Domestic violence victims will be forced to stay with violent partners, lawyers say.
As from 21 April, people who came to Britain to join British or settled migrant partners and seek settlement with them after the two-year probationary period, or have been forced to leave them through domestic violence, must have a clean criminal record to be eligible to settle here. This is one of those rules to satisfy the Tory backwoodsmen and shut up the liberals – but the ‘unspent conviction’ which prevents settlement here can be something as trivial as a minor driving offence or a conditional discharge or a fine related to attendance at a demo. The ‘rehabilitation’ period for a conditional discharge is one year, for a fine it is five years. So a speeding fine means no settlement for five years.
As Alison Harvey, from the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA), has observed, although the new rule applies to all partners seeking to stay permanently, the rules allow those still in relationships to get a temporary extension of stay until their conviction is spent – but victims of domestic violence who are refused settlement, like bereaved partners, will have no option but to leave the country. Thus, as women’s and migrant support organisations have pointed out, the requirement ‘closes an escape route from domestic violence for any woman with any level of criminal conviction’ – as staying with a violent partner may be the only way they can stay in the UK.
In response to the concerns expressed, immigration minister Damian Green has written to ILPA saying that applications from abused women with a minor criminal conviction related to their domestic circumstances will be considered for permission to stay outside the immigration rules on a case-by-case basis, as will applications from those with a very minor conviction. But this non-assurance does not give women in violent relationships the necessary confidence that their immigration status will not be prejudiced by leaving them, which is the guarantee they need.