The number of foreigners granted the right to live with their relatives in the UK has plummeted in the past decade, The Independent can reveal.
Analysis of immigration statistics shows the number of children, partners and dependant relatives able to remain permanently in the UK through a “grant of settlement” has declined by 73 per cent since 2006.
Family members being granted entry clearance visas, which they must obtain in order to move to Britain to apply for settlement, have also dropped – falling from 70,119 in 2006 to just 38,119 last year, marking an decrease of 46 per cent.
Campaigners and politicians said the figures reflect an ongoing clampdown on immigration by the Conservatives through the introduction of more restrictive requirements for people wanting to join British family members, which they said has seen families “torn apart”.
One man who fled torture in Georgia told The Independent how he has had to watch his son grow up on Skype because his wife and child were unable to obtain a visa due to new immigration laws that won’t allow them to join him.
Amid the decline in family members being granted the right to live with their loved ones in the UK, the number of applications has also fallen – but not at the same rate. While applicants had an 83 per cent chance of being granted a visa in 2006, they had a 72 per cent chance last year.
Experts said the fall in applications can be explained by policies introduced by the Government to deter people from applying, in a bid to reduce immigration numbers. New measures include a rise in the income threshold for the British relative and an increase in application fees, leading to a more bureaucratic process now in place.
A policy change in 2012, which saw the period one had to live in the UK before applying for a permanent residency increase from two years to five years, will also have contributed to the steep decline in grants of settlement, which has plummeted by 77 per cent since the change took place.
The number of visas granted to children of UK citizens has dropped by 38 per cent in the past decade to 2,661, with the percentage of successful applications falling from 69 per cent to 47 per cent, the figures show.
Visas granted for partners of British nationals have fallen by 45 per cent since 2006, with the success rate down from 86 per cent to 76 per cent.
Entry clearance visas granted to “other” family members, which refers to those who have dependent relatives in the UK who require their support, has decreased even more dramatically, by 57 per cent, indicating that far less foreigners are now able to move to the UK as carers for vulnerable family members.
Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, said the decline had been caused by “damaging” new policies introduced by the Government as part of a wider set of “hostile environment” practices, which she said was making family life a “target” in the bid to meet migration objectives.
“The sharp drop-off in grants of settlement and entry clearance visas appears to indicate yet another challenge to those trying to build a normal family life in Britain,” Ms Ramadan told The Independent.
“In the last five years we have seen damaging new policies such as the income threshold, which prevents the lowest-earning half of British citizens from starting a life at home with a foreign partner – and currently affects 15,000 children.
“And we have also seen the rise of a wider set of ‘hostile environment’ practices aimed at making life difficult for newcomers, which provides a context to these latest figures. Family life has been the first target in this Government’s pursuit of an arbitrary, unachievable migration cap.”
A significant reason for the sharp decline is believed to be the decision by the coalition Government to introduce a minimum income requirement in 2012, which meant a UK citizen must earn more than £18,600 before they can sponsor a non-European spouse or partner to join them.
One man who has been directly affected by this law is David Lordkipanidze, 60, who fled torture in his home country Georgia 17 years ago, and is currently living in the UK without his wife and young son because the new immigration laws won’t allow them to join him.
He moved to Britain with his wife Irene in 2000 after getting into trouble with the authorities due to his political activism, but in 2005 – three years after the couple had had a son – their application for asylum was refused.
Unable to return without risking his own life, Mr Lordkipanidze stayed in Britain to appeal the decision but his wife and son returned to Georgia in the hope that they would soon be able to join him.
Five years later, he was granted indefinite leave to remain and shortly afterwards he was granted British citizenship, but because he wasn’t earning above the £18,600 income threshold, his wife and son, now 13, were unable to join him.
Mr Lordkipanidze told The Independent: “Psychologically, I am arrested... It’s like the Government has sentenced me to die alone without family in a different country.
“I speak to my son every day. He’s going to school. He’s in a painting exhibition, like his dad. I’m always giving him advice. He’s starting to be a teenager now.”
With indefinite leave to remain, Mr Lordkipanidze was allowed to work and took up jobs as a caretaker, a concierge and kitchen worker. But for the past few years he has struggled to find work. His age makes it more difficult.
“It’s very hard to find a job here. I go to the job centre all the time. I volunteer all the time. But I’m 60. If I couldn’t find a Job 10 years ago, how will I now?” he said.
“If I could go back to Georgia I would have been back a long time ago. And unfortunately it’s not only me in this situation. There are a lot of people, so many people, with families across the continent. I’m a British citizen but you need to have money.”
Jill Rutter, director of strategy at the thinktank British Future, which works on immigration and integration, said the Government bore responsibility but there are other factors.
“The decrease can be explained partly by a change in the movement of people. The traditional countries people applied from were in South Asia, such as Thailand and in the Indian subcontinent, and fewer people now want to bring in spouses from those countries,” she said.
“But it is also down to Government policy. The introduction of a minimum income requirement to bring your spouse or child to the UK in 2012 meant that family members of anyone earning below £18,600 were unable to get a visa.
“It may be reasonable to expect families to be able to support themselves but the system currently doesn’t take savings and spouses’ potential earnings into account. It needs to be flexible and fair, we need a system that has a heart.
“This partially affects people in low paid jobs such as social care. There have been many heartbreaking stories of families who have been separated as a result.”
Chai Patel, legal and policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: “It is a shame that fewer spouses and children are given permission to join their partners and parents in the UK and we are a poorer nation as a result. This is also just the tip of the iceberg.
“This Government is hellbent on making the UK hostile to immigrants and have created one of the harshest family migration systems amongst developed countries. For integration and communities to succeed, parents should not be separated from children, nor should partners who are in love be forced to live in different countries. We need an immigration system that respects family life.”
Olesya Lane, 38, is a Ukrainian national who, after a “nightmare” application process, has now been granted an entry clearance visa to live with her British husband in Bedfordshire with their two young children.
She told The Independent she believed the system was designed intentionally to create anxiety for foreigners wanting to join their relatives, as following the policy changes in 2012 she now has to wait five years before applying for a grant of settlement.
“The process of just being able to get a visa to come here was extremely stressful. We paid £500 for a priority application, which is supposed to take 15 working days, but because of administrative issues it took more than three months, during which I was heavily pregnant,” she said.
“And now I’m here with my children and my husband but I have to wait five years before I find out if we can actually stay here with him. It’s very uncomfortable. It is not easy to live here knowing that all that we have might be just temporary and I will not be able to live with my children here because of these rules.”
Responding to the figures, Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said the Government’s immigration policy was detrimental to families.
“As a constituency MP I have heard these heartbreaking stories first-hand. Splitting families apart and unlawfully disregarding children’s welfare, as the Supreme court ruled earlier this year, this is a direct result of the Tory Government’s failed immigration policy,” she told The Independent.
“Their target of reducing net migration to below 100,000 has never been met but they are willing to resort to desperate, damaging and quite frankly cruel policies to achieve it.”
Ed Davey, home affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said: “The Conservative’s obsession with their discredited immigration target is now tearing families apart. These figures confirm ministers are allowing children to be separated from their parents in their desire to chase headlines.
“This isn’t just horribly heartless, it is self-defeating for our country – as we lose this talent for our economy and damage Britain’s reputation across the world.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The British public have been clear that they want to see a reduction in net migration and that is what this Government is delivering. We continue to welcome the foreign partners and children of those settled in the UK but it’s important that they can stand on their own feet financially.
“The Supreme Court has endorsed our approach in setting an income threshold for family migration that prevents burdens being placed on taxpayers and ensures migrant families can integrate into our communities.”
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