Paying the price of love

Paige and Tom Ballmi got married in December last year, four months after Tom was allowed back into the UK
Paige and Tom Ballmi got married in December last year, four months after Tom was allowed back into the UK

Enfield resident Paige Ballmi on why she is campaigning to change the government’s spouse visa laws

In December 2017 I was stood on a bridge over the A10 attempting to end my life.

Two days previous to this I had received the devastating news from the Home Office that my now husband’s fiancé visa had been refused. The refusal stated that my earnings were not enough for us to live together in our home in Enfield, despite me earning over the required amount.

Although the decision to refuse my husband was incorrect, I soon learned that this was something that could not be fixed immediately – it took eleven months to put it right via a court appeal. At the time, I was completely oblivious to how common poor decision-making and maladministration at the Home Office had become.

Despite many efforts to communicate their errors to them, the Home Office refused to listen and take me seriously, knowing that I was a vulnerable young woman who just wanted my right to a family life. I was essentially punished for falling in love with a foreigner.

Not many are aware that the UK government’s family migration rules demand that a British partner of a non-EU citizen must earn a minimum of £18,600 per annum to be able to live as a family – far higher than the minimum wage. This policy implemented in 2012 has become known as the ‘price on love’ and was part of then Home Secretary Theresa May’s plan to create a ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants.

Many cross-border families, like my own, fell victim to this policy. A report in 2015 by The Children’s Commissioner’s Officer revealed that more than 15,000 innocent children were affected, growing up in ‘Skype families’ as well as families living in exile because rules prevent their return to the UK.

The policy was meant to “prevent migrants becoming a burden on the taxpayer” despite non-EU migrants having no access to public funds. My husband is an extremely hard worker, and along with many other non-EU migrants here as a spouse, he pays tax and National Insurance contributions alongside an immigration health surcharge of £1,000 per application which has to be renewed every two-and-a-half years.

During our year of hell, I became determined to prevent anyone else feeling the way I did that day when I stood on a bridge over the A10. That’s when I came across a campaign group called Reunite Families UK, which is passionate about bringing forward a more humane and fair family immigration policy. I now dedicate my time campaigning for those families, as well as my own.

My husband is now back in the UK, but the damage has been so detrimental that I am undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The ‘price on love’ policy is still hanging over our heads and I am so frightened of any change of circumstances that might affect future applications. Going to university, changing career or starting a family, which I so desperately want to do, is not an option right now – because of the fear that myself and my husband will be ripped apart again.

Knowing I am not the only person in this position gives me the drive to demand change.

For more information about Reunite Families UK:
Visit reunitefamiliesuk.co.uk

Ask your MP to scrap the minimum income requirement for spouse visas:
Visit jcwi.org.uk/take-action-to-bring-families-together