The nasty party just got even nastier

by Chris Bertram on June 9, 2012

I’ve blogged about this before, but the UK Coalition government’s proposals to restrict the immigration of spouses of British nationals just came a step closer to being enacted. Though packaged as a measure against forced marriage, this is a proposal that will drive into exile or separation many people whose personal income falls below the £25,700 threshold and who happen to have been unlucky enough to fall for a non-EU citizen. Sheer evil. The Guardian:

bq. British citizens with foreign-born partners are to be given the choice of indefinite “exile” in countries including Yemen and Syria or face the breakup of their families if they want to remain in the UK, under radical immigration changes to be announced next week, MPs have been told. The home secretary, Theresa May, is expected to confirm that she will introduce a new minimum income requirement for a British “sponsor” without children of up to £25,700 a year, and a stringent English speaking test for foreign-born husbands, wives or partners of UK citizens applying to come to live in Britain on a family visa. Immigration welfare campaigners say that the move will exclude two-thirds of British people – those who have a minimum gross income of under £25,700 a year – from living in the UK as a couple if they marry a non-EU national. They estimate that between 45% and 60% of the 53,000 family visas currently issued each year could fall foul of the new rules.

It is hard to have any hope that the Liberal Democrats might decide this is a line they cannot cross, but they have to be put under pressure. People have to write to their MPs of whatever party and make their disgust known, as well as trying to get the Labour Party in the shape of Chris Bryant and Yvette Cooper to take a stand (rather than trying to be more nationalist than the Tories). I wonder also whether the academics who are members of the UK Border Agency’s Migration Advisory Committee shouldn’t be being asked tough questions by their academic colleagues and urged to resign.



Andreas Moser 06.09.12 at 1:42 pm

And everybody knows it’s in violation of Art. 8 ECHR, so it will eventually be overturned. (Even though the UK tends to forget that it signed up to the European Charter of Human Rights:

The British government won’t be able to show a connection between low (or indeed medium) income and forced marriage, so the infringement of Art. 8 I ECHR won’t be justifiable under Art. 8 II ECHR.

Unfortunately it will take years until these cases reach the courts and by then thousands will have suffered. A shame.


Nick 06.09.12 at 2:17 pm

I think there is some sense to this reform, for dependents only. It doesn’t make very much sense for foreign partners who are also capable of working in the UK.


Kieran 06.09.12 at 2:52 pm

Is the UK proposal household income or sponsor income? £25,700 seems like it’s pretty close to the median wage.

Green Card applications have to satisfy an income requirement—the sponsor (e.g., the domestic-born spouse) has to sign an affidavit of support proving they meet an income threshold so that the prospective immigrant doesn’t become a burden on the state. My wife had to do this for me, much to her amusement. However, IIRC the US threshold is much lower than the proposed UK one: the household income has to be 125% of the official poverty line for the household’s size. This is a low number, something that’s of course bad in other policy situations—it’s about $19,000, which would be about GBP £12,500. Moreover, I’m pretty sure in the US case it’s household income that matters: you can count the income of the immigrant along with the sponsor’s if e.g. the couple has been living together for more than six months and have submitted a joint tax return.


Danny Yee 06.09.12 at 4:05 pm

So the idea is that rich people are allowed to engage in forced marriages!?

(Of course if you’ve got a lot of money you can pretty much buy Indefinite Leave to Remain.)


matt 06.09.12 at 4:09 pm

Language requirements for naturalization might barely make sense, but just to get a family visa, with the very high income requirement, seems indefensible.
As Kieran notes the US requirement is much lower. there are complicated rules on what and whose income counts but it can be met in many ways. (I met it with my grad student stipend.) It does, however, excluded several thousand people per year.


Chris Bertram 06.09.12 at 4:14 pm

The income of the British sponsor alone is what counts.


rm 06.09.12 at 4:31 pm

Here in the States, NPR reported this as purely a measure against forced marriages, which is of course the spin that preempts any opposing voice — if you speak against it you must be pro-forced marriage and puppy killing. I think when I hear racist and xenophobic dog-whistles in American accents I can recognize them, but until I read this post I did not recognize the racist subtext to Cameron’s statement. Looking at it again, it’s actually not subtle.


