Callous rules on foreign spouses must be abolished

Published by The Times (1st December, 2017)

It is a modern love story. The popular prince who fell in love with the beautiful American actress on a blind date. Now they are getting married — and she is taking British citizenship. Who could begrudge Harry and Meghan happiness?

But spare a thought for other Britons who fall in love across borders yet fail to possess royal riches. Millions of his fellow citizens are unable to share their lives here with a foreign-born spouse. Thanks to minimum income rules imposed in 2012, Britons wanting to bring back a husband or wife from outside Europe must earn at least £18,600 annually, and significantly more if there are children in the family. According to Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, this rules out four in ten British workers.

This policy was introduced by the woman who is now prime minister. Yet Theresa May instantly fired off a syrupy tweet about the royal nuptials, proclaiming her pleasure for ‘two people in love’ and wishing them ‘great happiness for the future’.

Sorry, but her hypocrisy stinks. She is the architect of a callous rule, designed to reduce a burden on the state, that is particularly harsh on less prosperous parts of the country. It also hits disproportionately hard those people who are young, female or non-white, since all of them are more likely to earn lower incomes.

Ms Markle is fortunate to be marrying a prince. I have spoken to several people whose lives have been devastated by a policy that separates families. Last year more than one in seven spouse visa applications by Americans were rejected. The figures are far higher for Indians, Nigerians, Egyptians, and even Israelis.

Thanks to Mrs May’s myopic fixation on migration, Britain has some of the least family-friendly reunification policies in a developed nation. The children’s commissioner has warned up to 15,000 children are affected, most of them British citizens who are separated from one of their parents by the most uncaring brand of politics.

Mrs May famously dislikes citizens of the world. Perhaps this is why she does not care that even the Supreme Court, while accepting her rule’s legality, condemned it as ‘harsh’ on those who happen to get hitched to a foreigner. Yet while ordinary Britons are separated from spouses and children, hundreds of foreign millionaires have been allowed to buy residency.

There is genuine joy for Prince Harry. But his announcement highlights how there is one rule for royals and richer people but another for many of their fellow citizens. If the Tories really want to stand up for ordinary families, they should scrap this nasty rule immediately.

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