The families of UK citizens denied the right to live in Britain because of the minimum income visa requirement for non-EU partners are to challenge the rules in the supreme court on Monday.
They argue that they have been denied the right to a family life by the rules condemned by migrant rights groups and family campaigners, including the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, who has said rules are creating “Skype families”.
British citizens must earn more than £18,600 to bring over a non-EU spouse, rising to £22,400 if they have a child who does not have British citizenship, and an additional £2,400 for each subsequent child.
Critics argue that the law, introduced in July 2012, penalises 43% of the UK population and means British citizens in full-time employment on the minimum wage cannot enjoy the right to live with their families in the UK.
The supreme court challenge, brought after the case was dismissed by the court of appeal last year, has three appellants: two of them, Abdul Majid and Shabana Javed, are British and both married to Pakistani nationals; and the third is known as MM, a Lebanese refugee.
Before the court of appeal dismissal, Mr Justice Blake had ruled at the high court that the financial requirements were “a disproportionate interference with a genuine spousal relationship” and suggested a minimum income closer to the minimum wage would be more appropriate.
In September, research by Middlesex University and the charity the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found about 15,000 British children are either separated from one parent or forced to grow up outside the UK because of the rules.
In response to the the study, Longfield said: “We are not talking about having unrestricted access but we need to put the heart back into this policy and consider the profound impact the rules have on this group of British children and their families.”
Last year, the Conservative thinktank Bright Blue called on the government to change the rules, noting the “significant contribution millions of low-paid Britons make to our economy and society, as well as the value of having families living together in the same country”. It recommended family visas also be granted as long as the British partner had paid income tax for the past two-and-a-half years.
The Home Office said it was determined “family life must not be established here at the taxpayer’s expense.The level of the minimum income threshold reflects the income at which a British family generally ceases to be able to access income-related benefits.”
Sonel Mehta, the founder of the campaign BritCits, which gives support to divided families, said the government was keen to crack down further on family reunification because it was one area where policy was having a real effect on keeping immigration numbers down.
Families are an easy target, they aren’t big business or universities that can do big lobbying to get in students or workers from abroad,” she said. “You can’t replace your husband or wife with a British substitute if the visa is denied.”
More than 40 people from BritCits plan to attend the supreme court hearings this week, many of them who have sons and daughters forced to live abroad or have non-EU spouses cut off from their children. A ruling is not expected for a number of months.
Don Flynn, director of Migrants’ Rights Network, said he hoped at the very least that the supreme court would acknowledge that there should be more flexibility for individual cases.
“In any case I have ever been involved with, the Home Office has not once exercised any discretion. You have to earn over that amount or it will be refused. I would hope the supreme court will acknowledge that, perhaps draw up some guidelines for when that discretion should be exercised in order to make sure the right to a family life is protected,” he said.
‘The bard of Glastonbury is leaving Glastonbury - how many other people at the heart of their local communities have been uprooted?’
Poet Wes White is the 10th bard of Glastonbury, an honorary position in the Somerset town where he has lived for most of his life, and where he also works part-time in the local library. But within the next few months he will pack up his robes and pen and move to London, as it is the only option he has found to secure a better-paying job that would allow his American wife Erica Viola to join him in the UK.
“The bard of Glastonbury is leaving Glastonbury because of these rules,” he said. “How many other people with roles at the heart of their local communities have been uprooted because of them?
Even if I was full-time, it would be shy of the income threshold. I do think it’s amazing that you can have a role which is paid for by local government and it’s still not enough for you to be with your own family.”
He met Viola on a band forum online 16 years ago, and later in person at a Manic Street Preachers concert in the UK in 2002. The relationship was a slow burner, but they spontaneously agreed to chat on Skype in 2011 and that was the clincher. “It seemed more real, it wasn’t going on in each other’s head,” White said.
It was the same lightning bolt for Viola: “Seeing him again after all those years made everything really intense and I knew that obviously it was going to be tough, but I wanted to be with him and no one else, no matter how many visas or oceans it took.”
The pair got engaged in 2012, but a week later, the rule on minimum income came into force. White said they initially thought they could overcome the difficulties of the threshold, but he struggled to find a better paid job in Glastonbury.
They were married in May 2013, in a vineyard in Viola’s native Nebraska. A couple’s marital status does not have an effect on the income threshold rules but marriage was something they wanted anyway, Viola said. “We’ve already waited 11 years, even if you are going to be 5,000 miles away I still wanted to be your wife.’”
