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

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
Charlotte Brontë, the English novelist, poet and the eldest of the three Bronte sisters who lived into adulthood, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle depicting her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.
arts + ents "Reader, they doodled her".

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
News
People
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players