Thousands of British children are being separated from their parents due to strict immigration rules introduced under the previous Coalition government, new research has found.
According to the research, carried out by the Children’s Commissioner for England, some 15,000 children are separated from a parent after the government introduced a £18,600-per-annum salary limit for those looking to sponsor a spouse or partner from outside the European Union.
Researchers found this made Britain the least family-friendly of 38 developed countries for its immigration policies.
The Commissioner says the rules have turned thousands of families into “Skype Families”, communicating over a computer screen.
Whilst the salary threshold remains £18,600 for visa applicants, the limit rises to £22,400 if the parent wants to sponsor a child, with an extra £2400 for every additional child.
Whilst the government’s contention for the new rules was to prevent families tapping into benefits, the Children’s Commissioner claims that it has had the exact same effect.
The Commissioner states: “Separated families are not able to be self-reliant. Evidence from those surveyed suggests that the financial requirements often increase reliance on the UK welfare state because they experience similar financial pressures to those of single-parent families.”
The research also found that these separations caused extreme distress and anxiety to children.
One mother of a 7-year-old boy said: “He struggles, completely, he really struggles, it’s horrible. He has got anxiety…he gets knots in his tummy and he worries. We had him at the doctor a few times about stomach ache and the doctor said it was anxiety. Just not knowing, no stability, not knowing what’s happening and seeing a child crying all the time because they are anxious, that’s horrendous.”
Another respondent, the mother of a 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter said: “They feel awkward describing the situation to their new friends and go very quiet when it’s talked about. My son is very introverted and opens up to his dad more than to me, so at the moment he can only open up on Skype, which isn’t conducive to real bonding or empathy.”
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said she was “very concerned” the 2012 immigration policy “actively drives families apart” and must be reconsidered.
“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,” she said.
Chai Patel, policy lead at the Migrants Rights Network, which has been campaigning on this issue, told the Independent: “Everyone who has been separated from their children and loved ones hopes that the Government will agree to fully review these rules in light of the new evidence from the Children’s Commissioner.
“This report highlights that this is not just a problem in the immigration rules, it goes well beyond that. These rules are hugely damaging to families in Britain.
The Government now needs to act immediately to prevent further harm to children. The new Immigration Bill which is due to be tabled next week will be an opportunity to address the issues and adopt a fair and measured approach towards genuine families seeking to be reunited.”
The Home Office said the rules were brought in to prevent families using tax payer’s money to establish family life in Britain.