Why is the government wrecking homes?
The new effort to clamp down on ‘sham marriages’ is, in fact, a mean-spirited attack on free movement.
‘Too often in the past the family route has been abused as a means to bypass our immigration laws’, said UK immigration minister Damian Green last week.
Well no more it seems. Speaking at the launch of a Home Office consultation paper on family-based immigration, Green outlined just how much more difficult the Lib-Cons plan to make it for people from abroad hoping to live in the UK on familial grounds. To give the minister his due, it is an impressively draconian set of proposals.
Firstly, the government would be able to set a minimum income threshold for those British citizens hoping to have their wife, partner or dependents come to join them from abroad. That means the unemployed or people who don’t earn enough will actually be prevented from having their loved ones come to live with them.
In addition, the government plans to make it more difficult for families to have their grandparents come to live with them. (Instead, families would be encouraged to send money abroad to support their grandparents.) Finally, spouses or partners from overseas will only be allowed to apply for British settlement after five years, and not the current two.
All of these little bureaucratic ratchetings, these authoritarian tinkerings, are just to whet the appetite of the anti-immigration lobby, however. For right at its heart is a scene-stealing attack on the source of much sit-com farce – the marriage of convenience. As the Evening Standard summarises: ‘The consultation proposes tougher English language standards and a more “rigorous” approach to sham marriages including a new test to establish whether relationships are genuine by investigating whether the couple live together, speak the same language and knew each other before getting married.’ Or as the Daily Mail‘s enthusiastic headline put it: ‘Crackdown on sham marriages: Migrants who wed to settle here must wait five years for benefits.’
In the proposal’s own mean-spirited, foreigner-hating terms, they do focus on a problem. That’s right. Some people, in order to gain the right to live in the UK, marry for pragmatic rather than romantic reasons. And again, in the proposal’s own mean-spirited, foreigner-hating terms, trying to make it even more difficult for couples to pull off a marriage of citizenship-gaining convenience makes sense. Green and Co have espied a rather torturously minuscule loophole and they have made it even smaller.
But here’s the thing. Perhaps the problem here is not sham marriages. Perhaps the problem here is not even the attempt of some to exploit the system through their familial relations. Perhaps the problem with all this is the massively illiberal system of immigration control which forces people to try anything to simply move to another country.
In fact, I would wager that every single one of the people in so-called sham marriages would not have chosen to use someone in that way if they didn’t have to. That people are forced into marriage just because they want to live in a country different to the one in which they have been living is an indictment of immigration control and closed borders, not masquerading spouses.
As for the economic rationale underpinning the decision to prevent those not earning enough from being allowed to have a loved one join them from overseas, again, in its own terms an income threshold makes sense. But freedom of movement is not something to be judged or even defended in economic terms. It ought to be more fundamental a freedom than that. It is part of the freedom to live one’s life as one sees and judges best. To suggest that the state should arrogate to itself the power to dictate whether you ought to be allowed to exercise that freedom, whether you ought to be allowed to have your partner live with you, is a threat to us all.
Low incomes, impoverished grandparents and sham marriages aren’t the problem here. But so thorough-going is the state’s continued fixation on immigration that it is even prepared to divide up families, splitting husbands from wives and children from parents.
Tim Black is a senior writer for spiked.
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