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Couples urge Home Office to drop cruel family immigration rules

Valentine's Day lobby submits 40,000-signature petition calling on government to scrap £18,600 minimum income requirement

COUPLES forced to live thousands of miles apart by cruel immigration rules brought their fight for family rights to the Home Office today.

A group of campaigners and partners took part in a “Valentine’s Day lobby,” to submit a 40,000-signature petition demanding that the minimum income requirement (MIR) be scrapped.

Brought in by the coalition government in 2012, the MIR requires citizens and settled residents to earn over £18,600 a year before they can bring their partner to Britain.

The threshold is higher if they are also sponsoring a child.

The MIR has forced thousands of couples to live apart and children to grow up without a parent, purely because they don’t have enough income.

After submitting the petition at the Home Office in central London, the group moved on to Parliament for a meeting with MPs including shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants family campaigner Mary Atkinson told the Star of the effect that MIR has on families.

She said one of the women who had joined today’s lobby was forced to raise a son alone after her husband’s visa application was refused.

“This led to a downward spiral in her mental health and she attempted suicide,” Ms Atkinson explained.

“If you happen to fall in love with someone from another place and then your government tells you that you don’t deserve that love, it can be very difficult for people to cope.

“We hope that ministers will understand the real impact of this policy. Since 2012, no-one has ever reviewed it or seen what the impact is.”

But the MIR is not the only policy keeping partners apart.

A former soldier, who attended the lobby today but asked not to be named, told the Morning Star of his frustration at the convoluted and expensive visa process.

His wife, who lives in Myanmar, cannot join him until she passes an English test recognised by the Home Office.

Last month, her visa application was rejected because the test she took was not recognised, though her partner says this was not made clear at the time.

Although she has the level of English required to pass the test, she has been forced to wait due to a lack of available assessment slots at the British consulate in Myanmar.

The couple must wait until March for the next available A1 test — the only one scheduled in three months — or pay more money for a higher level test that is offered more frequently.

Despite having married in November, they face another three to six months apart and must cough up thousands of pounds more before they can be reunited.

The former soldier has been horrified by the litany of costs and the complicated process required to bring his wife to Britain.

“The process of application is not simple nor straightforward,” he said. “It’s made such a way to steal money from common people.”

The fees he has paid so far include £1,000 for the visa application, £500 for overseas costs, $250 (£196) for the English assessment and a £500 fee to fast-track the application, plus legal costs.

He said he had already spent £3,000 on the visa application that was rejected. The same sum will have to be paid again for another application.

The delay has taken a toll on the former soldier and his relationship.

“I’ve been away from her for a long time. This plus work and the time difference means that I’m lucky to get 20 minutes on the phone with her a day,” he said.

He pointed out that the availability of English tests presents a major barrier to other couples gaining visas, as some countries do not have recognised test centres.

This means that they have to travel to a nearby country to take the test, incurring yet more costs.

Ms Atkinson added: “It’s difficult for people to have trust in an application system that seems to want to trip you up at every step.”

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