The Scottish National Party (SNP) Scottish government is gearing up for an immigration row with the UK government, which control the borders, claiming that a new points-based system is acting “against Scotland’s interests”.
Secretary for external affairs Mike Russell has demanded a meeting with the UK immigration minister Phil Woolas to highlight recent cases. US playwright Thomas Legendre faces being thrown out of Scotland, despite his two children being born and raised in Edinburgh, as he does not meet earnings criteria.
The acclaimed writer is being removed the country by immigration officials in a decision that threatens to split his family apart.
American born novelist and playwright Thomas Legendre came to Scotland with his wife Allyson eight years ago and were allowed to stay under the government’s Fresh Talent initiative.
They now have two children – Nicole, five, and Callum, three both born in the UK. Legendre has achieved critical success with his work Half Life, which was performed by the NTS.
But Legendre, whose work has been performed by the NTS, has been told by immigration officials that he is not entitled to a residency visa as he has earned less than £32,000 in the correct 15-month period.
The new Home Office points based system means applicants have to earn sufficient points, based on factors such as ability to support themselves and a family, to remain as residents.
Legendre will now have to decide to return to the US without his family or uproot his wife and children away from the life they love in Edinburgh.
Legendre’s case has prompted calls from a Scottish minister and MSPs for the Home Office to relax immigration laws on earnings for artists and writers, whose pay can vary wildly from year to year.
His case echoes that of two other immigrants: a US citizen and an Indian widow who both made their homes in Scotland, but have also been refused permission to stay.
Scottish Culture minister Mike Russell said: “There have been a number of recent decisions by the UK Border Agency which demonstrate that the UK-wide immigration system does not always work in Scotland’s best interests. The Scottish Government is clear that there should be a flexible system which allows us to make decisions on what’s right for Scotland.”
Russell vowed to intervene in the case of Legendre, saying: “Scottish Government officials will look into the details of this case and see what we can do to help. We recognise the valuable contribution artists and creators from all over the world make to Scotland’s cultural life and to our economy.” Legendre said: “I’m caught up in a nightmare and nobody is applying common sense to the situation. The new points-based system now requires me to demonstrate at least ‘£32,000 of earnings’ during the 15 months immediately prior to submitting my application to the UK Border Agency. Never mind that few novelists this side of Dan Brown earn money in such a regular fashion.
“Most of us receive a sizeable chunk of money as an advance on royalties, which serves as earnings for an extended period of time while working on the next project. When that next project is completed and accepted for publication, the next advance is paid. And guess what? The gaps between those payments are usually longer than 15 months.”
Legendre added: “I like to think I have contributed to Scottish society. My kids were born here and are as Scottish as they come. They see America as a place to go on holiday or visit relatives. This is home.”
The system was introduced by the Westminster government this year after claims that the previous policy was allowing too many unqualified immigrants into the UK. But critics say it does not address the needs of Scotland for skilled workers and creative talent. Legendre said: “This policy is designed to limit immigration in England, but it is not working here in Scotland.”
Legendre’s wife Allyson, who is financing her own doctorate at Edinburgh University, says the stress of the situation has been unbearable. “There are little things that really upset me,” she said. “I don’t know whether to buy the school uniform for Nicole, who’s at Edinburgh Academy. We don’t know if we’ll be thrown out of the country or whether she will be staying here. And we’ve had our passports removed under the application process, so we can’t even go on family holidays abroad. We love our life here and our friends have been really supportive, but this is putting us all under unbelievable stress.”
The couple’s nanny, Nichola Fraser-Ross, would be forced out of work if the family is made to leave the country. She said: “If they go, I’d be another one going on the unemployment register.”
Legendre had been staying in Scotland as a dependent on his wife’s student visa, granted in 2001. As that visa ran out this year, he applied for one on his own merits. His wife is also having to apply for a new visa, but their applications are being considered separately, which could lead to the family being split up. The children are British citizens.
The family owns its home in Edinburgh and has never received state benefits.
The author supports his family through advances from publishers on his previous works and a portfolio of investments.
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “The points-based system sets out the criteria migrants need to meet to qualify for further leave to remain and ensures that only the people we need can come here.
“A key element of this is that applicants must show that they have sufficient maintenance levels to support themselves.”
Last Aril, a talented young American who was helping to earn thousands of pounds for the Scottish economy was deported.
Michael Merillo was attracted to stay and work in Scotland under the Government’s Fresh Talent scheme, excelling at the Scottish Book Trust.
But the 30-year-old was thrown out of the country in April on the basis that he was earning 90p a week too little, potentially under-cutting local workers.
In June, the story of Indian computer expert Navjot Singh and his wife Nidhi emerged.
In 2004 the couple settled in Perth with their daughter and had another child. In July this year, under immigration rules, they would have been eligible to stay indefinitely.
Singh died from a heart attack in January. His widow and children were then forced to leave as they only had “dependent” status and Nidhi would not have been able to collect enough points under the new system.
Source: Scotland on Sunday
Immigration Matters Comment
Similar stories of deportations and the Canadian Wife forced to leave the UK last week, are happening every day. But it seems they only hit the headlines when an North American or artist is involved.
When hundreds of Filipino, Indian and African Senior Carers were being kicked out of the UK due to unfair rule changes in 2007 the mainstream press did not say a word.
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