They just literally hadn't been touched by anyone for months. Sometimes years. They hadn't had sex. Their partner was miles away, blocked from them by distance and bureaucracy. They were isolated and alone and turning into a smaller version of themselves. They were often just terribly, terribly lonely.
When it wasn't about that, it was about their children. At the time, people would repeatedly say that their child had started to call the other parent 'Skype daddy' or 'Skype mummy'. Now I suppose it'll be Zoom daddy, or Microsoft Teams mummy, deadened phrases that should not exist in the English language. Their parent had been turned into a character on a laptop screen, no different really to those they watched on television. And this part of life, the moment which most people consider their prime, of starting a family and raising your kids, had been taken from them. Every day a tragedy, needlessly imposed.
Needless to say, many of the children developed separation issues, as they sometimes do when parents divorce. Except in this case it was often actually worse, because they could not see the other parent at all. More than one person I interviewed noted how their child would follow them around the house or cry when they went to work. They didn't feel confident that their remaining parents would stick around. At a formative age, they'd learned that parents sometimes disappear.
When May brought in the requirement, David Cameron's government was introducing the married couples tax allowance. They were big fans of families, they said. Indeed, that's supposed to be one of the core guiding principles of conservatism: the sanctity of family life. But no-one who gave a damn about families would impose this rule. No-one who retained the slightest concern for our relationships, or those of a child and their parents, would introduce this requirement, let alone ratchet-up the level at which it is imposed.
The income threshold is treated as an immigration issue. But it isn't. Economic migration is a choice. Even those of us who are strong supporters of it recognise that you can morally make choices about the entry requirements for someone coming here to work. What we're talking about in this matter is much more severe. It is about individual rights.
We are being told, as British people, who we can and cannot live with. Who we can and cannot fall in love with. Who we can and can't parent. The state is inserting itself into our homes. It is inserting itself into our bedrooms. It is inserting itself where it has no legitimate place whatsoever. And we have no choice in that. We have no choice about which country we were born in or the one we feel comfortable in.
Indeed, this whole story is about love - not just our love for our partner, but our love for our country. Many of the people affected by the income test met while living overseas. Then they got the pull of home. They wanted to raise their kids where they were raised. They wanted the safety and tranquillity of the island. I've had that feeling myself when I'm away. That pull of the place, the whisper of it, the sense of home. The dream of England.
The dream is not real. No national dream ever is. But you feel it regardless. And then, when they go with it, the first thing they find is a border guard separating them from their wife and child. They claim to be patriots. They are a debasement of whatever true patriotism is.
In all of these cases, the income requirement constitutes a choice, demanded of you by your government. You must choose between your country and your partner. Home and solitude. Or love and exile. It is a choice no moral being would ever impose.
There is no political basis for it. There is no functional basis for it. There is no economic basis for it. Liberals should be outraged. And conservatives, if they still have the slightest commitment to the values they claim to uphold, should be outraged by it too.
God damn them for proposing it. God damn them for implementing it. If they have it left in them, they'll hang their fucking heads in shame.
Who to follow
Colin Yeo is the single most authoritative and principled person I know on immigration issues. You can follow him on Twitter here, on Threads here, and on BlueSky here. His Free Movement website is a vital resource for detailed coverage of immigration. You can access it here. It’s also worth following Sonia L (Twitter or Blue Sky), CJ McKinney (Twitter or BlueSky) and Simon Cox (Twitter).
If you can, please donate to Reunite Families, a tiny organisation dedicated to helping people in the situation I've described above. They need support. It's vital that they have it. You can follow them on Twitter here. You can donate here.
Odds and sods
I know this newsletter usually goes out Friday morning - there'll be one that day as usual, although it might be a little shorter this week to make up for the time I lost on other projects doing this one. It's really useful that I can use this thing to write whenever I want on issues that seem urgent. Sorry if seeing it come up in your inbox made you feel like the weekend was closer than it was. It isn't. It's fucking miles away. Everything is terrible. Also, don't go outside - it's freezing. Dream of England my arse.
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