The New Visa Law Destroying Women’s Lives In Britain

Picture this: You move away from your country, maybe at a young age, to set up shop in the UK. You live and work here, dutifully pay your taxes, build your own community of friends and fall in love. You might even start planning your future as a permanent British citizen. Suddenly, this dream is snatched away from you – simply for not earning enough money. This is the fate that thousands of people are currently facing. This month, on the 6th of April, the government will be implementing new rules around Tier 2 visa immigrants who come from outside the EU. If you have lived in the UK for more than five years and earn less than £35,000 a year, you won’t qualify for permanent residency and will be asked to leave. According to home secretary Theresa May, the new rules will help to reduce the number of non-EU nationals who are granted permanent residence each year from 60,000 to 20,000. While the issue affects both men and women, statistically women tend to hold lower paid jobs, making this a gender specific issue. Shannon, 33, has been in the UK for over seven years after moving from the US and works in digital media. She is also part of the Stop35k campaign, which aims to pressure the government into abandoning the threshold. Shannon says the rules are particularly unfair due to the “arbitrary” figure of £35,000. “Nobody really knows how they got to it. And when you consider that the average UK salary is £26,500 per year, that number lies well above that,” she explains. Keeping ‘the best and brightest’

According to May, the new rules will ensure that “only the best and brightest remain in Britain permanently.” There are some occupations that are exempt from the rules, which mainly include engineers and scientists. Nurses and academics also won’t be shown the door, but those who work in the creative and charitable sectors aren’t so lucky. Lily, 27, is a refugee charity worker from the US and has lived in the UK on an on-and-off basis for almost nine years. She believes the new rules blatantly expose the government’s priorities. “The rhetoric around immigration is all based around money and the deserving and the undeserving. People in certain professions that are already undervalued, like teachers, charity workers, journalists and artists, will be hit the hardest.” Shannon adds: “The government wants to keep the people who make the most money, but not necessarily those who contribute the most to society.” A lack of clarity One of the biggest challenges for those facing deportation is the lack of clarity around the new visa regulations. While the government says it has told employers of the new rules back in 2012, Shannon says her employer had no idea of the changes until she brought it up. “My employer hasn’t heard anything, and no one I know has come forward to say they’ve received information on when they’ll have to leave. They should let people stay based on the terms when they arrived,” Shannon says. Mayar, 24, is a communications consultant from Egypt and has been in the UK for six and a half years. She says the new regulations have even led her to become fearful. She explains: “I have absolutely no idea how the rules will be implemented. It hasn’t been clear, there isn’t a document available stating exactly how people will be affected and what they should do. I’m still waiting for the actual guidance so I can get my head around it.”
Hoping for a miracle Leaving a country after years of settlement is a daunting prospect for many of the women affected. While Shannon doesn’t have much family in the US and has made the UK her home, Lily thought she was on a pathway to British citizenship before having the rug pulled from under her. She says: “The UK has become my frame of reference. I’ve lived in Scotland and the North and South of England, and I can imitate a Glaswegian accent way better than a Southern US twang. I’ve become completely embedded in British culture and so I’d be leaving everything I know behind.” “I’ve integrated from the very first day I arrived in the UK,” Mayar adds. “I saw myself having a family and career here. I pay my taxes, have private health insurance and have never been allowed to ask for any public funds, as that’s part of the conditions of me being here. I don’t feel like I’m a drain on the country at all. I love Egypt, but this is where I belong." But the women aren’t the only ones affected by the new rules, as many of them will have to leave behind close friends and partners. The threat of deportation can put pressure on any relationship and force both parties to make difficult decisions. While some might consider marriage an option to gain permanent residency, for many women this is not a realistic solution. Mayar has been with her English boyfriend for almost five years. While he is outraged by the new rules, they haven’t discussed the consequences in length. “We want to cross that bridge when we get to it. Personally, I’m hoping for a miracle. The option of marriage isn’t feasible – I want us to get married when we want to, not because I’ll otherwise be deported.” The only thing the women can do now is anxiously wait to hear when they will have to leave. In the meantime, the Stop35k campaign is gathering momentum. It is currently looking for donations so they can get legal advice on how to fight the legislation. Shannon concludes: “I didn’t intend on going back, and I still don’t really. We will continue to raise awareness – it’s going to be a long-term campaign.”

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