It almost sounds like the start of a joke: three migrants walked into a bar. One of us had received some bad news on the way to the #OneDayWithoutUs rally on Monday and we needed to stop and talk.
My friend, a non-EU migrant, had just found out that his work visa had been rejected because of an administrative blunder. I didn’t have much to offer him except a hug and my understanding of what it feels like to have your future hanging in the balance in a system that’s designed to frustrate rather than facilitate justice.
Wherever you sit in the system, there’s usually someone worse off. My friend was daunted by the appeals process that lay ahead but expressed relief that at least he didn’t have a family to worry about as well.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of three families who have been separated as a result of the minimum income requirement for non-EU spouses to join their other halves here in the UK. The court upheld the rule, which currently sets the minimum earnings bar at £18,600 and actually rules out more than 40% of the population based on earnings.
In her 2015 report, the Children’s Commissioner estimated that 15,000 children are growing up in “Skype families,” because their parents are being separated by the rules. The Supreme Court acknowledged as much, describing the policy impact as “particularly harsh” and declaring that the policy should be amended to give more weight to the needs of children.
We got more drinks. My other friend, an EU migrant, is relieved that she hasn’t had to deal with Home Office immigration processes. Yet. But she talked about the tension of not knowing what lies ahead for her and her German husband, who have made a life here. I asked if being one of Theresa May’s Brexit bargaining chips made her feel like an outsider.
No, that would be last year, around the time that the Brexit campaigning was at its toxic height, when she was told to “go home to Poland” by a woman in the street who heard her speaking Swedish on the phone.
Unlike her I have an accent that lets me blend in; between that and the fact that I have my papers now, I’m definitely feeling like the lucky one here but I’m also more uneasy than ever before. My citizenship has a provisional feel to it at a time when it seems like we’re rolling back the clock on discrimination.
Last week, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants reported that unsurprisingly, the government’s right to rent scheme, which turns private landlords into de facto border guards, is increasing discrimination in the housing market. It’s not like the government wasn’t warned repeatedly before implementing the policy.
After all, when it comes to policies aimed at migrants, who is more likely to be asked where they’re from? (No, where they’re really from?)
It’s not like we don’t already have a problem with racial discrimination in the housing market either, which is only being exacerbated by this. Or education, where the government is trying to gather data on the children of foreign-born parents – as always, justified as a way to tackle irregular migration.
The divisive hostile environment campaign affects migrants and citizens alike, bringing border control into our hospitals, schools and neighbourhoods.
“I’ve always felt like a foreigner, that didn’t bother me,” my Swedish friend said. “But I’ve never felt so unwelcome.”
I’ve had variations of this conversation with different friends and colleagues over the years but it chips away at you a little every time.
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Kiri Kankhwende is a Malawian journalist and blogger specialising in immigration and politics. She has a background in French and Chinese language studies and holds an MSc in International Political Communications, Politics and Human Rights Advocacy. An accomplished public speaker, she has also written for the Guardian and the Independent, and has been a contributor to BBC TV and radio, Al-Jazeera and Fox News. Find her on Twitter @madomasi