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Migration policies are failing families and society

(Alamy)

4 min read

It is heartening to hear Rishi Sunak say “strong, supportive families make for more stable communities” – but the United Kingdom’s migration policies do not implement that statement.

Or when the Home Secretary Suella Braverman said, “We take the welfare of any child who comes into contact with the Home Office incredibly seriously; their well-being is of paramount importance”, but sadly this is not the law – nor does it reflect experiences reported to the Lords Justice and Home Affairs Select Committee, which has published a new report: All Families Matter: An inquiry into family migration.

Current migration rules are at odds with that commitment to family life.

A child’s best interests should be at the heart of family migration decisions

We were dismayed, and upset, by a number of clearly typical stories of families forced to live apart. Of parents having to bring up children alone until they can be joined by their foreign partners –  provided they earn enough. Of children growing up without a parent. Of families who could not be joined in the UK by elderly parents from overseas for whom they are desperate to care (no visa was issued in 2021 to people in that situation). Of child refugees who cannot be joined by any relatives. Questioned by the committee, the Home Secretary defended the policy.

We were shocked and ashamed to hear, “I feel that, although I am a British citizen, I have no rights”. The rules now apply where, before Brexit, there was free movement. Many European citizens and their families, and British citizens with European relatives, are now affected.

The Home Office sees separation as a matter of choice and regards online contact as adequate. The committee profoundly disagreed. Daddy does not live in the computer, and he does have legs even though they don’t appear on the screen.

And granny may not get a visa to visit. Nor may mummy, because wanting to come frequently to the UK means she is likely to overstay her visa.

Modern families are often extended or blended, for instance including step-parents. The Home Office recognises only the traditional nuclear model. 

A child’s best interests, which generally mean being with family, should be at the heart of family migration decisions. Family law can teach us much when it comes to protecting children.

On top of all this, the Home Office is appallingly poor in its processing of applications. Delays pile up, communication is dreadful – you phone to ask what’s happening to your application, have to give your credit card details because you’re charged for the call, and some time later still don’t know. Evidential requirements – how you prove your case – are excessively complex and fees are prohibitive. People are left distraught.      

Our whole society is impacted. Essential skills are lost when people feel they have no alternative but to leave the UK, and some people may not come in the first place. Health services are particularly affected – and we do need doctors and nurses.

An individual’s contribution to the economy is weakened when a partner or parent is not allowed into the country to help raise children. In extreme cases, migration policies force families into destitution, making them reliant on the state. The Home Secretary told the committee that the policies strike the right balance between respecting family life and protecting societal interests. The committee recognised that strict criteria and vetting of applications is necessary; public support demands it. But the committee believes that policies that respect family life also benefit society. We are far from having the right balance.

Humanity and decency should be at the heart of rights-based family migration polices. There is considerable scope for the Home Office to simplify complex rules and improve its standards for processing applications. The interests of both families and society would be served by this.

 

Baroness Hamwee, Liberal Democrat peer. 

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