Like many couples in his situation, White said friends and family found it extremely difficult to understand. “People look at you like you’re mad, it’s an alienating experience. My grandma thinks I should just be able to write Erica’s name in my passport and she’ll be here next week.”
“I do feel as though I’m being punished,” Viola said, “and Wes in particular is being punished because he couldn’t find an English wife!”
‘Every time the phone rings, he thinks it’s his dad – he thinks he lives in the computer’
Precious Depasse, a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London, was studying Swahili in her year abroad in Zanzibar when she fell in love with Tanzanian Max el-Amry after a night playing pool in a bar with friends.
The couple now have a son, Marley, but Amry has never been granted permission to come to the UK to visit his 18-month-old son, with their only contact being on holidays to Dubai.
“What’s so frustrating is that I’m young and I haven’t had a chance to start our life together, everything is on hold,” Depasse said. “And I’m treated like this by my own country.”
Depasse wanted to give birth near her family in Solihull, West Midlands, and they initially planned to have Amry, a hotel manager, come to the UK on a visitor’s visa so he could be by his girlfriend’s side. “It was denied twice, they believed he would not return home, despite having a job to return to.
“We found out afterwards that it’s very rare to get a visitor’s visa if you have a partner and child here, they just don’t believe you’ll leave. I gave up on the hope that he would witness his son being born and I gave birth without him.”
Four months later, she brought Marley to meet his dad in Dubai, and the couple have met abroad whenever they can afford to. “My son has only spent a total of four weeks with his father and he’s almost 18 months old,” she said. “[When we’re there] it’s more like a holiday, it’s not real life. We’re in a hotel, going out to eat. I want a normal life, doing normal things together.”
The rules on minimum income came in shortly after the couple had decided to apply for a spousal visa. Depasse is still studying and has a place on the Teach First programme for September, but fears it may not pay enough to meet the minimum. “I’ll have to earn the wage for six months, Marley will be nearly four by then,” she said. “Every time the phone rings, he thinks it’s his dad – he thinks he lives in the computer.
Depasse said she is reluctant to leave the UK because of the close relationship she has with her family and the help they give her. “He’s in a very different situation, his dad has remarried, his mum lives abroad and he’s pretty much by himself. It makes sense to come here,” she said.
“The income rules are a very simplistic way to solve what is quite a small problem of people abusing the rules,” she said. “Some days you feel so angry, other times it’s just really upsetting. I didn’t really have a clue about the rules, you hear so much about immigration and how easy it is for everyone to get into the country and it isn’t true at all, I never thought how big a problem it would be.”
I am a father to a six-year-old girl and two-year-old. Last year I had an experience with my daughter that I will not forget.
My daughter’s bicycle had been faulty for a period and she kept on requesting that I fix it. My response every time she made the request was: “I will do it”.
This went on for sometimes until one day I came home and found my little girl with pliers trying to fix the bicycle. I was very embarrassed.
I had failed in my responsibility as a dad and the message that I communicated indirectly to her was 'you are on your own'. You can be sure that I did not rest that evening until I fixed the bike.
You might be wondering where I am going with this story. Figuratively speaking you are the father of the nation. That is why on April 9, 2013, Kenyans and the world at large watched as you were given the instruments of power to lead our country.
You need to ask your press team for the video of the swearing-in ceremony so that you see how excited and optimistic Kenyans were on that day.
Fast forward to three years of your leadership and Kenya lies like my daughter’s bicycle on the balcony.
Kenyans for a period now have been requesting their father to fix the bicycle. Unfortunately Mr President, what we have heard from you is 'I will fix it'. You have said this very many times until we no longer take you seriously The message is clear - WE ARE ON OUR OWN.
I know the argument will be this bicycle cannot be repaired by you alone and that each one of us has a role to play.
To some extent I agree but just as a reminder, the instruments of power are only in one person's hands and that is you Mr President.
You can imagine how hopeless we feel when the person we expect to show the way does not seem to know the way.
The other day while driving behind a matatu I saw this stiker; 'do not follow me I am also lost'. Listening to your speech to students in Israel, it is clear that the forest is too thick and even our leader is not sure what to do.
The major defect on the bicycle is corruption. We were very excited when you read a statement and spoke tough when unveiling the list of shame.
What we did not know is that this was just another ploy to delude Kenyans that something was being done.
