illustration via DIY cultures

Theresa May & The Others Panel at DIY Cultures

We’re super pleased to be taking part in the DIY Cultures festival at London’s Rich Mix arts centre on Sunday, 14 May, talking about the Love Letters to the Home Office project in a panel discussion called “Theresa May & the Others.”

DIY Cultures is an annual day festival centered around a zine, small press and artists’ book fair that simultaneously takes place over 4 floors of Rich Mix arts centre. Running since 2013, the extended programme consists of exhibitions, new art commissions, workshops, contemporary craft, panel discussions, comics, illustration, video art, digital animation, poetry and music exploring DIY practice.

How have artists responded to the Theresa May era? What can we learn from policy of the Thatcher years? “Theresa May & the Others” will explore the creative responses of those on the other side of Theresa May’s British Values.

Tickets for the day are free, and seats for the panel are first-come-first-served…hope you can join us!

Facebook event for the day: https://www.facebook.com/events/259081314527166/

Facebook event for the panel: https://www.facebook.com/events/196591977508098/

Parliament to debate settlement income requirement

The government announced in February that non-EU citizens who have been working and living in the UK for 5 or more years must now meet a £35,000 minimum income requirement to be able to remain in the country. While this doesn’t change the income requirements for Family Migration, it does vastly expand the government’s push to tie immigration to wealth, and will affect a wide variety of students, educators, and skilled workers across the country, many who have likely now established families of their own. What becomes of children born as UK citizens when their parents cannot stay?

The announcement swiftly was swiftly met with a petition to scrap the requirement, which received over 100,000 signatures and so has compelled Parliament to debate the topic. An email today has announced the debate will be held Monday, 7 March at 4.30pm.

In that email the petitions committee has invited input and feedback to help inform the debate. They say:

In particular, we would like to know:

  • How will the £35,000 income threshold for non-EU citizens settling in the UK affect you?
  • Is the introduction of the income threshold affecting your future plans?
  • How will the introduction of the income threshold affect your business, your workplace and/or your community?

The deadline for comments to be considered in the debate is midnight on Thursday 3 March 2016.

This is super short notice! They are encouraging commentary on the UK Parliament Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/ukparliament/

You can also contact your local MP directly tell them why this debate is important to you and suggest any points you would like them to raise. Find out who your MP is and how to contact them here.

You can watch the debate live on Parliament TV: http://parliamentlive.tv/

A big week in history

borrowed from bbc.co.ukSo much going on! The EU and David Cameron reached a deal this week which would see a number of key facets of the European law amended to allow the UK a more distinct position within the federation of member states. The EU published the full text of that agreement in a press release Friday.

It’s notable that two of Cameron’s requests weren’t included at all: the ability to oust people who haven’t found a job in six months, and a requirement for jobseekers to have a job offer before entering the country. Neither, apparently, were possible under current EU treaty, and it’s some small consolation that the deal is not a complete capitulation to the UK demands.

However, apparently most of the language regarding changes to the free movement rules has stayed intact from the draft documents, which we looked at in some depth earlier this month. Steve Peers has done a comprehensive opinion piece on the immigration elements of the final deal, to which I can’t possibly add, but specifically relevant is this:

The amendments will exclude two separate categories of non-EU citizens from the scope of the citizens’ Directive: those who did not have prior lawful residence in a Member State before marrying an EU citizen who has moved to another Member State; and those who marry such an EU citizen after he or she has moved to a Member State. For these people, national immigration law will apply.

(emphasis mine.) It reads as if a non-EU spouse would need to establish legal residence in an EU country before marrying an UK citizen, but that the marriage needs to happen before the UK citizen moves to that third country. It’s messy, and as Peers says,

the planned legislative changes will complicate the plans of people who wish to move to another Member State with their non-EU family and then move back, since national immigration law will apply to their move to the hostMember State.

In plainer words: as feared, it looks like the Surinder Singh path will become more difficult. But as Peers also examines, there are a lot of things still open to interpretation, possibly by the courts, and the SS door seems not fully closed.

Acceptance of these changes is of course contingent on the UK agreeing to stay in the EU at all, which of course was another big development this week: Cameron officially set a June 23 date for an “in or out” referendum.

We have an idea what a vote to stay may mean for immigration policy. We have no idea at all what an exit may bring. Some are actually arguing EU free movement is hindering a fair immigration system…though I personally find it hard to believe Theresa May will suddenly change her tune should a separation occur. It’s not hard to imagine this being the biggest democratic event of our lifetimes; if you are able to vote, please take the time to form a considered opinion and express it.

And while all this is going on, we mustn’t forget that this week the Supreme Court hears appeals on two cases testing the basic legality of the income restriction. The outcome of these rulings could in fact have influence on the way the EU deal plays out. Should the income requirement be ruled disproportionately interfering with the ECHR Article 8 right to a family life, the whole game changes for people bringing family to the UK, regardless of Cameron’s EU deal.