James 06.09.12 at 4:53 pm

A law like this would equally affect white spouses from say Eastern Europe / Russia the same way it would affect Asian or middle Eastern spouses. It strikes me as an anti-welfare move and not a racial one.


Ed 06.09.12 at 5:09 pm


This is pretty much purely a class warfare move and should be overturned by the courts. I’m pretty far to the right on immigration compared to most Crooked Timber readers but I think governments should let their citizens or subjects marry pretty much whomever they want, which implies a liberal policy towards letting spouses and children across the frontiers.

Of course the UK legally restricts members of its royal family from marrying so this might be one of those English eccentricities. In the US, as pointed out, you have to meet a minimum income to sponsor a spousal immigrant, but the level is much lower, tied to the poverty line, and much easier to meet or work around.


Matt McGrattan 06.09.12 at 6:33 pm

The UK has always required that people marrying non-EU spouses be able to show that they had an income sufficient to support their partner for a year without recourse to public funds. I had to take a year out from graduate study when I got married in order to meet this requirement, and that was 10 years ago.

That’s not to excuse the Tories raising the bar on income and introducing the language requirement, which are both clearly discriminatory.


Kieran 06.09.12 at 7:15 pm

Looking at current labor market statistics, the average wage was £439 per week in February 2012. So, £22,828 per annum on a 52-week year. The idea that a sponsor has to be earning above the median wage to qualify their spouse for immigration status seems pretty brutal. And this number is the threshold for childless couples. If there are kids, presumably it’s going to be even higher.

(Side note: reporting wage data on a weekly basis—a nation of footballers.)


John Quiggin 06.09.12 at 8:12 pm

Taking account of the the age of people likely to be newly married, who are likely to have below-average earnings, it’s even worse.


Josh G. 06.09.12 at 8:18 pm

Yes, this measure sounds like it will indeed hurt a lot of innocent people.
I do have to ask, th0ugh: what measure would you recommend to stop chain-migration via forced cousin-marriage? This is a serious problem in England and many other countries.


Colin Danby 06.09.12 at 8:44 pm

“This is a serious problem in England and many other countries.”

References would be useful here.


Phil 06.09.12 at 9:46 pm

Kieran – the table you’re citing gives mean earnings, not median. The 2011 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings gives median gross weekly earnings of £404 (unchanged from 2010), or £501 for full-time employees (up £2 from 2010, which presumably means the figure for part-timers has gone down). So the median wage is actually £21,000; even the median full-time wage is £26,000, just a squeak above the £25,700 limit cited. (I’m a part-timer, and I’m below the median. Fortunately my wife was born here.)


Ed 06.09.12 at 9:46 pm

Couldn’t chain migration be stopped simply by limiting family based immigration claims to spouses, children, and parents? And only one spouse at a time.


StopForcedMarriage 06.09.12 at 9:50 pm

Here’s a good start, Colin.


Edmund in Tokyo 06.09.12 at 9:59 pm

I wonder how serious these proposals are. Apparently they come from the Migration Advisory Committee, which:

“was specifically tasked with ensuring that the figure would ensure that sponsors
could support family members without ‘becoming a burden on the State.’ The
Government expressed its belief that the relevant level should exceed the amount
that it deems appropriate for its nationals to live on and should therefore exceed
Income Support levels”

So I’m wondering if the government, eager to please he tabloids, pulled a broad sweeping principle out of it’s bum that anyone who knew about it thought would be mad when turned into actual rules, and the committee responded by following their instructions to the letter in the hope that the result would be so obviously bonkers that the government would have to relent on the general principles.


Martin Bento 06.09.12 at 10:02 pm

As a non-brit, I would like to know how popular this is likely to be. Assuming it is properly understood, i.e., setting aside popularity it may gain from the forced marriage spin.

20 06.09.12 at 10:15 pm

Canadian immigration law requires a sponsoring spouse (or common-law partner) to sign an agreement with the Federal government to repay any welfare costs incurred by the sponsored spouse for the 3 years after the spouse becomes a permanent resident. But there is no minimum income for sponsoring a spouse or children — only when grandchildren enter the picture is a minimum income required. Sponsoring parents and grandparents is currently under a 2 year suspension, as the Conservatives decide how they’re going to retool the program to drastically reduce the number of older people who are allowed to become Canadians, without jumping the shark of crass xenophobia.

The current Minister is also drafting changes to impose a contingency upon new spousal sponsorships, so that the sponsored spouse’s status can be stripped from him/her if the relationship ends within 2 years of landing. This is to help “combat” marriage fraud, which is apparently the outrageous issue in the Canadian context. We’re not particularly concerned about forced marriages — at least it’s never framed that way in the Ministerial spin. Duress certainly can be discussed in the course of a sponsorship application, but it’s not something that’s actively built into the analysis of new relationships. Perhaps this is a feature of the Canadian approach to multiculturalism.


Jameson Quinn 06.09.12 at 10:20 pm

I’m an immigration exile from the US because my wife tested positive for pot 9 years ago. (She’s Guatemalan, but she actually had been in Amsterdam 3 months prior). The initial three-year ban they put on her is long past, but it’s more than clear by now that they will use their discretion to deny her a visa whenever they can. I actually don’t mind living here in Guatemala, but I very much DO mind that she can’t visit my family and friends. But I don’t want it so much that I’m willing to live in the US without my family for 6 months or more while I do the paperwork, or to risk her life in an illegal border crossing. (I have it on good authority that those are my only real options at this point).

Anyway, this isn’t really relevant to the new UK policy, except to say that even if you want to live abroad, not being able to get a visa for your family REALLY SUCKS.


Data Tutashkhia 06.09.12 at 10:35 pm

I believe (could be wrong) that in the States, when you sponsor someone, you sign a promise to support them for 3 years, so that they are not supposed to get any assistance from the government during that period. But of course what you sign is a federal paper, and what they can get is mostly state-level stuff, so it doesn’t really matter.


Laleh 06.09.12 at 10:43 pm

Andreas, didn’t the Danes pass a law very similar to this and it seems not to have been challenged by any sort of ECHR lawsuits?

And of course this is about limiting immigrations… It just -like so much else- uses the imagery of oppressed damsels in distress to justify itself. Rather more disturbingly, the NGO report The Guardian quotes similarly uses images of damsels in distress (this time of English women -presumably white given their names being listed as “Emma” and “Anna”- having to move to -horror of horrors- Yemen as the way to challenge the law….


Colin Danby 06.09.12 at 10:51 pm

Could I ask you to do better, SFM?

The comment I replied to spoke of “chain-migration via forced cousin-marriage” which appears to be the claim that there’s a *flow of immigration* via “forced cousin-marriage” substantial enough to require a policy solution. I don’t see that claim made on the site you direct me to. Possibly you can find something on it that I cannot. What I see are stories (under “testimonials, survivor’s stories” and “media centre”), many of which have nothing to do with migration.


Edmund in Tokyo 06.09.12 at 10:52 pm

The Telegraph has some lower numbers for the thresholds – I’m not sure if this means the government has gone for lower thresholds than previously discussed, or if it’s a before-tax vs after-tax thing.

BTW, I love their description of the fact that this stuff is going to be illegal:
“It is likely to… face opposition from lawyers and judges.”

They should use this more often:
“If the police find me, my plan to rob the convenience store is likely to face opposition from lawyers and judges”.


Matt 06.09.12 at 11:11 pm

In the U.S. there are a web of related regulations that cover this type of thing. The most basic in a way is that a would-be immigrant is inadmissible if he or she is deemed (by the consular officer or the admitting Customs and Border patrol officer) “likely to be a public charge.” It may or may not be possible to appeal that, depending on when and where it happens. Being inadmissible interacts with being removable (and the ability to enter and leave the country) in complex ways that would take too long to detail here. My impression is that immigrants are almost never removed for being a public charge, even if they could be, but it’s not advisable to be a non-naturalized immigrant in the US and be on welfare. (There are exceptions to almost all of these rules for refugees, for what that’s worth.)

Next, to sponsor an immigrant of a family visa, the sponsor must be able to show that he or she can support the would-be immigrant at 125% of the poverty level for a family of the relevant size. That’s a low number in the U.S. When I sponsored my wife (10 years ago) it was about $17,000/year. I assume it’s a bit more now. That was 125% of the poverty level for two people. If the sponsor can’t meet it w/ income, you can apply assets, but in a pretty complicated way that’s not too easy. The sponsor can also get a guarantor (usually other family members) to, essentially, co-sign, but the co-sponsor’s family then counts into the relevant family size. If the immigrant accesses means-tested public benefits w/in a certain period (10 years, maybe- I’d have to look it up) this could be billed to the sponsor, even if, say the marriage had ended in divorce. I don’t think that this happens very often, though, if at all.

Next, immigrants are ineligible for most federal public benefits for 5 years, or until they naturalize, and states are authorized, but usually not required, to exclude immigrants from the benefits they offer for a certain time.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable for states to want to make sure that immigrants are able to support themselves, and to take steps to do that. The U.S. rules are overly complex and, to my mind, stingy and punitive, as are social benefit rules in the US in general. The proposed British rule seems to go further than this in a pretty bad way.


Emma in Sydney 06.10.12 at 12:47 am

This may explain why my (dual British Australian) son’s (Australian) partner has not heard whether her application for a spouse visa has been approved, despite it being months after than the originally given decision date. They are both students. Given that they both hold Australian citizenship it will be hard for them to demonstrate the ‘greater connection to Britain than any other country’. I wonder what the British education industry thinks of this? There are a lot of overseas students who will be affected.


StopForcedMarriage 06.10.12 at 1:54 am

@ Colin 24:
Here’s more with the direct link to Kashmiri villages:


faustusnotes 06.10.12 at 2:33 am

It’s pretty obvious that this will affect people from some parts of the world more than others. It’s aimed at stopping people in manual labouring and low-skilled positions from becoming permanent migrants – that is, it’s targeted at Africans and South Asians, designed to ensure that the guy who sells you perfume shots in the night club toilets doesn’t stay in Britain more than absolutely necessary for the convenience of white Britain.


Colin Danby 06.10.12 at 3:56 am

The link you provide, SFM, describes an admirably well-targeted initiative.

It might be simpler if we ask what makes forced marriage an *immigration* problem rather than a UK law or human rights problem, a problem that might plausibly be addressed by large changes in family visa eligibility. (I appreciate that you have not advocated such changes in this thread.) And particularly for those of us not familiar with the issue, some sense of total flows in question would be useful. Perhaps someone familiar with the data can provide more context.

The government document linked from the Guardian article ( does report (p. 43) that “In 2010, there were 1,735 instances where the Forced Marriage Unit gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage, 86 per cent involving a female victim and 14 per cent male.”

Interestingly that document urges criminalization and age cutoffs to address forced marriage, but does not, as far as I can see, advocate income cutoffs for that purpose.


john b 06.10.12 at 6:44 am

It’s aimed at stopping people in manual labouring and low-skilled positions from becoming permanent migrants

Well, no. It’s aimed at stopping people *married to Brits who are in such positions* from becoming permanent migrants. Only the British partner’s income is taken into account. That doesn’t make it any less evil, but probably does make it even more stupid (since, if the aim is to discourage low-skilled migration, then turning away people because their British partner is low-paid is downright insane).


Chris Bertram 06.10.12 at 8:54 am

Theresa May on the tv just now said that the figure would be £18,600. Still too high in my view, but not as bad as the figure claimed in the Guardian. More worryingly, she’s promoting the idea of a Parliamentary vote to define the balance between individual rights and state interest under Article 8 with the threat of primary legislation if judges don’t toe the line.


ajay 06.10.12 at 10:15 am

It’s aimed at stopping people in manual labouring and low-skilled positions from becoming permanent migrants – that is, it’s targeted at Africans and South Asians

Just letting that fairly horrific comment hang there for a moment. Because of course South Asians who come to Britain are all doing low-skill manual labour, right? Clearly you’ve never been in a British hospital…


ajay 06.10.12 at 10:21 am

Chris, given Matt’s remark that “The UK has always required that people marrying non-EU spouses be able to show that they had an income sufficient to support their partner for a year without recourse to public funds” – what exactly is the big change here? The language requirement? (most English speakers in the world are, in fact, not white) Or the retrospective aspect? (which actually does seem unfair; people who passed under the previous rule should be grandfathered in)

And if £18k is still too high, where should the level be set?


faustusnotes 06.10.12 at 10:22 am

Yes john b, but the longer term goal of all these types of changes is to stop temporary workers from applying for citizenship. If you came to the UK to make your fortune and your fortune did not happen to beat 18,600 pounds, then with your wife away in your home country, you’d decide not to apply for citizenship and to return home.

By withdrawing the hope of low-paid migrant workers being able to bring their families to Britain, it discourages them from becoming citizens. This won’t, incidentally, do anything about the fears of your average Sun-reading rioter that their low paid jobs are being stolen by foreigners – it just means the foreigner who “steals” a “white working class” job will go home after a few years and be replaced by a different foreigner. But I think Theresa May probably sees that as a feature, not a bug.

Chris Bertram, was May just playing silly-buggers with pre-/post-tax incomes?


faustusnotes 06.10.12 at 10:27 am

ajay, note my reference to the Africans who sell perfume shots in night club toilets. Are you suggesting that any of the people who do that are white British?

There are grades of horror in Britain’s inequality, but I don’t think you’ll find British-born citizens predominating in the lowest layers of that hell. You’ll find African migrants whose hopes of becoming permanent residents are the target of this law.


ajay 06.10.12 at 10:34 am

36: actually, I was noting your reference to South Asians. I have no idea of the predominant national origin of people who hang around nightclub toilets selling perfume. Nor will this rule actually have any effect on their hopes of becoming permanent residents; it is about sponsoring spouses and family members.


john b 06.10.12 at 11:04 am

Say I earn gbp18,000 a year but have gbp5,000 savings. That’s easily enough for my partner to share my (existing) living arrangements, not starve, etc. The current system works fine; the new one imposes an arbitrary cut-off that serves no point other than to ensure that low-income Brits who can nonetheless afford to support their partners won’t be allowed to.

Re toilet attendants (in SE England at least) “national” might be pushing it, but “sub-Saharan African” is obvious from empirical observation of appearance and accent.

Thanks Faustus – I see your point now: if you’re a Nigerian chap with a wife in Lagos and you’re working in London, then even if you get ILTR and citizenship, you still won’t be able to bring her over, so why bother applying for ILTR and citizenship? I’m not sure this plan is that well thought through, to be honest: I think it’s mostly intended as a generalised “boo to foreigners! boo to the poor!” gesture.


Ed 06.10.12 at 2:05 pm

The current US regulations or policies re immigrants being a “public charge” are explained here:

May’s proposal does seem unusually badly thought out and punitive.


Chris Bertram 06.10.12 at 6:08 pm

ajay, the currrent income requirement is £5,500 in excess of housing costs. So this still represents a big hike compared to the status quo. I realise Matt wrote “always” btw, but I’m not sure you should take this literally, though it would take me more time than I have right now to reconstruct the history. I have to wonder whether the Tories leaked the higher figure to the Guardian to soften people up for the actual increase.

Arguably still more worrying is the stuff around Article 8. Hitherto it has been pretty difficult to deport spouses merely for being poor because the courts wouldn’t wear it. It looks like this may be set to change.

As for your question about where the level should be set, my answer is pretty much “nowhere” in the case of a genuine marriage or other long-term relationship. I happen to think of the right to live in one’s own country with the person one loves as rather a basic right and that such people should get citizenship very easily indeed. (Interesting that this is one of those issues where the political right, who make a point of claiming to trumpet the rights of the individual over the state actually and explicitly do the exact opposite.)


NomadUK 06.10.12 at 6:29 pm

As for your question about where the level should be set, my answer is pretty much “nowhere” in the case of a genuine marriage or other long-term relationship. I happen to think of the right to live in one’s own country with the person one loves as rather a basic right and that such people should get citizenship very easily indeed.


This seems so perfectly obvious a point that it astounds me that anyone would debate it.


Philip 06.10.12 at 6:32 pm

I know a bit about the language requirement. Currently you can come to the UK as a spouse on a spouse’s visitor visa then switch to a spouse’s visa, or come directly on the spouse’s visa. The Tories brought in a requirement to have passed one of the UKBA’s recognised tests for Speaking English at beginners’ level (A1 on the Common European Framework) on the pretext of encouraging integration. The actual affect has been to make it harder for people from poorer backgrounds, due to education and the extra bureaucratic hurdle.

