Amol Rajan: Cruelty and cowardice replace common sense

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The Independent Online

At the Houses of Parliament yesterday, a demonstration was held by a charity called the Migrants' Rights Network in protest at changes to family migration rules. The rules came into effect yesterday, but there is a 40-day window in which they can be challenged.

The rules are partly a consequence of David Cameron's cruel, opportunistic and unrealisable pledge before the last general election to bring net migration into the UK down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. They target spouses who settle in our country. 

Among the measures is an expansion of the probationary period from two to five years, during which time the migrant would be on a spousal visa with no recourse to public funds and, if unable to work, dependent on their spouse. At the end of this period spouses can apply for permanent settlement only after passing the "Life in the UK" citizenship test and a language test. The applicant will have no access to publically funded language courses to prepare.

Finally, nobody earning less than £18,600 annually will be allowed to bring spouses to Britain in the first place. That rises by £2,400 a year for each child a couple is mischievous enough to have.

Taken as a whole, these changes represent a shameless attack on the poorest people in our society, a gutless retreat in the face of lies and propaganda from the right-wing press, and a further criminalisation of the pursuit of happiness by those who happen to be born in countries less wealthy than ours.

In this, it is in keeping with the general tenor of what passes for a debate on immigration in our country. It is true that Labour underestimated the scale of modern migration; that the planning for the arrival of so many migrants was pitiful; that the flip-side of any person's civic right is another person's civic duty, so that just as we campaign for migrant rights we must engender migrant duties; and that state-multiculturalism can undermine social bonds. But migrants are not the thieving villains of Daily Mail caricature. They are generally hard-working, keen to learn and contribute,. 

The sums raised by these proposed measures would hardly pay for lunch in the City. Yet the message sent by them is clear. A country which relies ever more heavily on its immigrant population wants to substitute cruelty and cowardice where compassion and common sense once prevailed.