15 Aug 2013

The families separated by the government

Channel 4 News meets the families being torn apart by Home Office rules which prevent foreign-born spouses settling in the UK if they fail an income test.

It’s now more than a year since the Home Office introduced new stringent rules on family migration, writes Home Affairs Correspondent Simon Israel.

The rules have divided many familes.

Last year, I met Andy Russell and his two little boys Dylan, aged 6, and Devon, 4. The new immigration rules forced their mother Molly to return to China while Andy searched for work – a job which would pay at least £18,600 – the minimum earnings threshold for his wife to be allowed to stay.

He told me: “The emotional cost you cannot put a price on. When Molly first left, devon just cried, he’d spent every day and night with his mum and suddenly he had nothing”

They were forced to communicate through Skype and Molly became known as “computer mummy”.

I followed Andy’s efforts to meet the requirements. It took a year. There were many dark periods.

“I would get home from work and it was six hours of mental torture,” he said. “I read immigration law til I couldn’t stay awake. I spent every moment trying to find a short cut or solution.There were many times I thought is it worth it.”

On Tuesday, Molly came through the arrival gates in terminal 4 at Heathrow to an emotionally-charged reunion.

But the Russell family are a rare success story.

Andy believes the rules are wrong, inhumane, ill-conceived and poorly thought out. He said: “We are supposed to embrace and cherish families, not pull them apart. It’s not what this country’s about.”

While Andy and his family have cleared the hurdles to family migration many many others are still stuck in pending trays.

Chris Reed is still waiting even though an immigration tribunal ruled in his favour.

At the age of 63 he works 45 hours a week caring for the elderly. He’s £17 a week short of that annual £18,600 figure.

It’s not enough to bring his Kenyan wife to Britain, even though he has a rent-free home and no mortgage.

At the tribunal, the Home Office – which is in the process of defying legal attempts to amend the rules and lower the financial bar – contested that thousands of pounds in premium bonds did not amount to savings and suggested that Mr Reed simply move to Mombasa.

Chris told us:”I was dumbfounded it should even be an option, that as a British citizen I should be asked to uproot and leave my family behind just because I had fallen in love with someone who doesn’t come from the EU.”

The judge agreed, saying: “I do not accept it is reasonable to expect a British citizen to live in Kenya. It would deprive him of of the benefits of his British citizenship.”

The Home Office is appealing against the decision. It’s also contesting another ruling which threatens the financial bar set to deter many couples and families from living in the UK.

All applications which rest on meeting the income thresholds have been put on hold.

The Joint council for the Welfare of Immigrants believe it’s the start of a new immigration backlog. A spokesman said: “They are in a state of limbo. This is just perpetuating the uncertainty and difficulty and the separation of families.”

No date has been set for the appeal. But which ever way it goes won’t be the end of the matter.