Nothing came out of the list of shame as corruption seems to have been fuelled. Even after our pleas and cries for the President to do something, what we got was a rebuke from you that the bicycle is doing okay.
Mr President, how does it feel to see billions being stolen and yet Kenyatta National Hospital patients are sharing beds?
How does it feel when a farmer in Mumias cannot take children to school because the sugar industry has collapsed while sugar barons known to authorities are importing cheap sugar? I can go on and on.
Because of the failure of the national government to tackle corruption, county governments are on a looting spree.
The CDF is being misused because the MPs now know who is to blame for lack of development in their constituencies. All this coupled with politics of succession at the national and county level is slowly gliding the country to a halt.
The independence of the constitution commission mandated to fight corruption cannot be used as an excuse of your lack of action.
You are the President. The buck stops with you. For your information Mr President, I am an ardent supporter of your government. I pray for you every day.
The challenge, however,is that the little hope left on your capability to transform this country is waning fast.
When you are really ready to live in Africa you take a step back, listen and learn from those who know a whole lot more than you do about the place you call home.
Picture courtesy of Traveller 24
Moving back to Africa…as clichéd as it sounds, many Africans like myself are choosing to move back home after long periods of living ‘abroad’ (even while many still head in the other direction). Africa is hot right now, pun intended. Africa is selling, and not only in fashion and music. African economies are booming, as are the property markets; tourism is on the rise and investors are starting to pile in – development is in full force (See Forbes article about the Top 5 Investment Opportunities In Africa For 2012).
Twenty years ago, moving back to Africa would have been seen as some sort of Bear Grylls adventure, but that impression is giving way. With a growing number of countries improving their infrastructure, more and more Africans are taking trips back home, even if it’s sometimes only for holidays. They are seeing the beauty and opportunity their countries have to offer, which provides reassurance that moving back home needn’t be a huge risk or something unfathomable.
Africans living outside the continent are often labelled with a term I find is commonly misused and misunderstood – the “African diaspora”. Although the African Union defines the African diaspora as people of African origin living outside the continent, historically the African diaspora begins with the historic Atlantic and Arab Slave trades and ends with the hundreds of millions of people of African descent living in The US, Latin America, and the Caribbean. No matter how ‘in vogue’ Africa may be, it is less common for those with deep-rooted African ancestry to pack up and move than the more recent communities of Africans around the world who migrated to Europe.
It is easy to saturate complex stories that are so detailed and rich with history with terms like immigrants, minorities, Afro-this and that, but each person possesses a unique story. I narrowly got my British citizenship prior to the British Nationality Act in 1981, making me statistically Black-British, a term mainly used for British people with Afro-Caribbean background, which I’m not, making it a slightly annoying box I had to tick. In recent years there are more boxes to tick, and recently I was able to slot in my Ugandan heritage in an ‘other’ slot. Progress.
In Uganda we have the word Kyeyo; it’s a term for Ugandan economic immigrants who’ve gone abroad to make money. In my experience, the majority of those who do kyeyo are over-worked and underpaid, doing the jobs no one else wants to do. All stigmas aside, it’s really just a hustle – people trying to get some money together to send back home, sometimes even while studying. It’s rare to find someone trying to move away for life; even when they say they are, they usually come back. Some stay for months, others years. Some start families abroad; have their kids educated and then return. Some create two homes, one abroad and one “at home” and bounce between the two. And others simply get deported.
Every African has seen the ‘Ghana must go’ bag, the bag that makes at least one appearance on any flight to and from Africa; the bag that can effortlessly carry way more than one’s baggage allowance. Africans travel up and down with this bag, yes, we all know the stock-fish jokes, the bag filled with clothes (with the tags still on) as one prepares to stock a shop, the bag filled with Matooke. But worse than anything one can pack into these bags when moving back home is to fill them with ones ego. An ego that has lived in an “organised” society, an ego that compares everything to how it is in London or Germany or wherever it is you have been living. An ego that makes you feel superior to everyone at home because they don’t know what you know.
I came with that ego when I moved back to Uganda two years ago. My ego said I could change everything “bad” about Africa and run to the bank in the process. But you know you’re really back home when you finally realise that all those people you are going to teach the “right” way of doing things are not the students, you are. When you are really ready to live in Africa you take a step back, listen and learn from those who know a whole lot more than you do about the place you call home.
