Speaking for Ourselves

“A better deal for migrants”: A day of sparking ideas for a fairer immigration system

“A better deal for migrants”: A day of sparking ideas for a fairer immigration system


 Migrant Voice - “A better deal for migrants”: A day of sparking ideas for a fairer immigration system

Migrants, campaigners, organisers and policymakers were brought together on 9 February at our conference, “A Better Deal for Migrants”, where an enthusiastic crowd with participants from all across London and around the UK discussed how to campaign together for a fairer visa and settlement system.

Anne Stoltenberg, Project Development Manager for Migrant Voice, introduced the conference and our campaign which calls for shorter settlement routes and an end to extortionate visa fees.

She explained that the conference was organised to bring together individuals - many with experience of the visa and settlement process - and organisations campaigning on these issues. We wanted people to come together to share, connect and generate ideas for stronger campaigning for a fairer immigration system.

The day proceeded with a panel discussion chaired by Nazek Ramadan, Director of Migrant Voice, with panellists Madeleine Sumption, Director of Migration Observatory, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, MP for Streatham, Keziah Gitonga, a visa fees campaign steering group member with lived experience of the visa system, and Wilf Sullivan, Race Equality Officer at TUC.

The panel tackled the current visa fees system from a series of different perspectives.

Participants heard a first-hand retelling of the ordeal Keziah Gitonga and her family had been going through the UK settlement process, even after she completed her own: it “showed me that love has a cost,” she said, referring to the thousands of pounds spent so her partner could remain in the country with her - after she herself had earlier completed the settlement process.

An individual on the 5-year route to settlement can now be expected to spend over £5,000 before they are eligible for settlement; this doubles when someone is on the longer 10-year route. But costs are often higher, with appointment bookings, document scans, solicitor fees and more quickly adding up.

The system is not efficient either, with poor communication from the Home Office, an intricate application process, unclear instructions and wait times often exceeding a year: all this has a detrimental effect on many aspects of people’s lives, including mental health. “It’s the constant fear, the constant enigma of not having answers” that is difficult to manage for months, said Keziah.

Speeches by Madeleine Sumption, Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Wilf Sullivan made it clear that not only is the current system not efficient, it is also harmful to those going through it.

“People on the 10-year route have increased dramatically in the past few years,” said Madeleine Sumption. “The length has several consequences, such as the increased costs: visa fees and the Immigration Health Surcharge.

“Many people being on the 10-year route also leads to a larger number of applications, which causes longer waiting times for everyone.”

The current system, said Wilf Sullivan, with its length, complexity and cost, was created to make people more vulnerable. The ‘outsourcing’ of immigration checks to wider society, doctors, DVLA, banks, landlords, employers, leads to a highly exploitative system.

Wilf said that “the debate around migration has always been a racist debate in this country. This is about appealing to people's prejudices. That's the first thing. Secondly, migration isn't a problem, working class people moving is a problem.”

“One of our challenges is to change the narrative around the issue. We need to be more unapologetic and make the point that all human beings need to be treated with dignity and respect,” he concluded.

For Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, extortionate visa fees are a consequence of the hostile environment: “It makes more sense for us as a country to reduce visa fees, so people don’t have to live in poverty,” she said; instead, the government makes it as hard as possible for people to continue living here legally and settling in the country.

The panel all emphasised the need to fight for change. Keziah said: “It's important to put yourself in the ring. I've been fighting about visa fees for a long time… you have to stand and shout.”

The discussion was followed by three workshops which focused on the impact of visa fees on work, families, and other aspects of people's lives, facilitated by a range of organisations currently campaigning to reform the UK visa and settlement process. These included Ramfel, WeBelong, Praxis, JCWI, Reunite Families UK and the TUC. Participants in each workshop learnt about the different campaigns, and discussed ways to create change together.

The day continued with a wellbeing in campaigning session and a “creative tactics” workshop. In the latter, people brainstormed new ideas for campaigning and raising awareness about the issues. Participants discussed how to best use grassroots campaigning, public actions, advertising and other tactics to make the most impact and reach more people.

We are delighted to have brought together individuals and organisations for this inspiring day, and we are hopeful that our coordinated work will bring about change and a system that works for all.

Get in touch

Migrant Voice
VAI, 200a Pentonville Road,
N1 9JP

Phone: +44 (0) 207 832 5824
Email: [email protected]

Registered Charity
Number: 1142963 (England and Wales); SC050970 (Scotland)

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