Immigration System Fails Migrant Women In Abusive Relationships
Domestic violence continues to be one of the greatest risks for migrant women in the UK. Gender-based violence stems from damaging and ingrained practices of gender power relations, leaving women susceptible to frequent and severe harm from their partners or other family members. Research by the national charity Safe Lives found that the 15% of black, Asian, or ethnic minority victims (BAME) – and migrants on a Spouse Visa – suffer in silence for 1.5 times longer than White, British or Irish women.
Fears of being forced to abandon their homes and lives in the UK lead to many victims choosing to endure the dangers they face at home to ensure the legislative security of their Spouse Visa. Last month, the first ever super-complaint was lodged against the police by the human rights groups Liberty and Southall Black Sisters. The investigation exposed a secretive data-sharing arrangement where victims were frequently reported to the Home Office by police.
One glimpse of hope for protecting domestic abuse victims is the Government’s draft of a new Domestic Abuse Bill which was released on 21st January. The new bill promises the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, covering financial abuse and non-physical, emotional, controlling and manipulative abuse. This entails a new centring on victims, rather than the abusers themselves.
Recently, the Home Affairs Select Committee produced a report on the bill that strongly pushes the importance of offering equal support to all women. Over 30 organisations that make up the Step Up Migrant Women (SUMW) coalition welcomed the committee’s message that the Bill must offer protection to women regardless of immigration status and ensure refuge provision.
However, fears continue to escalate that the Bill fails to adequately consider and ensure these recommendations for BAME individuals, particularly migrants and refugees. For example, cracks have shown in the Bill’s acknowledgement of reviewing how some police forces are reporting migrant women to the Home Office.
What’s more, a Brexit Britain could provide a further barrier to the protection of domestic violence victims if they fail to provide the correct documents that prove their continuous residency. With the Windrush Scandal demonstrating a relentless disregard for Britain’s own citizens, it seems worryingly likely that a similar cold-heartedness will be implemented by the Home Office over the next few years. If domestic violence victims do not or are unable to meet the requirements to reach Settled Status, they risk receiving no protection and instead, may be subject to further trauma if they are detained, or even deported.
Currently, if an individual is able to apply for a Spouse Visa and their application is successful, they can live in the UK for 30 months as long as they are living with their UK Sponsor. However, for domestic violence victims, this equates to coercive and threatening behaviour from their abusers who blackmail their victims in cases of ‘disobeying’ them. During this period, migrants are financially dependent on their UK Sponsor as they have no access to public funding such as benefits, free healthcare or social housing.
Yet, unknown to many, survivors of domestic violence can escape this dependence by having a Spouse Visa curtailment (a divorce) and still remain in the UK. Afterwards, they can immediately apply for public funding and financial support for three months through the ‘Destitute Domestic Violence Concession’ (DDV) whilst their case and visa status is being reviewed. To help them through the Concession process, it is vital that migrants seek specialist legal advice and apply for Legal Aid to cover legal costs or any outstanding debts.
Breaking the silence and turning to authorities is a daunting decision to make for victims of domestic violence. Ensuring protection for migrant woman continues to be undermined by little legislative protection and even less assurance after the UK leaves the EU. Domestic abuse victims need to feel safe in the UK with greater access to support services and refuge provision to ensure they can escape from damaging and often, life-threatening environments.
By Maddie Grounds, specialist content writer and correspondent for UK Immigration Solicitors.