UK’s immigration system fails to protect migrant women from domestic abuse 

International Women’s Day is on the horizon, shedding light on some harrowing facts. According to the Office for National Statistics, one in four women experience domestic violence during her life; two women die every week at the hands of a current or former partner; and over a million women have reported domestic violence each year. Increasing levels of violence that is happening on British soil. 

The charity SafeLives estimates that cases of domestic abuse cost the British taxpayer £66 billion a year – substantially more than the combined bill for obesity, alcohol and drug abuse, and cigarettes. Furthermore, they revealed that 15% of Black, Asian, other ethnic minorities (BAME), and those on a Spouse Visa UK, suffer in silence 1.5 times longer than white women.


Domestic violence in migrants

Since the UK immigration law states that the “UK Sponsor” has control over their spouse’s visa and immigration status, it is a system that enables the violence to continue.

For migrant women, these risks of domestic abuse are further aggravated due to gender power-relationships and gender-based crimes, making them far more susceptible to regular acts of violence from partners or members within their household.

With the uncertainty of life in a new country; fear of jeopardising their Spouse Visa; and the worry of deportation, countless women continue to endure the abuse from their tormentors. Their abusers are only too well aware of this and use it to psychologically and emotionally blackmail the victims, a lot of whom do not speak English and are unaware of their human rights. Many of these women have fled rejection, conflict, and war-torn countries, with the promise of a “better life” in the UK, only to become trapped in a system that still, effectively, continues to fail them.

The Guardian recently reported that an investigation by Liberty exposed a secretive data-sharing arrangement whereby victims and witnesses of crime were frequently reported to immigration enforcement by police. Liberty and Southall Black Sisters say that this deters the reporting of offences and counters the police’s broader objectives, as well as obligation under human rights law to investigate serious crimes.



The Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill

With Brexit looming, the British Government has implemented new policies to address abuse with the Domestic Abuse Bill, which was released in January. Despite this, there are growing concerns that the bill will not protect migrant women.

With little support and no access to public funding, these vulnerable women become trapped in a disturbing predicament. The insecurity surrounding her immigration status, coupled with a lack of options, means that she will be forced to endure living in dangerous and sometimes, life-threatening circumstances.

The Guardian claims that some 60% of all refuge referrals have been turned away, which rises to 80% for BAME women, while rights laws oblige the government to protect every woman in the UK from violence – regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality or immigration status.

Over 30 organisations joined the StepUp Migrant Women (SUMW) coalition, which insists that the Bill should be extended to protect the rights of all women – irrespective of their immigration status. 

Chiara Capraro, Amnesty International UK’s Women’s Rights Programme Manager said:

“Migrant women in abusive relationships are currently trapped and further victimised by their immigration status – excluded from financial support which often makes them reliant on their abuser, and threatened with deportation should they seek support from the police.

“Police forces continue to share details of victims with the Home Office for immigration purposes, which is allowing perpetrators to use immigration enforcement as a weapon to control and abuse their victims. This must stop.

“The government’s Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill will be a sham unless it provides equal protection to all women, including those with insecure migration status. The Home Affair Select Committee recognises this, and we urge the government to act upon their recommendations.”

Spouse Visa and domestic abuse

A Spouse Visa currently permits the applicant to stay in the UK for 30 months, on the basis that they are living with their UK sponsor. At the end of the 30 months period, migrants can then apply for a Spouse Visa extension and will qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after five years. During this period, the migrant is financially dependent on their UK sponsor since there will be no access to public funds such as benefits, housing or free healthcare.

Unbeknownst to many, victims of domestic violence are able to stay in the UK after ending their relationship. For those who have a British partner or someone with ILR in the UK, the Home Office must be informed and evidence gathered from a GP, social services or a women’s refuge.

In either case, the victim should seek further specialist legal advice and potentially apply for Legal Aid to assist with any debts or legal costs.

J.S. von Dacre is a writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation which provides free legal assistance to migrant domestic abuse victims.  

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