As soon as your flight arrives either at Heathrow or Gatwick airport, you begin to feel the diversity of Great Britain; From the immigration officer that attends to you or the ticket handler that makes sure you are through to your next connection, you realize that this is a country that for decades has opened its doors to foreigners and people from different backgrounds and races who today call the country home. There is hardly any nation on earth that is not represented in the City of London and other cities allover the United Kingdom.
The reason for such diversity in Britain may be due to its democracy, respect for human rights, stable economy and largely its legacy as a former colonial master that once made its marks known in the continent of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Today, there are British citizens of Pakistani origin, Indian origin, Nigerian origin, Jamaican and so forth. The past few years have also seen a new wave of migration into Britain, largely of newly admitted EU members like Poland, Romania, Estonia and more causing an increase in migration, which is now pushing some British law makers to review the immigration policies in a desperate attempt to reduce net migration to the country.
The Guardian recently released a report that Britain’s Home Secretary, Theresa May is proposing a new immigration bill which if implemented, means British citizens with foreign born partners, will have the choice either to exile in the country of their partner or face the breakup of their families if they intend to live in the UK. She plans to introduce a new minimum income requirement for a British petitioner without children of up to 25,700 pounds a year, and an English speaking test for any foreign-born beneficiary be it husbands, wives, partners of a UK national petitioning for a spouse or partner to come and live in Britain.
Part of the Bill is to increase the probationary period for foreign spouses and beneficiaries of British nationals from two to five years and to include an “attachment test,” to demonstrate that the “combined attachment” of the couple to Britain is greater than any other country. Also, an illegal migrant or convicted foreign national awaiting deportation that has a family in Britain will be deported unless the removal is blocked by the courts under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Such move if implemented means a British national married to one subject to deportation will have the choice to either be separated and live in Britain or move to the nation where his or her spouse is deported.
A look at the proposals by the Home Secretary will reveal that some of the policies she wants implemented, are those already in place in some Western nations including the United States; however, there are problems with some parts of the dossier which are unlikely to pass through the Parliament. For example, based on U.S. Immigration Law, a spouse petitioning for his or her partner must meet a set minimum income requirement however, if a petitioner cannot meet the minimum set, he is allowed to join his income with that of the foreign born beneficiary and if after all, the minimum income is still not met, a co-sponsor may be used. Meaning that, a petitioner may use the income of a family member to meet the income requirement; however, both the petitioner and co-sponsor are required to sign an undertaking that ‘if the beneficiary becomes a ward of State or decides to live on welfare on arrival to the U.S. both the petitioner and co-sponsor are financially responsible’.
According to those opposed to this part of the Bill, the minimum income of 25,700 pounds a year, will exclude those who make a minimum gross income of less than 25,700 pounds from living in the UK if they choose to marry a non-EU national. In a way, while such a proposal does not directly place a mandate on who to marry, it will indirectly influence the choice of a British citizen to marry a person of his or her choice; it is a way of saying you either marry a British/EU national or get out of Britain to live with your spouse in his/her country of origin.
To require that the spouse of a British citizen coming to live in the UK must speak English, may be read as a proposal with the intent to exclude certain people; A French/English speaking British citizen who met and fell in-love with an Algerian while working in Algeria, is likely to use French and not English as the language of communication with her spouse so, the fact that the spouse does not speak English should not be a barrier or condition of migration; such a requirement is only necessary when petitioning for citizenship.
In the U.S. for example, the language requirement is only necessary during the interview for citizenship and there are other requirement such as, knowing a little about American History. The principle behind such requirements is that, after living in the U.S. for at least 3-5-years, one who intends to be a U.S. citizen should be able to speak some English. This is same or similar in many civilized nations and never a requirement to bring a spouse based on marriage.
To require that a convicted felon be deported to his country of origin irrespective of his family ties in Britain is not unfair; one who intends to live in Britain must be prepared to obey its laws. However, to deport a convicted felon with family ties who has been admitted as a British citizen before his conviction, may amount to a human rights violation. Simply put, it is like deporting a British born citizen convicted of a felony after serving his prison time. The question is where do you deport him to?
In the United States, a permanent resident with Green Card, who is not yet a citizen, faces deportation after serving his or her jail time if convicted of a felony; however, if he has become a U.S. citizen at the time of conviction, he remains in the country after serving time in prison just like every other U.S. citizen, convicted of a felony. Just like a foreign born British citizen can be liable for a crime, so also a British born national can be found liable for a crime but the British government just like any other government, may have adequate justification for deporting a foreigner convicted of a crime, irrespective of his family ties in Britain.
Some parts of the Home Secretary’ proposals especially on spousal migration, may have gone too far; read properly, it is like saying ‘who marries who;’ it is like a law telling private citizens who they should marry. While the proposal does not directly tell British nationals to marry from the UK or EU states, it can be easily inferred this is what it is designed to do and from the language of such a proposal, it is implied that British nationals are given the choice to either marry from Britain/EU or leave to reside in the country of a non-British spouse. If so, a British citizen who due to love and circumstances married a Syrian must go to live in Syria even if she does not want to, or one married to a Nigerian must go and live in Nigeria after deciding Britain is where they want to call home.
The United Kingdom is a great democracy and a good example for other nations to emulate; and as earlier indicated, it has opened its doors to foreigners from time immemorial evidenced by its diversity and composition. Before formation of the EU, it has enjoyed a close relation with its former colonies which has lasted for decades and to the present days after independence of those nations.
The current move by the Home Secretary in an attempt to reduce net migration from 250,000 to “tens of thousands,” may be seen as an attempt to isolate Britain’s former colonies and deny legitimate spouses right to migrate irrespective of whether they are from the EU or not. British former colonies are part of the nation’s history and for many years, spousal visas have been issued irrespective of the nation of origin of the beneficiary
While it is necessary to control migration, there are other ways of doing so without violating the rights of British citizens. The migration problems may have been due to the movement of newly admitted EU nationals into Britain and should not be blamed on spousal migration. Nonetheless, Theresa May must address the issue and lay blame where it belongs; some of her proposals on spousal visa seems too harsh, it is a prior restraint on marriage and must not pass parliamentary scrutiny.
Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is an expert in general law, foreign relations and the United Nations. Follow on Twitter @san0670