Years from now, looking back at the course of UK history, it’s easy to imagine how the week or so surrounding today will be seen as a turning point. But which way will things turn?

Things to remember:

Comment: EU draft revision to free movement rules

David Cameron’s negotiations with the EU have been all over the news these last few days, with a lot of focus on Donald Tusk’s response to his key demand for a 4-year ban on in-work benefits for EU migrants.
While the European Council has proposed a compromise which many are calling a defeat for Cameron, there are other, less noticed, concessions in proposed changes to the free movement laws (pdf), which could have a direct bearing on the ability of UK citizens to bring their non-EU family home.
Steven at BritCits has done an initial analysis in his blog post here, and explores his understanding of the changes, focusing on two key statements:
  1. “The Commission intends to adopt a proposal to complement Directive 2004/38 on free movement of Union citizens in order to exclude, from the scope of free movement rights, third country nationals who had no prior lawful residence in a Member State before marrying a Union citizen or who marry a Union citizen only after the Union citizen has established residence in the host Member State. Accordingly, in such cases, the host Member State’s immigration law will apply to the third country national. ”
  2. “Member States can address specific cases of abuse of free movement rights by Union citizens returning to their Member State of nationality with a non-EU family member where residence in the host Member State has not been sufficiently genuine to create or strengthen family life and had the purpose of evading the application of national immigration rules.” 
Combined, these statements seem to dramatically change the landscape for those seeking to gain a family residence permit living in Europe and then follow the Surinder Singh path to the UK. The first point is a bit of a tangle but seems to suggest that under this proposal, to exercise free-movement rights, a non-EU partner needs to either
  1. establish independent residency, on their own merit, in the EU country before getting married to an UK citizen, or
  2. once married, the UK partner may be able to gain residence in a third EU country and meet that country’s requirements to sponsor a family member. (I admit, based on the wording I find this scenario pretty unclear)
In short, the proposal seems specifically targeted at closing the option of moving to an EU country with less restrictive rules than the UK, getting married, and then applying for a family permit.
The second part of the proposal is I think even fuzzier, as there is no way to objectively quantify “sufficiently genuine.” It goes beyond proving your relationship is “real” into forcing people to prove the underlying motivation of having moved abroad in the first place, and leaves the decision open to a completely subjective opinion.
Full information on the EU proposals is available here. It is  just a draft proposal, and it may yet change, but it is important that people know what is on the table. As it stands it would appear that Surinder Singh would still be possible, but could be significantly harder. It’s not clear how non-spouse family would be affected, and as Steven points out in the BritCits newsletter, these proposals raise more questions than they answer. There is far more that we don’t know about what the impacts might be than what we do know right now.
There are some things you can do, right now, though:

Two key court cases coming in February 2016

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear appeals in not one but two important cases relating to the minimum income rules.
The case known as MM (Lebanon) is the one we were all watching keenly last year as the Home Office appealed an earlier ruling which declared the income rules in violation of EU Human Rights Law. That appeal what disappointingly upheld (here is an in-depth analysis of the ruling), but the court has given permission to further appeal, with hearings before the court happening Feb 22-24th, 2016.
The court has also agreed to hear an appeal on a related second case,  SS (Congo) & Others at the same time.
Quoting 43templerow, the legal firm representing many of the plaintiffs:

“The case of MM deals with whether the rules are so harsh that they represent an inherently disproportionate interference in the right to a family life under Article 8 ECHR, or alternatively that they are lawful because the Secretary of State or a tribunal can allow cases on a discretionary basis even where the rules are not met. The case of SS looks at the width of that second stage – Theresa May arguing that consequences such as those identified […] by the Children’s Commissioner are simply not good enough to qualify as an exception.”

Either case could prove a vital turning point in the struggle for thousands of families affected by the minimum income ryules. As 43templerow says,

“The decision of the Supreme Court is likely to be the most significant human rights cases it has decided in years: in legal terms the extent to which government policy can determine the outcome of assessments of proportionality in Article 8, and in human terms by the tens of thousands of people’s lives it will affect.”

BritCits is inviting people who are able to come to the Supreme Court to attend the hearings as audience in the gallery. The hearings are public, people are welcome to attend, and entrance is free.
They say,

“The more people who are seen in the gallery the more public interest this case will generate, and it also shows the judges the people directly affected by these rules – we’re not just Home Office statistics.

For those who cannot attend the hearing should be broadcast live at https://www.supremecourt.uk/ but again, please do attend if you can – all three days or just part of one day. Your presence does make a difference.”

