The Britons leaving the UK to get their relatives in


The Briton who married an American and moved to France to get into the UK

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British citizens are bypassing immigration regulations to get their relatives into the UK, using a technicality that means that if they work in another European country for three months, they can be considered under EU rather than British law on their return. Is this cheating the system or just getting past unfair rules?

Sarah Pitard is a screenwriter from Chicago who had been living in the UK for four years on student visas when she married actor Chris Hall from Swindon, in December 2012.

When the couple applied for their marriage visa the UK Border Agency returned their form saying they had not enclosed payment details. The couple maintain that these details had been included, but by that time it was too late for them to re-apply as Sarah's existing visa was about to expire.

"Our visa was refused and when I calculated how many days I was allowed to stay in the UK it turned out we had 48 hours to leave the country, otherwise I would have been banned for 10 years.

Start Quote

Chris Hall and Sarah Pitard

If it is a cheat then we will cheat so that we can stay together for the rest of our lives”

End Quote Chris Hall, with his US wife Sarah Pitard

"I called Chris who had just left for a big theatre tour, and I said 'You gotta come back - meet me at St. Pancras'," Pitard recalls. "And we just shot out on the Eurostar and landed in Paris. I had never even been to France."

Under UK law, Hall was only able to bring his wife, a non-European Economic Area (EEA) citizen, in to Britain if he met the £18,600-a-year base earnings requirement.

But UKBA would not count some of his income as it comes from freelance acting work. So despite being married to a British citizen, Pitard was not allowed back in to the country.

A friend, though, knew of another way of getting a spouse in to the country.

The method they went on to pursue is known as the Surinder Singh route, named after an historic court case. It involves leaving the UK and working in the EEA for about three months.

Surinder Singh route

By exercising your rights under European freedom of movement, your status as a European citizen takes priority over your status as a UK citizen, and when you return to the UK you are allowed to bring your Non-EEA spouse without having to meet the £18,600 minimum earnings requirement which applies to Britons.

In simple terms, EEA citizens have stronger migration rights than UK citizens, since they can bring in family members from outside Europe in this way.

"My friend said it's not publicised - it's really hard to find on the UKBA website, you pretty much have to know about it in order to find it," Sarah tells me. "They don't make it easy because they don't really want anyone to know about it."

It is therefore easier for someone from France or Germany living in the UK to bring in their Indian or American partner or relative, and each year around 20,000 non-European family members come into the UK this way.

Sonel Mehta, of Reading, is currently living and working in Dublin in order to bring her parents across from Australia. They were blocked from moving to the UK by new rules on dependent relatives introduced in July 2012.

"It's the only route that's open to us and I think it's left open because the government can't close it," Metha says.

European Economic Area In migration terms EEA citizens have stronger rights than UK citizens

Although she knows the route is completely legitimate, she is expecting trouble when she arrives in the UK with her parents and tells the Border Agency official that she is using the Surinder Singh route.

"It will be clear that my parents are coming to settle in the UK. I'm absolutely expecting questions. I'm expecting the immigration officers to deny my right to be able to do that, but I'll have all the evidence with me to show that I have exercised my treaty rights in Ireland," Metha explains. "And paperwork printed out from the UKBA website which says that this route is something that British citizens can avail of."

Guy Taylor, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, says that as other immigration options are closed off an increasing number of people are using the Surinder Singh route.

"One person I spoke to yesterday is working in an arcade in the south of Germany with his Russian wife," Taylor says.

"There are people who are working in Portugal, Spain, France. A lot of people going to Dublin - obviously because of the language.

"It's hard to estimate exactly how many people are doing this because so many don't declare they're going. There are Facebook groups about people trying to share flats and actually co-ordinating on this."

But he added that a whole new group of people are now falling foul of immigration rules.

"For the first time, we're seeing immigration rules hitting white British people and there's a lot of anger about that because this is an infringement on British people's rights, not just about immigrants."

But David Goodhart, director of think-tank Demos and author of The British Dream, a book about post-war immigration, believes the Surinder Singh route should be closed.

"I would regard that as a loophole. When different European countries are trying to place restrictions on the number of people coming from outside Europe, it seems bizarre that those people who are not British citizens find it easier to bring people in from outside the EU than British citizens," he says.

"To have rules about controlling people coming into the country from outside Europe, just made fun of by a European regulation - it should be stopped."

Watch the Newsnight film in full here

The Immigration Minister Mark Harper declined to be interviewed for BBC Asian Network/Newsnight's report and instead issued a statement:

"The EEA family permit is not a 'loophole'. It reflects the current requirements of EU law and would not apply if someone went abroad to a member state for a short time just in order to circumvent the immigration rules. An application will be refused if it cannot be proved the British citizen was genuinely engaged in employment."