You see, those flawless systems I was used to working in abroad don’t all apply here. You have to learn the system without falling victim to its shortcomings. I still show up on time for meetings, not fifteen minutes early like I used to. Breaking good habits seems effortless when the norm is the opposite. There is a certain discipline most of us ‘resettlers’ need to instil in ourselves; it’s very easy to think coming home is that five-star luxury holiday you’ve waited your whole life for. If you’ve only been coming home for holidays, weddings and funerals, you soon learn that life is just like it is everywhere else. Don’t think that everyday is sun-kissed, relaxed and peaceful, the Bob Marley-soundtrack-syndrome. You’ll still have to pay bills, work hard for your money, have successes as well as failures, learn, teach and be taught.
If you happen to be away for long enough to have acquired an accent, it can definitely work in your favour. An African with a foreign accent is popular with everyone, so much so that some people are willing to risk embarrassment by “acquiring” a foreign accent without ever having left the country. And who can blame them. Radio and TV stations seem to prefer the accent, and they tend not to be too picky – even an accent that is a combination of Cockney slang with a pinch of Brooklyn can get by. We still haven’t overcome the mentality that everything that comes from outside our continent is better than anything home-grown, with the exception of China, but that’s a whole other story.
Then there are those for whom language proves a hindrance. They’ve been away so long that the white man visiting on safari can speak the local language better than they can. There are many Africans who grew up abroad, spoke nothing but English at home and never learnt their language, or it never quite ‘sprouted’ if they did learn it. It’s like growing an indoor plant, it may grow but it never quite flourishes like the one the sun hits. You’ll probably be laughed at, mocked and maybe even ignored when you try to speak your native tongue, but trust me, it improves with time and you’ll be bargaining in the market in no time.
It isn’t uncommon for someone with entry-level experience to return home expecting to land themselves a top-level position. Ego again. Enter the CV-embellishment game. We’ve all done it, but it’s a lot easier for resettlers because few companies are willing to make that international call to check out someone’s UK references. Ultimately, if one’s CV is heavily embellished, at some point they will get caught.
As I mentioned above, for some the move back is involuntary. With increasingly stringent immigration laws it’s harder for people to settle abroad than it used to be. That is probably the hardest move, one you didn’t choose and were unprepared for. For others, like me, the move is a calculated choice, a well thought-out decision. Yet I’ve had moments when I thought I’d made a mistake. But also moments when I wished I’d done it sooner. I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t necessarily feel that moving back is a no-turning-back movie moment, but Ido think it’s an invaluable experience. At the risk of sounding like a travel guide, I think it’s a great trip to make.
NAIROBI: Kenya is the third most corrupt country in the world. This is according to a survey on prevalence of economic crimes released in Nairobi yesterday by audit firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
According to the survey, Kenya only fared better than South Africa and France. The findings come a day after President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenyans were experts in stealing, whining and perpetuating tribalism. The President said this while addressing Kenyans who live in Israel.
Similar views were expressed by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga during a newspaper interview weeks before. The Chief Justice told Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad that Kenya had become a bandit economy where corruption pervaded all levels of society.
The audit firm found that Kenya beat the rest of the world in economic crimes such as embezzlement, bribery and procurement fraud.
More worrying from the survey is the declining confidence in the ability of law enforcers to deal with these crimes.
"A worrying trend in the survey is the low levels of confidence in local law enforcement's ability to investigate and prosecute economic crimes," said PwC's Forensics Leader in Eastern Africa Muniu Thoithi.
The report comes amid growing public anger over the wanton theft of public resources following revelations over the loss of Sh791 million at the National Youth Service (NYS).
Before the NYS saga that has sucked in top government officials, the jury is still out on how the government spent the Sh250 billion it raised from the Eurobond.
Investigations have also been revived on the alleged role of Kenyan electoral officials in bribery by officials of a UK security printing firm to win printing contracts for 2013 General Election materials.
The crimes stray into other spheres. In the private sector, a clique of top managers of Imperial Bank are in court for allegedly stealing more than Sh34 billion from bank deposits.
In most cases of economic crimes, the perpetrators were mainly insiders, a fact that has now been confirmed by PwC's findings.
"Most economic crimes continue to be committed by internal fraudsters who were responsible for 70 per cent of the cases reported by Kenyan organisations," Mr Thoithi reported.
And last month, the CJ laid bare his frustrations in the fight against corruption in the Judiciary, saying the country was being run by criminal cartels working with politicians.