Britcits has created a Facebook event here https://www.facebook.com/events/1677104912566231/
The live broadcast should be here https://www.supremecourt.uk/
And on twitter you can follow the hashtag #MMCase – http://twitter.com/hashtag/MMCase

Love Letters onstage in advance of 2015 Elections

We’re super excited to officially announce that we, as our production group North Star, are creating a new theatrical event based on the stories we’ve collected for Love Letters to the Home Office, and we will be part of the “Taking a Stand” season at the Battersea Arts Centre in London, just before the 2015 General Elections, with performances on April 30 and May 1, 2015

Creating this event, now, gives us a very real opportunity to share the impact of the 2012 Family Migration Rules with a wider audience than the book has reached so far: a very politicised audience, whose own voices can make an impact on the decisions being made at a Governmental level about this issue, right now, so that no more women are giving birth on their own, and so that no more families are separated for no reason other than their income.

The script (written by our Katharine) features at least something from every story in the book, interspersed with information about the 2012 Rules and newly created responses from a team of contributing performers, poets, musicians and collaborators, and explores the real impact of the UK’s immigration policies and media-fuelled public opinion.

We’ll shortly be launching a crowdfunding campaign to help offset some of the production costs, but the tickets for the show itself will be Pay-What-You-Can to ensure the show is as accessible to as many people as possible. You can book as many of them as you want for as little as £1 each.

More information and booking details are on the BAC website now.

Please spread the word and we hope to see you there!

The Guardian wants to hear from you

The Guardian is creating what they are calling the “100 voices” project, documenting the experiences of immigrants living in the UK. (Hey, that sounds familiar…!)

They are looking for 200 words or less and a photo from around the time you arrived in the UK. What they want is a story of why you came to the UK, what life was like when you first arrived, and how your experience of being an immigrant has changed over time.

Seems it might be an excellent opportunity to share some of the struggles people have had getting here in the first place…

More details and the submission form is here:

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/feb/09/uk-immigrant-voices-share-your-perspectives

(We’re slightly behind the curve on sharing this, but there is no deadline listed so it looks like it’s still good!)

There’s more to life, David Cameron

In 1968, US Senator Robert F. Kennedy suggested a country needed to be measured by more than economic success.

In 2008, French President Nicholas Sarkozy launched an initiative “to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well being.”

It's time we admitted that there's more to live than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB - general well-being. Well-being can't be measured by money or traded in markets. It's about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture, and above all, the strength of our relationships.

In 2010 he was quoted as saying, “finding out what will really improve lives and acting on it is the serious business of government.”

And yet…

 

 

(quotes from “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington)

No sitting still

source: http://www.reframingphotography.com

Our book launch event two weeks ago was a marvelous affair, perhaps smaller than we’d hoped thanks in part to the London Underground strike action beginning the same evening, but a lovely evening nonetheless.

The book is now available on both Amazon and Waterstones online.

We have created a new section on the site to feature love letters sent since the print deadline for the book, and we do aim to continue highlighting the struggles and loves of people being affected by the Family Immigration Law.

What we’re all eagerly awaiting of course is the verdict from the March appeal hearings…which may come any day now, but we can only wait.

Or can we? There are still things we can do:

  1. Sign our petitions:
    1. to repeal the 2012 Family Immigration Law
    2. to implement changes within the Home Office
  2. Contact your MP. Call their office, email them, write them a letter, find them on twitter. Elections are right around the corner, and it’s an ideal time to let them know just what is important to their constituents. Several MPs have already received copies of the book…has yours?
  3. Tell your friends and loved ones about our project. Like and share us on Facebook, follow us on twitter,
  4. Tell us your story
  5. Get involved with our friends at BritCits
  6. Go to the Stop Scapegoating Immigrants event next week
  7. Remember to VOTE on May 22 if you can

Book news and launch event

Our book, Love Letters to the Home Office, has been published and is now available for purchase on Amazon.co.uk!

Photo of the actual book!
On Monday, April 28 we will be hosting a book launch event at the Coffeeworks Project, 96-98 High Street, Islington, London N1 8EG. map
The event runs from 7:15-9:15pm, and all are welcome! RSVPs are helpful though so please visit the Facebook event page.

There are a few other things happening on the day of the launch as well:

  • 5pm-6pm we meet at the Home Office and deliver love letters, copies of the book and the current petition. If you are not in London, you might consider going to your local British Embassy or another government building to deliver your love letter.
  • 6pm we walk the 3.2 miles to the launch, past the Royal Courts of Justice and finish at the launch venue in Angel. En route distribute handouts to the general public with a love story on one side and what they can do to get involved on the other side.
  • 7.15pm-9.15pm Launch event at Coffeeworks project
During the event, speeches will happen, and 3 separate readings of a limited number of stories will take place.
There will be an online event at the same time so all those involved who are not able to be present at the launch can attend the online launch… And thus be together that way. 🙂
This is an open event and you are invited to bring as many guests as you wish, but it will help if you can RSVP either at the Facebook event page or email katharine@lovelettershome.org.