Families that need £18,600 to spend Christmas together: The shameful earnings threshold imposed on British citizens wanting to bring their foreign spouses here

As politicians pander to the public’s backlash against immigration, Ian Birrell reports on the new regulations preventing husbands and wives from seeing their children 

Like any father, Ethan James Feltham was looking forward to Christmas with his wife and their new son. But instead he must pack up the presents and put them in the post, for his young family will spend the festive period 10,000 miles apart from each other on different sides of the world. “It’s just so disappointing,” he told me ruefully.

This man may have risked his life in Afghanistan as a member of the armed forces, but British bureaucrats do not believe his Fijian wife – met through a military friend – will leave if she comes to stay. And although he works some 60 hours a week as a restaurant chef, the 23-year-old’s earnings fall a few hundred pounds short of the shameful earnings threshold imposed on British citizens wanting to bring their spouses to live here.

“No one in South Wales takes home the £18,600 they say you need to earn,” said Feltham. “So I applied twice for them to visit for Christmas but they turned us down each time. It feels so disrespectful for these people to tell an ex-soldier they think he is lying.’

He is right – it is disgusting. Unfortunately, his trauma is far from unique. Innocent families are being torn apart, victims of our nation’s toxic backlash against immigration.

While most Britons prepare for the holiday period, this small minority are forbidden to see spouses and children by zealous officials and a thicket of new regulations imposed by panic-stricken politicians.

A new report by Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN) highlights 63 such cases. They include Lizzie, daughter of a Tory councillor, whose Ecuadorian doctor husband cannot visit his baby in Britain. Dee, a Canadian who came to see her husband of six years but was sent home after two horrifying days in a detention centre. And Mary, a nursery nurse from North Carolina, similarly stunned to be stuck in a detention unit after coming to visit her partner.

Welcome to Britain? Not these days. Such is the fear factor over immigration and the Government’s desire to hit its ludicrous cap that officials, driven on by their political masters, are becoming even more hostile to visitors from outside the European Union.

After all, beyond tweaking the benefits system and making threatening noises, there is nothing that can be done to stop people coming here from Germany and France, let alone those Bulgarians and Romanians, short of withdrawing from the club.

So put aside the reality that migrants are more entrepreneurial, more likely to drive up educational skills and more likely to boost prosperity than natives. And less likely to claim benefits, of course. Instead, we see politicians on all sides demonstrate a disgraceful lack of leadership by pandering to populist alarm against immigrants, despite their key role in our economic revival. So woe betide Britons foolish enough to fall in love with a foreigner.

The Coalition proclaims itself an advocate of marriage and supporter of hard-working families, but new rules introduced last year make it harder to bring in foreign husbands, wives and children. If you are poor, forget it – you must have disposable annual income of at least £18,600 to sponsor your spouse; this excludes nearly half the working population.

And such are the nerves over failing to hit that silly cap people are being rejected on the most spurious grounds, such as minor form infringements; numbers entering on a spouse visa have fallen 25 per cent in a year.

Not only are families divided – up to 17,800 a year may be ripped apart by these new rules according to one government estimate –  but it appears officials are becoming more active preventing people even visiting their partners for fear they might overstay. “We are seeing lots more of these cases,” said Ruth Grove-White, policy director at MRN. ‘People are getting desperate because it has been made so difficult to come here for important family occasions such as the birth of their child, weddings and funerals.’

This is just the tip of a cruel iceberg. Britain’s visa system is torturous, driving away millions who wish to spend money in our shops, visit our tourist sites and seal deals with our businesses. It is suspected one in four applicants abandon plans to visit, costing the economy about £750m each year. Yet there is no measure of the anger when decent people are treated like criminals and turned away by arrogant officials; I have heard the legacy of bitterness often in Africa and Asia.

I have seen also the hurdles people must jump to come here through the Africa Express music project. Earlier this month, we invited Malian artists – including Songhoy Blues, a guitar band from Timbuktu, and Bijou, a soul singer – to play an album launch concert. Since there is no British consulate in Bamako, they had to fly to Dakar in Senegal, then wait several days for an appointment with a British official. Having already spent £500 each, they had to hand over another £200 for a visa and provide a welter of paperwork; this can include bank statements and utility bills, which many Africans do not possess. Then the passports went to Ghana for several weeks, during which time they could not travel – and if the application returns too late or is rejected, there is no recompense.

We were lucky – the visas came on the last day possible to get here. Increasingly they are turned down; a celebrated Pakistani jazz ensemble had to cancel a concert in London last month for this reason, despite having just played the Lincoln Centre in New York.

The previous month, a renowned Algerian historian in his eighties was unable to deliver a keynote speech at Oxford University; officials said he could not prove he was not planning to settle in  Britain.

This is what happens when fear of foreigners contaminates politics and corrodes society. Amid talk of a global race, our country is losing money along with goodwill in some of the world’s fastest-growing regions. And among the biggest losers of these self-defeating policies are thousands of British people, who merely married someone from another country. Think of them this Christmas.

twitter.com/@ianbirrell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms