What is certain is the fight for family rights will continue and it has the scope to build political support, writes Ruth Grove-White, Migrants’ Rights Network.
Every now and again there are changes to the immigration rules which even writers for the Daily Mail voice their objections to.
The new rules on family migration to the UK, which came into force yesterday, represent a major assault on family life for Brits and migrants alike. Campaigners now need to work on bringing political opposition to the rules out from behind closed doors.
Among other changes, the government has introduced a new income requirement of £18,600 per year for people who wish to bring a foreign partner to live with them in the UK.
This means an estimated 47% of the UK working population would not qualify to bring their overseas spouse or partner here in the future.
The Home Office estimates up to 18,500 people every year will be prevented from coming to join family members here as a result. This may be helpful in inching the government towards lower net migration levels, but will be devastating for the families who are kept apart as a result.
Although the family migration changes have been politically controversial, much opposition has been confined to back rooms in Whitehall rather than aired in public. Press reports earlier this year hinted at internal battles between Lib Dems and Conservatives on family migration, with children and families minister Sarah Teather rumoured to be particularly resistant to tough rule changes.
Although these issues were officially resolved, behind closed doors there is reportedly still opposition among some Lib Dem MPs to the new rules.
Labour has also found itself in a tangled position over the family migration changes. Despite vocal opposition to the family rules among key players such as front bencher Kate Green MP and home affairs committee chair Keith Vaz MP, the Labour front bench has not yet expressed a clear position against these rules.
Still in the midst of a policy review, there has seemingly been reluctance to wade into a debate that could result in Labour once again being painted as soft on immigration. But never say never. What is certain is that the fight for family rights will continue and it has the scope to build political support.
Now that the family migration rules have come into force there will be growing evidence about their negative impacts, with particular problems anticipated for young couples, Asian families, and in parts of the UK with low average incomes.
If the evidence can be amassed, yesterday’s changes potentially offer up a future political opportunity: to speak out on an immigration issue that will affect thousands of Brits as well as migrants in the UK. And as the next general election draws nearer we hope to see quiet support develop into concerted political leadership, that points the UK in a different direction on family migration.