A pledge of support for women on International Women’s Day – unless you’re a migrant…

Theresa May says she’s committed to providing all women with ‘choices’ so that they can participate equally in society. But how do these statements fare for migrant women?

No recourse to public funds?

As Call to End Violence against Women and Girls points out, one in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and there were 363,000 incidences of domestic violence in 2005/06 of which 80% of the victims were female.

Whilst May’s commitment to extend the “Sojourner project”- this gives women access to housing and subsistence costs for up to 40 days when they apply to remain in the UK under the domestic violence rule is a welcome development, it needs to be placed in context.

Indeed May appears simultaneously to be exploring the possibility of actually extending the probationary period for migrant spouses. Unless May comes up with a suitable extension to the coverage of the Sojourner project, this seems destined to result in reduced possibilities all round, for those fleeing domestic violence. It could mean that basic support such as homelessness assistance and access to basic non-contributory benefits will remain out of reach for longer periods for those women who for one reason or the other are unable to make or succeed in such applications.

Further, the MOJ’s proposals to abolish free legal assistance for immigration applications, along with appeals before the tribunal, together with the proposed introduction of fees for  immigration appeals, is likely to lead to a reduction both in the number of women who can take advantage of the domestic violence rule, and any welfare support that arises from this.

Family reunification and formation

Home Office statistics show that women account for some 60% or so of spouse/partner based migratory flows to the UK. As May notes in her article, educational opportunities vary considerably across the globe, and girls actually account for two thirds of those who have no education at all.   Put the two together, and it becomes readily apparent just who will lose out from the recent introduction of pre-entry language tests for spouses and partners, and also the Government’s robust defence of the marriage visa age rule.

Labour migration and the capped Points Based System

Whilst May rightly expresses concern about the gender pay gap which stands at 16% in the UK, she remains perfectly happy for the capped Points Based System to reproduce these very same inequalities.

Salary specification for entry under the Points Based System together with the use of fixed maintenance requirements seem likely to have disproportionate impacts for women precisely because of the gender pay gap. So too as Kofman et al point out in their report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (pdf), does the approach of the Migration Advisory Committee. They use salary as one determinant of whether an occupation is skilled, and can therefore be classified as a shortage occupation.

So what has May’s response to all of this been? Instead of carefully analysing how all of this has actually impacted upon women, the response of May has instead been  to keep the only monitoring report – the 2009 equality follow up report, out of the public domain, whist also proposing  an extension in the use of salary for migrant workers. From April 2011 new income requirements are to be introduced for settlement purposes.

Trafficking

Strangely May laments trafficking in women whilst at the same time choosing both to opt out of the EU Human Trafficking Directive, and to maintain the UK’s opt out in relation to  EC Directive 2004/81/EC (which offers the possibility of a 6 month residence permit).

Further, May at no point gives consideration to the very groups she professes concern for in formulating the Coalition’s restrictive immigration initiatives.  Indeed, as the IOM points out, restrictive immigration controls can play a role in pushing migrants towards the illegal migration services of smugglers and traffickers, yet none of these concerns appear to feature in any of the impact assessments, or corresponding consultations.

Another glaring omission is the absence of any discussion about the real ways in which trafficked, and other exploited migrant women in the labour market- in particular irregular migrant women, can be meaningfully empowered to address their exploitation.

Put simply, if you know you’ll be destitute as a result of removing yourself from an exploitative situation, you’re less likely to do so. This simple fact of life receives international recognition in the Migrant Workers Convention (MWC) which the UK will not sign. The Convention extends a range socio-economic rights, considered basic to human dignity to migrant workers – including those without formal status.

Real choices?

If May is truly serious about providing all women with real “choices,” this must extend to migrant women. To this end,  it’s about time that immigration policy became the product of a genuine, and sufficiently rigorous gender auditing and monitoring process, rather than the slapdash, litigation risk management affair it currently is.

You can read more about JCWI’s critique of the current labour migration system in its introductory chapter in its Guide to the Points Based System out in March 2011.

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

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