There are many reasons why I find the immigration bill to be a dud piece of legislation. I won’t rehash the arguments I have made about how insulting it is to suggest that those earning less than £30k are not skilled; my views are well known. For now I will just focus on one glaring problem in the bill and that is its ignorance of victims of domestic abuse.
I work every day with victims of violence and coercion whose perpetrators have used their immigration status to control them and keep them captured. “You can’t run away, I’ll have you deported” is not an uncommon line from a perpetrator of violence who can control a woman’s freedom using the power of a spousal visa over her.
To me, this is my everyday work. You’d think that the Home Office – the department that leads on domestic abuse strategy and immigration – might have known it too; but it didn’t.
The new scheme proposed to give EU migrants settled status is pretty ignorant of women in abusive relationships. If a woman from outside the EU has married an EU migrant she was, until Brexit, completely entitled to remain and work in our country. Her status is linked to her partner’s status as a settled EU migrant.
“‘You can’t run away, I’ll have you deported’ is not an uncommon line from a perpetrator of violence”
The new EU exit scheme rules require dependants to apply together or after the EU national relative acquires their settlement status. This essentially means that the system has handed power to potential perpetrators.
Abusive partners usually control documentation and are the only ones registered in tenancy agreements, services, benefits and children’s school registration, among others. Women are almost invisible and, usually, do not have access to their own documents.
So what is the Home Office doing to make sure that abusive EU/EEA partners don’t make women believe that they submitted their applications without doing so; or waiting until the deadline to submit their applications as another way to exert coercion and control, and in some cases force women to fall into becoming illegal immigrants?
There is a simple solution that I and others will push for as the bill returns to parliament. Women who flee violence, including those with retained rights, should also be entitled to apply on their own behalf without the requirement for the EU/EEA partner to provide documents.
I know this is all a bit complicated and seems like minutia, but these are women I have met. One woman’s case I came across was from Brazil. She was living in the UK with an EEA family residence card, as the dependant of her husband who was an EU national. She was facing financial, emotional, psychological and physical abuse by her partner. She had fled and had reported to the police.
Nonetheless, under the current EU exit scheme rules, and as a dependant, she cannot secure settled status unless her partner, the EU national, gets his settled status first. This meant that she had to rely on her perpetrator to secure settled immigration status. The government currently says: “Go and get the documents from a man you might have a restraining order against”! These are women who were living here completely legally before we moved the goalposts.
One day I hope that when we make government policy we could actually think about the lives of those we are about to affect. I wish that I didn’t have to keep reminding the government that domestic abuse victims exist; even though they might be foreigners we still should try to prevent violence against them.
For now, though, I’ll just keep pushing amendments that remember migrant women and look forward to a day when their rights and the rights of all women are not merely a policy afterthought.