They have now proposed that to get a settlement visa after the 2 year spouse’s visa you would nee to be at intermediate level (CEFR B1). Many people will be able to do this in 2 years but it may not be a priority for many others. However if you wanted to study ESOL at a local FE college you would not be eligible for funding until you have been married and living in the UK for one year. This would mean having to pay in excess of £5,000 for a full-time course in the first year, at the college where I work a student eligible for funding would pay nothing or £350 for a full-time course. If the government expect people to achieve Intermediate English inside 2 years then they should provide the funding to help them do it.


scott 06.10.12 at 6:53 pm

I’m an American and will obviously defer to the Brits in this comment section on the merits of their immigration policies. I was curious about Mr. Bertram’s suggestion that the Lib Dems could be pressured on this, which raises a larger question for me: Since the Lib Dems are getting slaughtered in every election since they joined the coalition, are the big brains running the party getting closer to opting out of it or at least getting marginally more independent? I shouldn’t expect your “centrist” or even slightly left-of-center politicians to be any smarter than ours, but you would expect at some point that the light bulb would go off and the self-preservation instinct would kick in. God knows, however, that I’m quite familiar here with our “liberal” leaders rationalizing acquiescence to the latest brain-dead conservative policy.


Philip 06.10.12 at 7:05 pm

Scott, I think the Lib Dems are just glad they have got a chance to be [art of a government and won’t push the Tories too much. They made some noise about amending health care reform but IMO more credit should go to healthcare professionals for that.


No one 06.10.12 at 7:55 pm

@43. The problem for the Lib Dems is that they have nowhere to go. If they leave the coalition, their opponents will always be able to use the taunt that the Lib Dems aren’t to be trusted to ‘stick it out’. And along with that will come the idea that coalition government is not a Good Thing. The Lib Dems will never win a majority on their own; they can only ever be part of government as a smaller partner in a coalition (or, I suppose, in a confidence and supply agreement–but then they wouldn’t quite be part of government).

Are they getting slaughtered? well, pretty much, but what I’m not sure about is how much of this is also the ‘incumbency effect’ of just being in government.

I am not a fan of the Lib Dems at all, but it is difficult for them as the smaller party. Given they have fewer seats, it is reasonable to expect that they cannot win on everything. The problem for them is that there are so many policies coming out, and it’s just not clear that they’re ‘winning’ on anything. Most of the time, it seems, they simply water down Conservative-led initiatives.


Philip 06.10.12 at 8:11 pm

@ No One: ‘The problem for the Lib Dems is that they have nowhere to go. If they leave the coalition, their opponents will always be able to use the taunt that the Lib Dems aren’t to be trusted to ‘stick it out’. And along with that will come the idea that coalition government is not a Good Thing. ‘

That’s because coalition government isn’t a good thing in a system designed for single party governments. The Lib Dems only seem to be influencing policy at the margins and there is no sense of the compromise and consensus that coalition governments should produce.


Ed 06.11.12 at 4:21 am

I consider myself on the right on immigration, but again I agree with Chris Bertram’s argument. Spousal immigration is implied by the right, which people should have, to marry whoever is willing to marry them. Likewise the idea of children joining their parents or parents their children shouldn’t be controversial.

Where the controversy (and the limits to this) should be is over what exactly constitutes a valid marriage (eg is polygamy, gay marriage, serial marriage), and what exactly defines a “family”. I do think there is scope for reform in limiting the right to immediate family and in Western governments insisting on monogamy, or more exactly that the marriage would have to be valid according to the laws of the host country. I don’t see any basis for income entering into the discussion at all.


Ed 06.11.12 at 4:31 am

The Lib Dems situation is off topic, but its an interesting case of where there is a huge split between the party’s strategic or long term interest, and their tactical or short term interest.

In the short term the party is propping up an unpopular government and will get slaughtered in the next elections. It looks like this will include most of the current party leadership being thrown out of Parliament. And actually something like this happened the last time the party propped up an unpopular government (in this case it was a Labour government in the 1970s) so this was predictable. Even in systems using proportional representation, there is a pattern of small parties doing worse in the election immediately after they have formed a coalition with a larger party.

In the long run, coalitions are novel enough in the U.K. that it is important that the Liberal Democrats signal to both the other parties and the public that if they are included in a coalition they will play a constructive part in the government, that they won’t cut and run at the first sign of trouble, even to the extent of sinking lower than 10% in the polls, and that the government could actually accomplish something. This means sticking with the Coalition should enhance their bargaining power in future coalitions, if they survive through the next election.

