Research launched this week shines a light into the experiences of British citizens with parents or partners who have insecure immigration status in the UK. The research shows that one family member’s insecure immigration status has serious and wide-ranging impact on the whole family. Even though they are not subject to the UK’s immigration system, British adults and children are being harmed directly and significantly by immigration policies. Children are especially damaged by a parent’s precarious presence in the UK, particularly by chronic uncertainty, the prohibition against work and threat or reality of separation by immigration detention or removal.
My research allowed me to spend three years following 30 UK-based families consisting of British citizens in relationships with foreign national men with precarious immigration status. The families were extremely diverse: the British citizens ranged from low income to home-owning professionals. The men had a variety of nationalities, lengths of UK residence (1-30 years) and immigration statuses (both lawful and unlawful). They included people with temporary/probationary visas, those who had overstayed visas, were in the asylum system or subject to deportation orders. Despite the heterogeneity, the research found considerable similarity in experiences.
Despite not being subject to the UK’s immigration system, British citizens are being directly harmed by immigration policies. In particular, by their loved one’s long and expensive immigration battles to remain in the UK, chronic instability and limbo, prohibition against work, no recourse to public funds and by separation by immigration detention or removal. Many of the British interviewees were also explicitly advised by the Home Office to leave the UK if they wished to continue their family lives.
The British partners and children, as well as their foreign national family members, experienced harm that was often extreme and wide-ranging. People are made sicker, poorer and unhappier. Most developed physical and/or mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and PTSD. Their quality of life, relationships, social mobility, careers, education and financial positions suffered.
British citizens are forced to take out loans and debt, and work excessive workloads to make up for their partner’s forced worklessness and high immigration and legal costs. Some had to resort to Crisis Loans, the Food Bank or selling their possessions. Some interviewees (including a GP) forfeited maternity leave because of the need to provide for their families. Those made de facto ‘single parents’ by their partner’s detention or removal could be forced out of work and onto benefits because of childcare needs.
British children are especially harmed by their parents’ immigration struggles, particularly loss through immigration detention or removal. They demonstrate regression of behaviour (such as bedwetting), attachment and abandonment problems and significant mental health issues, including anxiety, trauma, nightmares, insomnia and not eating. Some interviewees’ children even self-harmed or attempted suicide. They experienced detriment to their education, standard of living, general wellbeing and feelings of security and belonging to the UK.
Some of the British citizens suffered such high instability and fear that they took on characteristics more similar to precarious migrants than secure citizens. This included British interviewees who lived with their suitcases packed in case they had to leave the UK suddenly, those who had nightmares about ‘dawn raids’ from immigration officers, who panicked at the sight of immigration vans or who carried their passport in case of identification checks.
All of the British interviewees said that their citizenship felt less meaningful because of the high level of harm experienced by themselves and their families, and by the Home Office’s advice to leave the UK. They felt rejected, betrayed and punished by the UK government. Several parents mentioned feeling particularly worried by their children’s civic disenfranchisement, some of whom no longer considered themselves British because of the experiences of their fathers.