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 163.

    @143 badhairbear
    have you tried the LIT UK test , i tried it and just scraped a pass and i consider myself fairly smart ( industrial chemist) , yes i grant you it is similar to a driving theory test ie a set No of questions and answers, maybe a better way would be to apply it to ALL who want to claim any benefit even if they are a British citizen or not. that should sort the wheat from the chav

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    "@ DavidintheUSA-I'm not sure what benefits any mass immigration has brought.By definition its an overwhelming,ill managed,society/economy disrupting force"

    You're probably right. I fear for the future, especially if far right governments come into power in other EU countries - social / ethnic polarization may spill over into Yugoslav-style conflict in the UK too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    The government really needed to tighten up immigration. There were far too many coming into the UK. The effect of this scale of immigration is to drive down wages and living conditions for the indigenous population. If you look at imported GPs their language, training and professionalism is well below UK generated GPs. The same is happening across the University and IT sectors. Good move I say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    @139 'live off the fat of the land' - implies that this is a land of milk and honey where we all coast through life without a care in the world. Many of us are struggling to find jobs, find accommodation, get on a Doctor's waiting list and find other services. These are the reasons for the unease and disquiet about letting more people in to compete for all of the above.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    "Condems" (stalling an EU referndum) put the onus on non-EU immigrants (non-EUs). Ever growing restrictions on non-EUs are a manipulative ploy for us UK citizens "to embrace" the EU. They call EUs "migrants", effectively UK citizens; uni' fees up b'cos EU students pay home fees; non-EUs not allowed benefits (some EUs redirect to their countries) & pay taxes. You won't find a non-EU at a job centre

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    The elephant in the room is that this law is to stop the practise of southeast Asians always bringing their cousins/wifes/extended family to the UK who have no chance of work and no or little grasp of English or desire to assimilate. Why does the BBC ONLY focus on the 'white' hard cases aspect of this story?

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Yes, let them come here.

    And their relatives.
    And their friends.
    And their neighbours.
    And anyone else who wants to join the party.

    Just don't be surprised if your house rents go sky high, you can't see your doctor/dentist/NHS consultant, you have less chance of getting a job/ getting on the train / or your kids into the school you want.

    Still, as long as they are in love ehh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    Sometimes authorities may save people from themselves. I made the mistake of marrying someone from S. America too quickly - as soon as she got British citizenship... she was off.

    And I'm experienced enough and smart enough to know better. Sometimes having to wait a good long while is a deterrent to that kind of behaviour. I wish it had been harder.

    Moral: Be careful what you wish for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Totally agree with you porsche-turret. Too many spongers who are British racists. All I want is my hard working wife and mother of my children to help me raise these lovely kids. I fear that having their mother removed will have severe effects on their mental well-being

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Time and again the government shows itself to be unfit for purpose. Once, just once i would like to see politicians do something that puts the people of this country first and not penalise them just for being british.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    124. Andrew: ... Editors' picks ... no balance here.

    The Editor's picks clearly don't reflect your views, but they do reflect the views of the vast majority of the comments here. UKIP supporters are (thankfully) a bit thin on the ground on this blog.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    I'm a full time employed academic at a UK university. Two years ago my application for Leave to Remain was rejected and I was told I had 10 days to leave the country. I appealed and, after 5,000 pounds in lawyers fees and 9 months of fear and angst without my passport, I was given one year's leave. (And I now have an Exceptionally Talented Migrant visa.) The whole system is ridiculous and cruel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Lets get UKIP in and make immigration the first thing to sort out and not have this cock-up of not wanting to upset anyone.....Uk capital of the the left ----- start ...GO

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    @ DavidintheUSA-I'm not sure what benefits any mass immigration has brought.By definition its an overwhelming,ill managed,society/economy disrupting force.The wealthiest most stable nations are low migration/high technology economies.High population,welfare-intensive states like the UK now lack housing,schools,health provision,law enforcement/surveillance,social/national cohesion or identity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    This isn't part of the UK's immigration problem. We're not talking about people who come here to leech off the system.

    These are people who're loved by a UK citizen and married to one. By the nature of that relationship they're already integrated into our society.

    It is a case of whether UK law benefits UK citizens. Denying us the right to live with our spouses is denying our right to happiness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Another way to get round an unfair restriction, or a way to exploit your posistion. Surely the govenment should change the law, so that if a british person marries a foreigner, they automatically accept their spouses nationality Wouldn't be racist, lok at the thai and philipino wives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Out they come, the nauseating 'liberals' who, after the decline in this country over the last couple of decades, STILL think it's ok to let them keep on coming. And, when the country and its identity has been completely ruined, with no going back, they'll wonder why! What a sad, pathetic, weak-willed country we've become.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Yet another reason to get out of the corrupt EU....

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    With regards immigration,that ship has long since sailed/the horse bolted many leagues distant since the stable door was loosely latched (it certainly hasnt been bolted).Immigration is stoppable by Govt-that it wont be,regardless of year-in,year out electorate concern,is due to insidious liberal elite Human Rights politicking/pseudo economic theory of migration wealth generation/above all,the EU

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Stay in your own county. We want our country back. We are being taken over. If we took over your country you would soon moan. It has nothing to do with being Racist.


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