There have been instances of third parties bouncing back after electoral meltdowns, probably most notably most recently the NDP in Canada in the 1990s, and also the Liberals themselves at other points in their history. What is interesting in this case is the extent to which the politicians running the party take the hit by being thrown out of work.

Also, the party can’t roll over on something that cuts too close to their core principals, and this piece of immigration populist stupidity probably qualifies.


Katherine 06.11.12 at 8:53 am

Theresa May on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning programme didn’t link this to forced marriages at all.

I came away with the impression that she was talking about spouses of immigrant non-citizens, not spouses of British citizens. It’s possible that that is because I have a friend who in an immigrant non-citizen who has just been joined in the UK by his wife and child, and thus that subject is on my mind. But it’s also possible that Theresa May was using the word “immigrant” as much as possible to sound certain dog whistles.

She certainly used the phrase “we think it’s right” a lot.


Chris Bertram 06.11.12 at 9:19 am

I hope your impression wasn’t widely shared, because the proposals do indeed cover the non-British spouses of British citizens.


Katherine 06.11.12 at 9:26 am

I hope so too. It was a lazy-not-quite-awake sort of listening, but that’s not going to be entirely unique on a Sunday morning I’d have thought.


ajay 06.11.12 at 9:42 am

As for your question about where the level should be set, my answer is pretty much “nowhere” in the case of a genuine marriage or other long-term relationship. I happen to think of the right to live in one’s own country with the person one loves as rather a basic right and that such people should get citizenship very easily indeed.

Agreed absolutely: I wasn’t arguing that the current situation wasn’t bad, just questioning whether this change was making it significantly worse. (Though I would limit it to marriage; for immigration purposes at least, some sort of formal arrangement is probably a good idea.)


ptl 06.11.12 at 11:14 am

Katherine, 49

They do indeed seem to have stopped talking about forced marriages.

Yes, the proposal covers the spouses of British citizens. “Immigrant” both refers to the spouse, and is code/dog whistle.

Martin Bento, 19

The policy will be (is) distressingly popular. And that’s probably what this is really about, though it’s also, I’d say, tied in to measures like this


Philip 06.11.12 at 12:08 pm

katherine, this applies to British citizens and people settled in the UK, i.e. those not on a temporary visa. I know the government have also made it more difficult for the spouses and children of people on student visas to get dependent visas.

I’m not surprised Therresa May referred to immigrants when discussing this. Her aim seems to be to make it more difficult to get a visa through a ‘sham marriage’ or for people who have been given citizenship bringing over a wife from their country of birth. However this will obviously have a much wider impact. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some kind of relaxation of definite leave for spouses, so the UKBA can have some discretion as to whom they allow to stay in the UK and whom they refuse permission to stay.

ajay, the current guidelines are based on the threshold for income support so I would imagine it is significantly worse. Also what Chris says, this looks like it will be set out more formally and explicitly making it easier to enforce.


Katherine 06.11.12 at 4:22 pm

Ptl and Philip – yes, thanks to CT I now have an accurate picture – I wasn’t suggesting CT was wrong, just the Theresa May managed, perhaps deliberately, to convey a quite different impression on her Sunday morning TV appearance.

Frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t just sit there saying “immigration, immigrant, taking our work, immigration, welfare, spongers, bogus…”, but I guess she wanted to sound reasonable whilst successfully sounding the relevant dog whistles for the faithful.

It is telling that whilst she referred to the new policy as taking a figure on the lower end of the spread suggested by the committee report referred to above, she didn’t mention how much more it would be than the current figure.


Maggie 06.12.12 at 12:57 am

Ireland gave my husband citizenship based on nothing but documentary verification that he is actually my legal husband – and I mean *nothing*, not even bothering to set foot there first. He walked off the plane on holiday already a citizen . I’m afraid I hadn’t realized how lucky we were (though yes there are Irish who want this ended, as well as the granny clause).

But from a U.S. perspective (where I’ve spent most of my life) I’m appalled by Europe and Canada’s schizoid oscillations between la-la-la head-in-sand WRT to the condition of women in certain immigrant communities and out-and-out rightist racism. Why does it seem that the U.S. does so much better at assimilating Muslims, in particular? (And is that impression true? Undeniably, you’ll see more veiled faces in a Toronto weekend than a New York lifetime; why?)