This somewhat contradicts the UKBA website which says that it does not matter if the only reason a British national goes to another member state is to exercise an economic Treaty right so that they can come back to the UK with their family members.

Those using the route argue they have been forced into a corner. In Paris, Chris Hall says he is not in the least ashamed.

"We're doing this because we have no other options. So we're going to go ahead with it and if it is a cheat then we will cheat so that we can stay together for the rest of our lives."

Listen to Catrin Nye's documentary at 17:00 BST on the BBC Asian Network and see the film at 22:30 BST on Newsnight on BBC Two, both on Tuesday 25 June 2013.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    The system is the way it is because immigration is running at an unprecedented scale and people are shipping their relatives in by the plane load to avail of benefits and health tourism. This is not sustainable nor fair. Reform the benefits systems and NHS so that they are contributory and then relax immigration controls.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    It should be also noted that there are just as many EU nationals who come to the UK with their non EU partner,using EEA family permit laws,so they can then take their partner back to their home EU country.It's not a UK issue,but an EU issue.Anyway,what right does a government have to dictate to me who and where I can marry and subsequently live with my partner? Next they'll be reading my e-mails!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    The EU is a joke. We're better off out than in.

  • Comment number 80.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Every lawyer and law student who has studied EU law knows this route. It would be simple thing of going to a free legal aid clinic/advice bureau etc The point of the legislation is to stop people bringing back spouses which cannot be supported by themselves and will rely completely on the state. 18k a year is not a high threshold...

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    #60...It's not about telling 'everyone' how to get into the UK. My Japanese wife and I have been forcibly separated for 13 months while I struggle to meet the salary levels required for her to get a visa. We've been married for 15 years and only decided to give up a great life in Japan after my dad was diagnosed with leukaemia. Does that sound fair to you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Surinder Singh was always the weapon of last resort. Many people who have commented that this is some sort of back door route or a loop hole have shown their own ignorance in the matter. Anyone who has sought legal advice about any immigration problems, and could avail themselves to this type of redress would have been fully briefed. The hard thing is actually moving to Europe for a while.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    So now you've publicised it how will this help the situation ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    The sooner the UK gets out of Europe the better. This makes a joke of our immigration system which we should be strengthening rather than tearing down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Funny name Surrender route :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Britain makes it easy for people from countries like Somalia to crawl unnoticed through the border and live in towns that begin with B. Burnley, Birmingham, Blackburn, Bolton, they're all full of immigrants. The best bet would be to shut these towns down and kick out the people who don't deserve to live in this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    It stinks to high heaven that people should have to cheat to live in this country. However for one person that is wronged there will be countless and I mean countless numbers of people who will constantly abuse what this country provides and will use this cheat to illegally enter the uk. As much as I feel for those unable to enter legally. It narks me that we still have these loopholes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    It's so sad to read bigoted comments about 'footing the bill' for 'back door immigrants'. There are just as many British dossers claiming benefits - and just as many foreigners paying tax to support unemployed British people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    At the end of the day the establishment hasn't got a clue in persuing a dead end policy- if they spent as much energy and their endless supply of stupid rules to the multi-millionare- who pay no tax or NI yet avail of everything the country has to offer such non-sensical efforts won't be necessary

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    BraveHeart. If it is about GREAT love, why British citizen doesn't want to go to non EU country to start family? Why it is usually opposite and instead one groom we can see a lot of relatives and all of them need money to live in UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    It seems as though this government is willing to reduce immigration numbers at any cost, even if it means removing various rights from the constituents they claim to serve whilst people on the continent can roam freely across the boarder (and bring with them whomever they like).

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    This does not take into account the situation where the non-EU partner is actually the high wage earner. My situation would have been very different if these rules had been in place 4 years ago. Surely this must be assessed somewhere?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Voting UKIP and getting out of the EU is frankly the only way to deal with this dire situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    I am in the same boat; "Sorry Dear but the PM says I cannot bring you with me". How can I explain this to her when the PM has frozen my UK pension because we presently live in her country and HMRC are very happy to tax me on what I do get. Oh, and I receive no benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    It used to be the Officer at the visa issuing embassy's decision re 'support without recourse to public funds',now it's just an figure so only rich Tory voting citizens can bring in their 'trophy' wives.Also the BBC neglects to mention that it's a 'partner',no marriage needed,and after 1 year 'together' the non EE person's EEA family permit is valid for the whole EU for the rest of their life!


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