"As long as I fight the cartels and they are protected, you cannot achieve anything. You are taking these people into a corrupt investigating system, through a corrupt anti-corruption system, and a corrupt Judiciary," Dr Mutunga said.
On Tuesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed a tribunal to investigate bribery claims against Supreme Court Judge Philip Tunoi. The judge is alleged to have received Sh200 million to influence the outcome of an election petition.
Embezzlement was the most predominant economic crime in Kenya, the survey noted.
Three out of four of the respondents in the PwC survey had encountered a case of embezzlement — an indication of the level of theft by employees or State officials. Weak systems predispose Kenya's public resources to pilferage by government officials, as reported in the latest report of the Auditor General.
A rather shocking finding was that only one per cent of Kenya's national budget for the previous financial year had been properly accounted for.
This corruption cascades to all spheres of society. And while millions of ordinary citizens are starving, their elected representatives take every opportunity to raid the national kitty through dubious allowances, padded procurement and bloated mileage claims.
Anti-graft czar John Githongo last year decried the level of fraud in the country.
"This is the most rapacious administration that we have ever had. Corruption in Kenya has deepened and widened," said Mr Githongo.
His sentiments came months before the revelations of inflated procurement costs and outright theft in government came to the fore.
Half of Kenyan respondents in the PwC survey reported to have witnessed or given a bribe, in prevalence rates that are double the global average.
levels of corruption have been noted by luminaries. During his trip to Nairobi in July last year, US President Barack Obama described Kenya's corruption levels as historical.
"It's clear we've reached a scale of looting that surpasses anything we've had in Kenyan history," Mr Obama said.
This theme was revisited by Pope Francis during his visit to Kenya in November last year. The Pope said corruption was a "cancer" and "a way of death" that was eating up the Kenyan society.
The PwC survey says rates of economic crimes in Kenya had dramatically risen to 17 per cent in just one year, catapulting the country to position three globally, seven percentage points behind South Africa.
Sixty-one per cent of the respondents from 99 organisations spanning different economic sectors said they had suffered some form of economic crimes in the last 24 months — a nine per cent increase from 2014s 52 per cent.
South Africa (69 per cent) and France (68 per cent) were the countries standing between Kenya and the dubious prize of the country with the highest score of economic crimes.
Zambia tied with Kenya at 61 per cent in a survey that saw all the four African countries surveyed feature among the top-ten countries. Nigeria was the fourth African country in the survey.
And in a foreboding statistic, Kenya topped the list of countries where respondents had little faith in their law enforcement agencies. Seventy-two per cent of respondents said that their law enforcement agencies were not well equipped to combat what is fast turning into a national crisis. This was against the global average of 44 per cent.
Most organisations would rather discipline the culprit internally with the eventual sanction losing their jobs, it was noted.
The most prevalent form economic crime in the country is asset misappropriation which involves the theft or embezzlement of company assets by directors, trustees or employees. This remains unchanged for the last eight years.
And 72 per cent of respondents reported having experienced this form of economic crime in the last 24 months. Even more disquieting, 68 per cent of the respondents expressed fear that they would experience asset misappropriation in the next 24 months.
The evidence of such crimes is overwhelming. Retail store Uchumi Supermarkets and the dissolved Imperial Bank and Dubai Bank are some of the Kenyan firms which have been rocked by this vice with former directors or managers being accused of embezzlement.
The second most prevalent form of economic crime in the country is bribery and corruption, with 47 per cent reporting having experience the vice in the last 24 years.
According to the survey 61 per cent of respondents believe that corruption and bribery were likely to occur in their organisations in the next 24 months. Only 46 per cent believe that the top level management perceives bribery as an illegitimate practice. "This indicates that the mindset of individuals within the organisations needs to be changed," says the survey.
Procurement fraud, especially at the initial bidding stage, was the third most prevalent economic crime in the country with 37 per cent of respondents saying they experienced it in the last 24 months. The report noted that corruption and bribery and procurement fraud in Kenya are "usually in tandem".
Accounting fraud, in which books of accounts are cooked, and cybercrimes were the fourth and fifth most prevalent forms of economic crimes respectively.
The profile of the typical culprit is that of a 21 to 30 year old well-educated male employee.
"Investing in systems to combat economic crimes needs to go hand in hand with investing in the people that are entrusted with the assets and systems in these organisations," said Thoithi.