The real human cost of the UK's immigration rules
As we mark Mental Health Awareness Week, I cannot help but think about my own ordeal dealing with some of the harshest family reunification rules in the world and the impact this has had on me personally and on countless families who have been or continue to be separated as a result of them.
My ordeal began more or less at the same time when their architect Theresa May became PM. To me, her new position as leader of the country symbolised darker times ahead for migrants and tougher move to restrict family life even further
During her time at the Home Office, she used a varied range of different tactics to build the conviction in the public mind that migrants were supposedly abusing and exploiting the family migration system and even went as far as telling the general public that people were able to use their pets in order to be able to stay in the UK.
More than a decade on from those rules, and it still astounds me that even now in 2023 instead of creating a fair and just system, all we have done is scrape the bottom of the barrel and become progressively worse than I ever thought we could be. Four home secretaries, a pandemic which showed just how valuable having our families together is, and however many prime ministers later, the question remains the same.
What really is the human cost of these rules?
I know what mine is. After receiving an incorrect refusal for my now husband’s visa back in 2017, more days of never ending turmoil began.
Panic. Anxiousness. Loneliness. The list goes on. At that moment I had never felt so alone. I was left not knowing where to turn to, not having anyone who understands and constantly being told to wait it out. The questions were spinning round and round in my head. How could they do this to us? We gave them everything and more. What more do they want? Why are they punishing us?
My naivety led me to believe I could get this sorted in just a matter of days. But once I realized, I was looking at months, or even worse, the best part of a year to be reunited with my loved one, it was just days later I found myself attempting suicide as I saw no end in sight.
I wish I could tell you what was going through my head at that exact moment, however it’s become such a blur, that all I can remember is the extreme bouts of pain that continuously took over me for having to grieve the loss of someone who hadn’t even died, because they weren’t allowed to be by my side.
All I wanted was to get rid of the anguish and it didn’t matter to me at that moment in time how I got rid of it or what the consequences of that would be.
Using modern means of communication was extremely inefficient in meeting either of our emotional needs at the best of times, let alone at the time we really needed each other the most, emotionally, mentally and most importantly physically.
Luckily I was able to receive the appropriate help and care to be able to somewhat bounce back, but how many don’t? How many lose their battle? If I had been successful, who would have known why I did what I did?
Mental health is something we all suffer with at some points in our lives and it’s important for people to recognise that in those situations we need our loved ones around us as much as possible.
However with many families still separated, these rules make it next to impossible for our families to experience the happiness they so deserve and many will suffer in silence due to the “embarrassment” and “shame” of having to explain the situation of why they cannot afford to live together.
This mental health awareness week couples and families of Reunite Families UK want to highlight the depths of despair families like ours face daily and how important it is, to be there for one another, and to encourage that there is nothing embarrassing or shameful about our plights.
We understand that many may not understand, but being priced out of a family can happen to many of us, at any given time, who are only “guilty” of falling in love with somebody from abroad, especially during the added stress of a cost of living crisis. So please do, when you hear of our struggles, listen to the message, and pass it on to whoever you can.
Families belong together, now more than ever.
Written by Paige Ballmi, member of Reunite Families UK