By Gethin Jones
Are you planning to leave for the UK with your Russian wife/husband? You might want to think again, as it is not as straightforward as you might think. Rules have changed and certain restrictions have now been placed on would be immigrants to the UK. Ex-long-term Moscow resident who many of us know though his work with the British Business Club, tells the story from his perspective, a British husband in Wales waiting for his Russian wife to arrive.
What is wrong with the present system?
The UK immigration rules, as introduced by the coalition government on the 9th of July 2012 are the UK governmentâs attempt to reduce immigration into the UK from outside the EU (as things stand, the government canât do much about immigration from other EU countries due to the EUâs rules about freedom of movement).
The new rules mean that any UK citizen wishing to bring a spouse into the UK must meet certain criteria before their spouse is allowed to apply for a UK Settlement Visa. The rules stipulate that the sponsor must be in employment in the UK for a period of at least 6 months with a salary of not less than Â£18,600 per annum. If the sponsor wishes to bring a child into the UK who does not have UK or EU citizenship, then he or she would have to earn no less than Â£22,400 per annum and pay a further Â£2,400 for each additional child. The non-EU spouse must also pass an English language test before a visa application can be made.
The sponsor would also have to have a minimum of Â£16,000 in savings, again for at least 6 months, and be able to demonstrate clearly where this money came from. Loans or gifts of money from friends or family are not allowed.
Should the sponsor have savings of Â£62,500 or more in their bank account, again for 6 months or longer, then the earlier financial requirements would not apply, and an application for a Settlement Visa could be made.
These rules apply only to UK citizens. Anyone with any other EU nationality could bring a non-EU spouse into the UK with no hindrance whatsoever.
The rules are grossly unfair in a number of ways. The minimum salary requirement of Â£18,600 was set at this level so that any family settling in the UK, which includes a non-EU spouse, would have no recourse to funds from the public purse.
However, no account is taken of sponsorsâ individual circumstances. For instance a sponsor living in rented accommodation and with credit card and/or other debts, in London or the south east of England, who would have a much higher cost of living and far less disposable income than, say, someone who lives away from the capital, where the cost of living is lower, and who owned their own house and had no debt. The sum of Â£18,600 would also exclude anyone working for the minimum wage, as well as 47% of the UK working population.
These immigration rules mean that around 17,800 British families are broken up every year, with families living apart, for an unknowable length of time, while they seek to resolve their individual situations and makes a complete mockery of the governmentâs purported support of the family and the institution of marriage. The impact on the children caught up on the fallout from these rules is incalculable, with many hundreds of children living apart from one parent, who is unable to be with them.
The rules unfairly penalise UK citizens who wish to settle in the UK with their non-EU spouses and families. Other EU citizens can settle in the UK with non-EU spouses but British citizens donât enjoy this right.
The application of the rules is often arbitrary and downright incompetent. There are many instances of sponsorsâ accounts being misread or not understood by Home Office officials resulting in the rejection of perfectly valid visa applications.
The immigration process is also hugely bureaucratic and increasingly expensive for sponsors. An application for a Settlement Visa costs Â£956 and the cost for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK has risen, in April 2015, from Â£1,093 to Â£1,500 and Naturalisation has risen from Â£906 to Â£1,005.
Due to the inherent bureaucracy of the system, and the frequent recourse to using very expensive immigration lawyers, the net cost of administering and applying these rules must far outweigh any financial savings they were introduced to make.
How should immigration of spouses to the UK be organised?
The first thing that should be changed with these rules is that common sense should be applied to each and every case. No account whatsoever is taken of individualsâ hugely differing financial and family circumstances. Couples who have been married for over 40 years and who have grown up children are treated in the same suspicious way, and have to answer the same invasive and personal questions as a very young couple who have just married and whose marriage is suspected to be a sham.
Leeway should be given if the sponsorsâ friends and family are able to offer financial and other support for the relocating family. A proper financial account should be taken of any property owned by the sponsor, which should mitigate against the financial requirements.
Consideration should be taken, and common sense used, of the reality of freedom of movement and what this means in practice for millions of British citizens who live and work overseas. People are used to traveling the world and spending long periods of their career and family life overseas and this should be reflected in any legislation covering British citizensâ desire to return to their home country together with their families.
There is more often than not a presumption of guilt concerning couples and families who simply want to live together in Britain which means that they are often treated, and feel as if they are being treated, as people who are trying to circumvent the system. People who do try to cheat the system should be stopped from doing so but obviously genuine couples, who are clearly not trying to pass off a sham marriage as a genuine one, and who are clearly trying to do everything by the rules, should not have to answer ridiculous questions about a genuine relationship.
How difficult is it for you to cope and your wife to cope being alone?
The UK immigration rules have turned both my wife and I, and our two daughters, into two one-parent families. We took the very difficult decision that I would live in Wales with our elder daughter, Nina, so that she could go to a Welsh school and that my wife, Elena, would stay in Moscow with our younger daughter Alwena, until we somehow manage to resolve this situation. That was two years ago and, apart from holidays spent together, we have been split up as a family with no immediate prospect of being allowed to live together in our family home.
It is ironic that the onus is on me to earn enough so that my wife and younger daughter can join me in living in our family home in Wales. As well as two part-time jobs, I also run my own company, which I started two years ago and which organises shooting and other outdoor activity holidays in Wales, the rest of the UK and Russia. To grow my business to the best of my ability, I need to be able to travel on business to other parts of Wales and the UK to host shooting parties and the like. Due to my current circumstances, I am unable to do this as it would mean leaving my 15 year-old daughter alone.
We are also unable to plan anything as a family, either in the long or short term. We had always planned to leave Russia and return to live in my home town in Wales so that both our daughters could go to a Welsh school and, eventually, go to university in the UK. As things stand now, we donât even know if weâll be living together any time soon or where our daughters will go to school.
What is the impact on your children?
This is something I fear is impossible to calculate exactly. One of my daughters lives without her mother and the other lives without her father and both live without each other and in separate households, 1,500 miles apart. This can only have a very negative effect on their wellbeing and development. We have lived apart as a family for two years, with no prospect of being reunited in the near future, and two years is a very long time indeed for two young girls, aged 11 and 15.