Hostile Environment

Yesterday, my partner got her certificate of citizenship. She took an oath of allegiance and we stood for the National Anthem without laughing. We had our picture taken with a portrait of the Queen (the new one of Charlie, they said, was still in the post).

There was a sense of pissed-off solidarity among the twenty or so new Brits in the room. The officer of ceremonies tried to make it all sound positive and almost like a registry office wedding but we were all at the end of a long and tiring journey. One couple in particular looked downright furious. To this couple I tried to telegraph a message: “Don’t fuck it up now. Not at the final hurdle.”

Anyway, we made it. Phew! And not a moment too soon, it seems. A remark that will make sense in a minute.

For anyone angered by (or curious about) the “hostile environment for immigrants” I struggled to write about in The Good Life for Wage Slaves, the political writer Ian Dunt explains it well:

In 2012, as part of the Hostile Environment policy, Theresa May set a minimum income level for British citizens to be allowed to bring their foreign wife or husband to the UK. There was no need for it. People on spousal visas are not entitled to claim welfare and most of them have to pay the NHS surcharge on application. But May, despite her recent rehabilitation as some kind of imaginary liberal haunting the conscience of her former self, was in fact a deeply authoritarian and mean-spirited home secretary, so she did it anyway.

The minimum income requirement was set at £18,600. That might not sound high, but it is. People who work part-time in retail or hospitality – often women raising a child – don’t reach it. But even where someone could satisfy the threshold, it frequently hit them as a sequencing problem. They’d meet their partner when they were living in another country, fall in love, settle down, get married, maybe have a kid. Then, one day, they’d decide they wanted to come home. And that’s where the problems started.

This minimum income requirement was precisely what made it difficult for me to come home with my wife. I didn’t have that sort of income as a self-employed writer so we had to get jobs we despised with good reason and to keep them for almost three years.

We couldn’t quit those jobs for fear of de-facto deportation, a fear that lingered over us for years. We couldn’t lose them either, which made it difficult to refuse to do certain things at work or try to negotiate better conditions. Thousands of people are still in this trap.

Usually they would have no idea what was happening. Most had never heard of the spousal visa requirements. It was typically beyond their moral comprehension that the government would put obstacles like this in front of their family life. They assumed, on some deep instinctive level, that being able to live with your husband or wife was a core individual right as a British citizen.

That was us. We had no idea what was happening because it wasn’t happening when we began our relationship. We met in 2008, moved in together in Canada, and decided (hah!) to come back to my country together in 2015. Theresa May’s new rules were put in place in 2012.

Now brace yourself for an update. The £18,600 income requirement that gave us so much trouble and didn’t exist until 2012 was raised this week to an astonishing £38,700:

This is higher than the average and the mean income in the UK. It’s unachievable for around three quarters of British citizens. [Most nurses, for example] do not earn anything like that much. They’ll be barred from living with a foreign partner. Many teachers do not earn anything like that much. They’ll be barred from living with a foreign partner.

And it’s all in service of what exactly?

It makes no sense. Inward migration last year was 1.2 million. The total number of visas in this category was 65,000. Even if the move eradicated them all, it would barely dent the numbers. No voter is going to give [current Prime Minister] Rishi Sunak credit for knocking 50,000 off the overall figure. But for the sake of the impossibly small chance that one does, he is mutilating the lives of British citizens.

Ian’s piece goes on to describe the material and emotional effects this has on families, caused entirely, he points out, by a political party so enamoured of “family values.”

It may not effect you personally (and I sure wish I didn’t have to sully myself by reading about these horrors) but if you’re interested in the Hostile Environment (which, lest we forget, is no media slur but the original official name of the project), it’s worth reading Ian’s piece in its entirety.

As an Escapologist, you probably believe in free movement up to a point. I believe in open borders (read the case for it in the relevant chapter of this book if you’re not sure about that one) but nobody in politics is suggesting anything remotely that radical at present: perfectly ordinary middle-class people who met their partners abroad just want to come home without it ruining their lives is all. And the request is being cruelly, brutally, authoritatively denied.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

4 Responses to “Hostile Environment”

  1. Alex says:

    So three quarters of the population couldn’t marry a non British partner? I wonder people understood what they where voting for. (Not that I’m really surprised anymore – greetings from the Netherlands:-))

  2. Ragnar says:

    I feel your pain and I agree with you about the inhumanity of the recent changes to the policy in the UK. I too believe in free movement (anyone who gets a job and pays taxes somewhere should be able to live somewhere without issue and get basic human and resident rights, making it harder to abuse illegal immigrants). If I was a UK citizen, my wife and I wouldn’t qualify because of my income level, pretty far off, actually.

    Me and my wife are not very traditional people (neither do we like institutions) so after my working visa application was denied in 2018, we decided I could come and go (since I was making a decent living as a freelancer) and we could meet in surrounding countries.

    Covid hit and we had 0 options or rights as “only partners” so we decided to get married. But we weren’t even able to marry or meet for over 2 years because my wife is Japanese, and Japan’s government decided to start a secondary sakoku (Japanese isolation) era to please its mostly-elderly voter base.

    After the reopening it’s taken over a year to even just get married and have it recognized in my home country, between strict requirements across countries, not even landing a visa yet until god knows when (they say it’s a 3-month process from here, fingers crossed).

    We’ll only be able to get the visa because my wife somehow holds down a job in a not-too-old-fashioned Japanese company with enough pay to exceed a line (that is not even fixed in number, just a theoretical number that is “enough financial means”) here, and luckily they also accept my covid-era savings as financial collateral in place of a fixed income on my part.

    I don’t understand the reluctance countries have towards accepting potential workers and tax payers that are literally married to their citizens (especially in countries like Japan that would grind to a halt without immigration).

  3. Hi Alex. I mean, they could marry but they couldn’t live together legally. It’s awful. I’m not sure which would be worse or what the reality is: people not knowing what their vote does or knowing full well. I had a great time in Netherlands just before the election btw! I saw that slob’s poster around but didn’t yet know who he was. Things in Netherlands just seem to work so much better than in UK: surely a legacy of a liberal vote. It’s was so sad to see those election results. Turn it back for us! I’ll see you on the other side!

  4. Yes, I think it’s as you say, Ragnar: it’s to please older and more conservative voters. Hopefully we’ll experience a swing back to common sense in ten years or sooner but who knows. It’s happening everywhere and it really threatens the lives of cosmopolitan internationalists like you and me: a lifestyle and outlook encouraged in us by neoliberalism and now being taken away by fascism and rampant xenophobia.

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