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 483.

    Anyone know : Is there an age-limit in relation to qualifying as a member of the EEA through employment in a member country ? Could a UK citizen over 65 go this route ? Or would the UKBA say no, you are 'retired'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    I'm British. My Chinese wife and I did Surinder Singh via Sweden 4 years ago The choice was leaving her in HK with our new born son while I went to England to find a job! Funny thing, after living in Sweden for a year we found England unbearable and left after 6 months!! We now live in HK with our two sons!

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    478. exxpertskier
    Civil unrest on the streets is ultimately inevitable (won't stop them turning the UK into a prison state first though). This benighted country has been in terminal decline for 40yrs. Services are creaking not under the weight of 'furriners and fatties' but corruption, waste & sabotage. 'Children of Men'' offers a glimpse of our future; hope I'm not here when it all falls apart.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    I left the UK to work and spent 10 years in Indonesia, where I met my wife and had a daughter. Five years ago we moved back to the UK. I support the government policy, even if it is umpopular. We had to wait till I could earn enough before coming back, and others should have to as well. Non-Brits certainly shouldn't come into the UK and claim benefits because they don't have enough to get by!

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    What concerns me is the ironic opinions of oriental women married to white British men, and women of asian origin married to asian British men, who are so against immigration - they played the sympathy card in order to get here and have several children who are now British citizens - yet are so against those of other races doing the same. Hypocrisy much?

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    The chickens are coming home to roost: creaking health service, overcrowded classrooms and those who seek entry who cannot support themselves.

    When WILL our politicians wake up? When we have civil unrest on our streets? You are welcome if you can support yourself and that goes for Brits who want to bring their partners- but we are done with the 'something for nothing' culture. Piggy bank empty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    The vast majority of family visas – 77% – were granted to the partners/spouses of British citizens or settled migrants. The largest number of grants is to Pakistani and Indian applicants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    a tale of two Britains, one embracing foreigners(at your own peril!)...the other...well the other wants immigration down! yesterday!... tie it up nicely by handing over the gate keys to the EU...

    ...fudge! ...fudge! ...fudge!...

    ...and now they are finding more holes than a reed basket could contain...Just how does one create a legal fortress these days!...all these planeloads of ...hoardes

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    The Office for Budget Responsibility reported last year that if migration were cut to zero over the next 5 decades, the scale of austerity facing Britain would need to be 3 times larger, at £46bn.

    The basic fact is that most immigrants work, pay taxes and contribute to our society.

    Yes, Woolwich was a horror, as was the right wing London nail bomber a decade ago. But a tiny, tiny minority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    This is a loophole that needs to be closed. The example you gave was perfect - the British man did not have the salary to look after both of them - that £18k (more for families) is there for a reason, we do not need new residents being more of a dependent than provider for the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    Wow, reading the comments section I didn't realise that the UK was such a racist, intolerant, xenophobic country. I mean they only let in 500,000 immigrants last year, how racist is that. Half of London's population is immigrant, that's definitely racist. How dare anybody question the EU or human rights of foreigners who want to live in the UK.

    All welcome, apparently, no matter what the cost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    25th June 2013 - 17:19

    "I will be finishing my PhD and obviously I am going to get a job after I am done but now I can’t apply for marriage visa because we don’t meet minimum salary requirement."

    And this is another issue leading to the "Brain Drain". As always the Government is so short sighted. They should concentrate on generating wealth not destroying families

  • Comment number 471.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    Why can't UK and US not just have a deal where you can live and work in either country without Visa etc. We speak the same language (well close enough).

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.


    You do know there is a difference between leaving the EU and leaving the planet don't you?

    Honestly how do all those countries outside the EU exist?

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    In 2005 I met the love of my life online. She gave up so much to be with me but never felt welcome in the UK. She'd watch news reports about the immigration 'problem' and ask me sadly 'why do your people hate me so much when I've never meant them harm?' I didn't know what to tell her. She died in Feb still not knowing if she'd ultimately be allowed to stay. UKIP / Tories don't speak for THIS Brit.

  • Comment number 467.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    In any year two million Brits work, study or live in other EU countries. (This doesn’t include package holidays many take.) Many other Brits work in non EU countries.

    I have several friends that work in the oil industry & have been sent to several countries. Others work in business and often spend months abroad.

    Why should they be penalised just for marrying someone born in another country?

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    What a shambles!!!!! Freedom of movement that doesn't extend to UK like the rest of Europe, time to look at ourselves and ask what do we really want?? Membership of EU that brings benefits and pain or no membership of EU and no bar staff, builders or Romanian shanty towns?

  • Comment number 464.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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