JW Mason 06.12.12 at 1:20 am

Undeniably, you’ll see more veiled faces in a Toronto weekend than a New York lifetime

Do you ever come out to Brooklyn?


Maggie 06.12.12 at 1:34 am

Yes, in fact I just came back to correct from “Toronto/NY” to “Scarborough/Brooklyn” to anticipate that objection; and of course there are many parts of Toronto that have far fewer identifiable Muslims than any part of New York. But that’s not the point.


Maggie 06.12.12 at 1:59 am

And I know it’s anecdata, but I find it highly suggestive, which is why I’m fishing for hints to help confirm or falsify it. (Perhaps it was poor communication on my part to put sincere questions in a medium where people are so often rhetorical.) But I do know that this country has felt no need to either give schoolgirls special Muslim uniforms, complete with school-colors hijab, nor to ban them from wearing any hijab at all. Now of course the British and French aren’t required to be consistent with each other; but those represent the two extremes I am identifying, both unknown in America. It suggests to me that Europe’s more-enlightened-and-leftier-than-thou pose toward the States may largely be just that, a pose, self-flattering compensation for the (in the grand scheme, extremely recent) history of being very nearly completely devoured by a racist murdering dictator. A set of contradictions that could be very dangerous if not resolved, particularly in light of the economic writing on the wall. I speak as someone with brown-skinned family with whom I contemplate returning to Europe.


ajay 06.12.12 at 9:35 am

find it highly suggestive, which is why I’m fishing for hints to help confirm or falsify it.

I wouldn’t say that’s exactly what you’re fishing for.


Tim Worstall 06.12.12 at 11:31 am

“As for your question about where the level should be set, my answer is pretty much “nowhere” in the case of a genuine marriage or other long-term relationship. I happen to think of the right to live in one’s own country with the person one loves as rather a basic right and that such people should get citizenship very easily indeed.”

I guess it rather depends on which sort of “right” you’re talking about when you think that people don’t support this.

My own reaction to May’s annoucement was astonishment and then anger at the fact that the system is not already as you describe it ought to be. You marry a Brit you’re a Brit (as well as quite possibly something else). Seems simple enough to me. If one of our tribe wants you here on the inside pissing out then the rest of us in the tribe need to accept that.

Replace tribe with nation to taste.


ptl 06.12.12 at 12:14 pm

Those admitted on spousal visas already have, for the two years that lasts, no recourse to public funds.

Chris Bertram, 40, May’s now talking a lot about criminal illegal immigrants being shielded by Article 8/judges, and the BBC’s helped her by broadcasting interviews with Amy Houston’s father.


Maggie 06.12.12 at 2:01 pm

ajay, it’s unfortunate that you’re apparently so unaccustomed to frankness, and so good at picking out non-existent ulterior nefariousness. Silly me, forgetting the Shakesville Rule (namely, any white with non-standard thoughts on such issues is presumptive KKK). I shan’t forget again; carry on.


PaulB 06.14.12 at 11:05 am

I think this is mainly about arranged marriages. The idea is that, whereas it may be just for an immigrant to have been given British citizenship, that should not give them or their children or their grandchildren the right to bestow British state benefits on strangers from overseas with whom they’ve arranged marriages. If the government could find a way to distinguish love matches from arranged marriages it would.

A cynical view would be that the Conservative Party expects to lose few votes if all the people in the JCWI examples are forced to move overseas.


NickT 06.15.12 at 4:36 am

I rather suspect that this unworkable and profoundly foolish Tory idea is being floated because, despite a generous measure of xenophobic and nativist rhetoric, the Tories have made no progress at all on reducing immigration. This imbecility is just pandering to the UKIP and BNP voters that they want to attract without being seen to do so overtly. As for the Lib Dems, no, of course they aren’t going to fight this. Their leadership doesn’t dare to break the coalition while the economy is so bad, given that they’ve staked their little all on saving the UK from a crisis that their own folly has largely created, and they will, like all politicians who have no viable ideas left, just cling on in the hope that something, anything turns up to save their bacon. I am pretty certain that they will still be waiting in 2015 when the axe falls. I am convinced that British politics may include many things in the next 20 years, but a successful Lib Dem party will not be one of them. The hatred that Clegg and Co have aroused in a large section of the voting public is incandescent and shows no sign whatever of moderating.

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