I've started the petition "The Home Office: Stop my husband and father of my child being deported" and need your help to get it off the ground.
Will you take 30 seconds to sign it right now? Here's the link:
Here's why it's important:
My husband and the father of my 14 month-old daughter has been refused his right to remain in the UK and is being forced to leave to go back to his home country of South Africa. The main reason for this is that we are not rich enough to stay. The UK government has in fact put a price on love these days- something I always thought was free if we were lucky enough to find it.
A bit of background…
I, Natalie Stafford met my husband Michael Engel while we were both working for Celebrity Cruise-lines back in 2009. I am an aerialist and dancer by trade and was working for the theatre company onboard, while Michael worked as a waiter and bar tender. After our contracts came to end we spent Christmas with my family in the UK and then decided to live together in Michael’s native Cape Town, South Africa.
We lived four happy years in Cape Town working in our respective professions and enjoying being young and in love. Michael completed his yacht engineering qualifications and we bought our first home together in September 2012. We got married in January 2013 and were expecting our first child in May 2013.
We decided that the UK was the best place for us to bring up our child. I wanted to be around my very close-knit family and in my home country for the birth of our first child. I had the best childhood being brought up in Yorkshire. I was very fortunate to have the love of a supportive family and the freedom and safety to explore and grow. Michael and I wanted this for our daughter; we feel these privileges would be extremely limited with our circumstances in South Africa.
So why can’t we stay home?
In July 2012 changes to the immigration laws in the UK were made and now we are one of thousands of families at risk of being split apart as we simply cannot meet the draconian new requirements. Under the new rules, for Michael to be eligible for a spouse visa I must be earning a salary of over £18,600 and there must be evidence that this has been the case for the last 6 months. It is worth a reminder at this point that I was heavily pregnant when we moved to the UK and I am an aerialist by trade. It was, of course, impossible for me to get employment at this stage. It is still very difficult to gain employment in that industry, not only in the current climate for employment in the UK, but giving birth has somewhat limited my abilities to swing from a trapeze. As I can not currently perform as an aerial artist after pregnancy I have started my own business, an interior design company- Tilly Rose Designs. I am working hard to support my family and we pay our way so that we are not a burden on other tax payers. In the meantime, the government has restricted my husband’s ability to gain employment as he is merely a ‘visitor’ in the UK. As a qualified yacht engineer his earnings could well exceed the required threshold, but his potential earnings are not even considered in the case.
The financial threshold has been deemed ‘onerous and unjustified’ by the High Court in early July 2013, yet the law remains unchanged. According to the research body, Oxford University Migratory Observatory, 47% of hard-working employed British citizens would not pass the new financial requirement. That figure rises to 60% when only women are considered. Unfortunately, it would seem that the new legislation rates marriages of wealthier people higher than those of the less well-off, thus creating a two-tier system in which one must be rich enough to live with whom they choose in their own country.
According to Theresa May, UK Home Secretary, the aim of the changes of July 2012 were to ‘lighten the burden on the British taxpayer’- something that of course is of benefit to all of us who work for a living. There is a problem with this notion however: The set income requirement of £18,600 is the point at which a family has enough earnings to preclude it from claiming benefits in the UK. This figure can be brought into question. Should it really be set so high? After all, a figure of £13,000 would be more akin to the level earned by somebody on the minimum wage in a year. It could be argued that the government policies are somewhat contradictory and that actually if £18,600 is the level where benefits are not claimable, then should that not be the level to which minimum wage is paid? The discrepancy between these figures will not be ‘lightening the burden’ for British taxpayers, in fact it will be doing the exact opposite. To add more confusion to this suggestion, all spouse visas include the words ‘No recourse for public funds’, meaning that even pre-July 2012 they could not claim benefits from the British system. The income requirement therefore plays no role in cutting public funds to migrant spouses; they never had the right in the first place.
It must be asked; does the government really have the British people’s best interests at heart? In fact, EU citizens actually have more rights than British citizens when it comes to who they can live with in the UK. The new immigration rules do not apply to EU nationals living in the UK. Under an EU directive of 2004- relating to freedom of movement- they can bring relatives, including those from outside the EU, to settle in the UK without any restrictions. It is shameful that EU law recognises the benefit of family life while British law tries, it seems, to keep spouse apart.
The ongoing struggle…
Given that an alternative to the salary threshold is to have a huge £62,500 in savings (which I don’t believe many young couples just starting a family will have) it seems contrary that it is costing us thousands of pounds, taken straight out of our savings, each time we make an appeal in the courts. We are now on our 3rd appeal and each time are given hope by our legal advisors- “this time you have an 80% chance of success”, “if you go to court you will have a 90% chance of success”. The new rules have created such a grey area in the law that they are misleading even our legal professionals onto whom we pin our hope and pay our fees.
Many of the reasons provided for our refused applications are unfounded and lacking in moral integrity, compassion and common sense.
‘The Appellant’s daughter is currently under one year old and therefore currently although being a British citizen and entitled to live in the UK, would not yet have formed links to the British culture’
‘..both the Appellant and Mrs Stafford have been able to previously work in South Africa and although Mrs Stafford said she does not wish to return to her previous employment as a dancer, she can clearly obtain employment in South Africa.’
‘I am therefore satisfied that there would be no breach of the Appellant, his wife or his daughter’s human rights…I am more than satisfied on the evidence presented that if the Appellant were removed his wife and child could go with him to live in South Africa if they so choose, and that therefore the family would not be permanently split up.’
In essence the UK government seems to want to wipe their hands of us and force me to make a decision no mother or wife should ever have to make: Do I allow myself to get forced out of my own country, put aside the welfare of my child and all the reasons we came back to the UK in the first place, forget about the ‘links’ my daughter has made with her grandparents, great grandparents, aunties, uncles and family friends, and head back to South Africa where we now have no home, no jobs and no family support unit? Or do I stay, in effect, allowing my own government to make me a ‘married single mum’ and denying my husband the right to be a part of my daughter’s upbringing? It’s an impossible question to answer.
So what’s next?
Due to the huge backlog of cases of this type, the 15th January 2015 is the date we have been given for our final appeal. It is a ridiculous amount of time during which my family and I will wait in limbo contemplating options that are out of our hands. The government will keep hold of Michael’s passport ironically trapping him in the country he wishes to reside, and I will continue to build my business which is helping to make ends meet.
The rules need to be readdressed by Theresa May and the Home Office. There are too many grey areas in the legislation which can lead to vague and warped interpretations of the law in each individual case. This often allows the Home Office to find hidden loop holes and disingenuous reasons for refusals, leaving families in limbo for years on end with uncertain futures. The disproportionately high financial requirements serve only to filter out the rich from the poor and put a price on love and happiness.
It is estimated, because of the new salary threshold, 15,000-16,000 extra British families will be split up or forced out of their country every year. The Government pledges support for families but in reality their polices are doing the absolute opposite. Please sign the petition to show that you don't believe love should have a price, that British citizens should not be ostracised from their own country because they don't meet the Government's price for love.
Together we can hold the Government to account. Please spread the word if you feel that something needs to change- not just for me, my husband and our daughter- but for all the families who are currently in this same struggle to stay together. We need to stand against these ‘tick box’ rules that govern whether or not you can stay and be a family in your home country. The rules are cruel and are a violation of our basic human rights and they must be changed.
“When people's love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change". - David Cameron.
Natalie and Michael
You can sign my petition by clicking here.