In 2012 the UK changed it immigration policy where UK spousal visa applicant was required to have a minimum earnings to be able to bring a non-eea spouse to the UK. The change in spouse law has had a hugely negative impact on families and couples, particular in areas like Tottenham. Paige Ballmi recently reach out to us to draw attention to the work being done by Reunite Familes UK campaigning against the current immigration policies, and shared her on experience of how these policies has affected her and her family personally. Rachel Ho spoke to Paige to find out more.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Enfield pretty much all my life. I moved around quite a bit, as I didn’t really have a settled home, but always ended up back in Enfield.
Describe your relationship to Tottenham.
Tottenham has always been the neighbouring borough to me and my gran grew up there in her early years. But I was always told as a child that Tottenham was not the place to go. Knowing what I know now, that was a decision that I regret profoundly.
I never really started to explore the rest of London until my late teens and I then gained the confidence to travel, and because Tottenham was the main connection into central London I found myself passing through here a lot.
Photo Supplied: Paige Ballmi
It wasn’t until I became a victim of the hostile family migration policies in December 2017, which led me to a bridge attempting to take my own life, because my Albanian husband’s was refused entry back to the UK. The refusal stated that my earnings were not enough for us to live together in the UK in our home. Although this decision was incorrect, it took almost 1 year to put right via an appeal and publicised news stories. I was under the impression I could just let them know they had made a mistake and every attempt I made to try and fix the issue was ignored, but I soon found out that poor decision making is rife amongst the home office.
Because of this refusal, I almost lost everything, my life, my dignity; and then I lost my job. Devastation didn’t even come close. I needed to keep that job in order to bring my husband back to the UK.
Photo Supplied: Paige and her husband Tom at their wedding.
Three days after losing my job, I managed to secure another job, in Tottenham at the Selby Trust. I do believe this job fell on my lap at the wrong time – yet for all the right reasons.
I never really discussed what I was going through with anyone at first, I was too embarrassed and just wanted to keep my head down & try not to lose another job, but it was impossible. They soon managed to drag it out of me.
The people I work with are so passionate and were so supportive of the issue, including Sona and Moussa (the trusts previous CEO & current Community Organiser) who pushed me to achieve what I thought was always going to be unachievable. I owe a lot to both of them, and to the trust. Because of the introduction to Community Organising training, I was able to use my power to challenge the home office and have the decision of my husband’s visa refusal overturned, in what I think was a world record of 6 months! But in total, we were separated for 11 months and 2 days.
Tottenham as whole, has by far been the most supportive and encouraging community to be a part of. Back then, coming to Tottenham was the only motivation I had to get out of bed. Every day was excitingly different, and I would always meet someone new who had so many opportunities to give, and historical stories to tell. Safe to say I am really proud to be a part of such a diverse and inclusive borough. Not to mention all the Somalian cuisine I have indulged in, who knew it was so good!
Tell us about Reunite Families and how did you becoming involved.
After passing through the community organising training here at Selby, I gained the confidence and motivation to want organise people together who faced the same injustices I did to make a change and stand up against these rules, as I knew I couldn’t have been the only one.
During my organising research, I came across an already formed group called Reunite Families UK, that consisted of people affected by the inhumane policies & poor decision making. The group was set up in late 2017 by co-founders Jane Yilmaz and Caroline Coombs who have also had to jump through hoops to keep their families together. I joined in May 2018 and although at the time the membership was minimal, but despite that, the support was overwhelming and soon became a safe place for me to share ideas of what I wanted to do to raise awareness.
During my organising research, I came across an already formed group called Reunite Families UK, that consisted of people affected by the inhumane policies & poor decision making. The group was set up in late 2017 by co-founders Jane Yilmaz and Caroline Coombs who have also had to jump through hoops to keep their families together.
Image by JuliRoseDuffy for the Price On Love Campaign
I joined in May 2018 and although at the time the membership was minimal, but despite that, the support was overwhelming and soon became a safe place for me to share ideas of what I wanted to do to raise awareness.
The idea of the group was to offer support and advice to others who were affected as well as campaign against & raise awareness about the rules, most notably the minimum income requirement, informally known as the ‘price on love’.
What are some of the challenges of immigrants face in this country and how do UK rules affect women in particular?
The UK family migration rules demand that a British partner/spouse of a non EU citizen must earn a minimum of £18,600pa to be able to live as a family. A level set far higher than the minimum wage, and in some regions of the UK, impossible to earn - I believe that in a very diverse community such as Tottenham there must be a huge percentage of people affected by this here. It was implemented by then home Secretary Theresa May in 2012, as part of her plan to create a ‘hostile environment’.
This policy alone has seen tens of thousands of families affected, over 15,000 innocent children growing up in ‘skype families’ as reported in 2015 (this figure has significantly grown since then!), families living in exile, as the rules prevent their return to the UK and puts hundreds of thousands of NHS staff, care workers, teaching assistants, and many others who work so hard, but just don’t earn enough to build a life here with a partner from outside the EEA.
Women in general are disproportionately affected – across the country 80% of women in part-time work don’t make the threshold, and young mothers are particularly badly affected, often being pushed out of the labour force because they have to handle their childcare responsibilities alone due to the rules.
The purpose of this rule was to ‘prevent migrants becoming a burden on the tax payer’ despite non eu migrants have NO access to public funds. My husband is an extremely hard worker and has built many things across north London. Himself, along with many other non eu migrants here as a spouse, pay tax & NI contributions, alongside with an immigration health surcharge of £1000 per application, which for us, has to be renewed every 2.5 years, for 5 years.
One of our main aims is raising awareness around this particular issue. Still in 2019, It is often commented, that we as British citizens are being used just for a passport to get “luxuries” such as housing, and benefits… which we all know is not true. Our group alone has seen so many skills needed in the UK being prevented from being here. To deem the ‘guilty before proven innocent attitude’ is something we want to change, along with the financial discrimination that is amongst us all.
Reunite Families UK started to grow over the year, through recommendations, networking, and media attention. We have now blossomed into a group of over 1500 like minded individuals who are passionate about bringing forward a more humane and fair family immigration policy which will ensure the welfare of our children and safeguard their basic human rights – as well as the families as a whole unit. We believe that no family unit should have to be separated against their will. A talented and friendly bunch who also support each other through what can be one of the most difficult, stressful and emotional times of our life. Working towards having these rules relaxed so that all our families can be together and working towards an immigration system that treats people fairly, with respect and dignity.
Favourite thing to do in Tottenham?
Network! There is so much to do and so many people to meet. There is almost always something going on, and the vibe is always really welcoming.
I have made so many great connections with people over the last few years, which I have not only have benefited from professionally, but also great friendships have arisen from this.
There’s lots of historical things to see in Tottenham, the heritage is wonderful. Every building has a story to tell. What’s really heart-warming is how here people come together, despite any differences they have, to fight for fairness.
The Selby Trust’s slogan is Many Cultures, One Community, and that is one thing that I feel will stick with me forever.
Find out more about Reunite Families: https://www.reunitefamiliesuk.co.uk/ and to lobby your local MP about the issue: https://www.jcwi.org.uk/take-action-to-bring-families-together