After T was born and I was hopelessly missing my country & family, I thought a move to the UK would be relatively simple; that the Home Office would assess our relationship, check we’d got money to support ourselves and wave us smoothly through Passport Control. So I looked up visa requirements and in seconds the dream of being able to raise British kids in Britain started crumbling on the screen.
In July 2012 – ironically the month T was born- the rules for Spouse Visa Entry Clearance had changed. In order for a British Citizen to live in the UK with a foreign spouse from a non-EU country, a financial threshold has to be met: £18,600 income, or £60,000 in the bank. No worries, I thought, G’s income will suffice. And that’s when things started to unravel. Because, regardless of family circumstances or roles of the spouses or ages of children, the minimum income threshold must be met solely by the British spouse; the foreign spouse’s income disregarded completely. A stay-at-home mother to two babies under 2, not only had I not been earning for the past six months prior to applying (a pre-requisite of the application), but having been outside of the UK for 6 years there was little chance of me jumping into – even had I wanted – a part-time job on a salary significantly higher than minimum wage. The arbitrary figure set could be met through a lower wage, but only if subsidised through starting savings of £16,00 + 2.5 x any missing income*. Seeing as we didn’t either have £60,000 in the bank and I wasn’t prepared to put our babies into full-time childcare so young, there was no way we’d meet the arbitrary threshold.
Our marriage is strong. Perfectly imperfect, we’ve moved house numerous times and stayed speaking through unpacking, survived two babies under two and the daily & practical complications of blending a family of two worlds have made us stronger and more committed. We love each other and are dedicated to our family life, but none of this we needed to prove; without the money, the validity of our marriage was irrelevant.
So, I did what any good Brit would do; I sucked it up. We moved our family to a smaller city, led a life more soothing and family centered, and I tried my best to block out the UK. That new home in Turkey was kind to us. We made some beautiful friends, catalogued memories we’ll treasure and watched our babies bloom into children, but despite the idyllic picture photographs of our lives presented, underneath it all that homesickness had mutated from missing fish and chips into a blackness tugging when I’d least expect its precense & the ability to darken the most glorious of days. By summer 2014, there was no more illusion that I could suck it up and make Turkey my place. In November, the boys and I moved back to the UK full-time. G followed a few weeks later, and stayed for a while. He went back to Turkey for six weeks, and came back for a few more. We’re three weeks into the latest stint of him being gone and I now sit here, more torn that I was then, missing my husband & hurting for the time our children are missing with their Daddy. The saying that practise makes it easy is a big fat lie.
Over the past few months, instead of writing here my phone’s notepad has become a jumbled chaos of in-my-head noise. In February, I wrote this:
“My husband came home today. More importantly, my children’s father came home today and in the five weeks he’s been gone he’s missed so much. He’s missed watching his eldest son fall in love with his nursery school, missed the transition from tear-drenched goodbyes to big grins as he excitedly lists off the activities he hopes for in his day, missed the comical lunchbox requests of “whole unpeeled carrots” and “apples with eyes” (aka raisins). The Dad who’s sung them to sleep as often as I have, has missed our two boys begin to put themselves to bed and learning to make their bed in the mornings. He’s missed our youngest mastering the pronunciation of “belicious” foods, and the discovery of peanut butter on crumpets as the most “belicious” food going. He wasn’t here to build a snowman in that brief 30 minute window when snow fell and stuck, nor was he here to witness the delight in their eyes when we first saw Romans marching through our neighborhood.
For the past five weeks, I’ve had to wipe tears every bedtime from a two and three-year olds’ eyes as they’ve told me repeatedly how they miss their Baba; and have held back from sharing with my husband the daily banalities such as crayoned walls and upended-on-couch cereal bowls, because sharing with him my stresses serves no purpose except to enhance our shared frustration at our situation: Neither of us wish for, nor do our circumstances dictate, a situation wherein I must live as a single parent whilst he lives alone 4000 miles away.
As I tucked my eldest into bed last night, the smile on his face was larger than I’ve ever seen him smile. “We’re a family again, Mummy.” he stated as fact. How do I tell him we’ll do this all again in a month?”
Last night, T woke at 4am his little face streaked with tears. “I want Baba,” he cried. “Baba’ll be back soon, baby,” I reassured. “No!” he screamed, “I want Baba back in our country right now.”
As does M, who the week after G left this time crumpled in confidence and held a piece of paper with “M’s Mummy’s” number on it through every single minute of the school day reassuring himself that I wouldn’t go too.
Since introducing these new requirements in July 2012 the government has maintained their stance that “We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard and make a contribution, but family life must not be established in the UK at the taxpayer’s expense and family migrants must be able to integrate.”** A stance I can well get behind. The problem is, their approach to family visa’s doesn’t back up this notion, and in fact hinders the majority who marry a non-Brit from doing so. According to Oxford University Migratory Observatory, under the new rules 47% of employed British citizens will not pass the new financial requirement – including most civil servants and members of the armed forces. The research body estimates 15,000 -16,000 British families will be split up or forced to live outside the UK every year for being unable to meet the arbitrary figures of the family sponsorship requirements. To make this even more unfair, the only people affected by this are British Citizens as members of the EU with non-EU spouses and children are not subject to any income requirement to live as a family in the UK.
My national insurance is up-to-date, our family income is steady and sufficient without a penny coming from the state. We want to buy a house and educate our children here. And all for the country written on my husband’s passport, we’re prevented from living a life here together.
The government isn’t concerned with how sad my kids wake in the night or how my heart breaks when they role-play Facetime with Baba as ‘normal’. These daily trivia mean nothing to them, yet for us and for those like us, these trivia are our lives that are decided on numbers; numbers that according to the same governments’ regulated minimum wage & living wage figures, simply don’t add up.
Yesterday as we left the polling station, M turned to me and whispered “The kind person will win mum, and they’ll let Baba come home.” Such innocent hope. Is it warranted?
Yet for all the difficulty and heartache we feel now, in this we are the lucky ones. We’re lucky G has a UK tourist visa, and lucky we can meet the expense of running two lives in two countries and the accompanying travel costs. And we’re lucky that our kids are too small to understand the definition of time, so “soon” doesn’t need a definitive date. Alhamdulillah we’re so thankful that, however difficult, we have an interim solution that allows the kids to be growing up where we want them to and in a country that keeps their Mum healthy. Inshallah, God willing, we can almost see the end of this road in our sights but there are so many families who don’t have any option other than to live apart until this financial requirement is changed. If you want to help change this, write to your (new!) MP, open up discussions to make more people aware of the reality of “immigration”, and sign petitions like this one. Quiet voices together can effect big changes.
* i.e. if you earnt £16,000 per annum, you’d need to support this with £22,500 in savings. N.B if any children are non-citizens, the figures are £22,400 for one child in addition to the partner and an additional £2,400 for each further child.
**Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire