Justice for women on spouse visa
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Thousands of migrant women move on spousal visas to the UK every year from South Asia; they follow their husbands - often professional workers - to an alien country to become homemakers.
Hundreds of these women find themselves facing grave injustice due to a provision in the spousal visa system in which the sponsoring partner - the husband - is able to cancel his partner's visa leaving the women destitute and in limbo.
There is a constant insecurity as the spouse has to remain on a dependent visa for 5 longs years. If the marriage produces a child, the child becomes eligible for British citizenship as the child of a settled individual. The wife on the other hand is required to remain as a "dependent" for a period of five years before she is able to apply for permanent settlement.
Our organization - Indian Ladies in UK (ILUK) - has, just in the past 24 months, come across dozens of cases in which the husband, for a myriad reasons - has routinely abused his position of power, leaving women exploited, abused and often dumped in India after travelling there in the guise of a holiday.
The reasons are manifold - the marriage breaks down, there are "dowry" issues (for example; the woman's family being unable or unwilling to pay an amount demanded by the husband and/or his family); backward cultural reasons (for example, women who want to work, socialize or dress in a different manner are targeted by their husbands who will bar their wives from going out, having their own money and even bar them from having a phone so as to contact friends or family); money issues (for example, we've seen numerous instances where a woman who has found work has had her salary taken away by the husband because the husband feels he is "losing control" by allowing the woman to work and be self-sufficient) and so on and so forth.
Each case is different but equally harrowing for the woman.
In a number of the most horrific instances, women have been taken to India ostensibly for a "holiday" only for them to be abandoned. In one recent case, a husband - a British citizen working as a regional manager for a well-known fast food brand, who had married a lady from Gujarat - traveled to India for a holiday with the couple's two young children. One day, under the guise of taking the children to a temple, the man took his wife's passport and telephone and fled India with the children. She contacted ILUK and we helped organize an emergency passport and a short term visa for her to return to the UK where she continues to fight her case. (The husband has fled to his parent's native Madagascar with the children).
In another case, the husband traveled to India with the wife and abandoned her there, only after stealing her British Residency Permit and handing it over to his parents. The moment he returned to London, he informed the home office that he was "no longer married to his wife" and to cancel her residency permit. The Home office based on his word alone has proceeded to cancel her visa barring her from seeking justice in the UK.
Such separations lead to women being ostracized by their families and communities given the inferior status of women in India. They are kept in limbo, unable to return to the UK, unable to return to their homes in India due to societal norms. Based on the staggering number of cases that ILUK has come across in the past two years, it is reasonable to assume that it is a widespread problem.
We suggest that the process of cancelling a woman's dependent visa be made a more stringent one by the Home Office. At the moment, a man needs only to write a letter informing of a separation, which in turn leads to the cancellation of a dependent visa in a matter of 7 days. The Home Office must demand documentation proving that there has been a legal separation - meaning that the wife has been granted her rights under the separation - before proceeding with the cancellation of a visa.
Alternately, particularly in the cases of abandonment of wives in India, a provision must be put in place to ensure that the Home Office is aware of the wife's position and that their most basic human rights are protected. Obtaining the wife's consent prior to cancelling her visa is paramount.
The abuse of these women is merely exacerbated as one of the conditions of their visa is that they have "no recourse to public funds". As a result, women abandoned in the UK are unable to find help through local councils. One woman, a 24-year-old Muslim girl from Andhra Pradesh, last year returned to London after visiting her parents to find herself locked out of the marital home in Hounslow but unable to find emergency accommodation. The husband had written to the Home Office asking that her visa be cancelled but the request had not been processed in time, allowing her to return to the UK. Much to the husband's very evident chagrin. As a result all the financial, legal and logistical help was offered by Indian Ladies UK.
As it stands, the system is ripe for exploitation by men who use, abuse and discard women at will and the authorities must pay immediate attention to this issue to save 100's of other women becoming destitute and their rights be preserved.
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