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Who Do We Think We Are?

S3 E4 What do family migration rules reveal about British citizenship today?

16 Sep 2022

Michaela Benson [MB] Welcome to Who do we think we are? A podcast exploring some of the lesser known stories of British citizenship. I'm Michaela Benson, a sociologist specialising in citizenship, migration and belonging, and your host. Join me over the course of the series, as I debunk some of the taken for granted understandings of citizenship, and examine how this changes our understandings of some of the most pressing issues of our times.

Ala Sirriyeh [AS] Looking at the impacts of these family migration rules in the UK, is this, how this shows us the blurring of the migrant citizen divide. So and in a number of different ways, though, I would say, you know, one thing that really strikes me there is the kind of hierarchies of citizenship and exclusions that we see and the way in which these are not simply about being a citizen or migrant, but are based in much more complex, around kind of hierarchy around axes of race and class.

MB  That voice might sound familiar to you. My guest in this episode is Ala Sirriyeh, my co host on beyond the headlines. She was talking about what looking at family migration can tell us about citizenship, and how looking at families might complicate the idea of a clear cut distinction between citizens and migrants. Ala  is a  senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology with me at Lancaster University. Her research focuses on migration, and she has conducted research into how young migrants, refugees and asylum seekers resist some of the violent and repressive circumstances under which they live. She has written about this in her books inhabiting borders and the politics of compassion. But today, we're going to be focusing on her work on families and migration, which led to her paper evocatively entitled, all you need is love, and £18,600 . As usual, i'll pop the links to all of these resources into the Episode notes, so head over there if you want to find out more. In this episode, we're going to explore a theme we've hinted at in previous episodes, how immigration controls intervene in disrupt and reshape family life. George will be going back into the archives to relate the story of how between 1945 and 1946. The British government secretly deported Chinese merchant seamen who had lived in Liverpool and considers the consequences for the mixed race families that were left behind. My explainer explores changes in the UK immigration rules in 2012. That made it harder for non British family members to migrate to the UK. And I'll also be offering a brief introduction to the so called Surinder Singh route. And we'll be hearing more from Ala about how family migration policies exclude people on the grounds of race and class and the creative strategies that people deploy, just to find somewhere in the world they can live together. It's time for us to head back into the archive with George. And today he's covering a story that's been really close to my heart and one that I've been following for quite some time. So, George, can you tell us a little bit more about what this story is?

George Kalivis [GK] Yes. So this is briefly the story of how the UK secretly deported the surviving Liverpool based Chinese merchant seaman who had served Britain during the Second World War. And you can find out all the details in an essay by Dan Hancox published in The Guardian on the 25th of May 2021. We'll put this in the Episode Notes just to give an outline of the case. During the war, about 20,000 Chinese seamen worked in the shipping industry in Liverpool, filling labour shortages left by servicemen. They played a vital role in keeping the people of the United Kingdom fueled, fed and safe following the war about 2000 decommissioned Chinese seamen settled in Liverpool establishing families and lives for themselves. But that was sent to change on the 19th of October 1945. In a secret White Hall meeting held by home and foreign office officials, along with the Liverpool police and immigration Inspectorate. A Home Office file, titled compulsory repatriation of undesirable Chinese seamen was opened, resulting in gradually and forcibly rounding up these men, putting them on boats and sending them back to China from December 1945. And throughout the year, 1946 hundreds  of these Chinese men had English wives and children in Liverpool, their families were never told what was happening, never given a chance to object or say goodbye. Many of them ended up believing that their husbands and fathers had abandoned them or even died, along with some of the men's wives fights to uncover the truth back in the summer of 1946. This case has come to the fore, due to efforts by their now adult children to find out what happened to their fathers. But these people have not received any official help or acknowledgement, nor an apology. It is as if these families never existed for the British government.

MB  I think that it's worth just dropping a few facts about where we are what the point in time is when it comes to thinking about migration and citizenship law here, because of course, this is before the British Nationality Act of 1948. So we're actually working with quite old legislation that allowed the British government to distinguish between people on the grounds of whether they were subjects or aliens. But already we can see playing out in even the naming of the file, this kind of categorization of these Chinese men as undesirable, it's really, really interesting to see that these are the men who came to actually service the UK at a point in time where there were serious labour shortages, because so many men, so many British men were engaged in service for the war. So they shifted very, very quickly from being desirable and necessary, actually, to being undesirable. As I mentioned at the outset, I did come across this case, when I was doing my research about citizenship and migration that's informed this overall series. And I'd had this kind of question mark in my head about where all the work was on anti Asian racism, including in the hands of the state. And and this is where this case had come to light for me, as a really explicit example of the role of the state in fueling or supporting that kind of anti-Asian racism. And I think, to my mind, the connections between this instance and some of the things that we're seeing today around deportation, that kind of the secrecy, the speed with which things are enacted, is particularly significant. But I think the other thing that I mentioned that this is really close to home for me, is the fact that this particular case, had massive impacts for mixed race families who were probably already stigmatised, and it left these children and indeed, their mothers. I think there's so many unanswered questions, with many of them not having any answers, even today beyond being told that yes, the government was involved in well or led the deportation of their fathers. And I just wanted to George, if you had a couple of testimonies that could bring this to life a little bit.

GK  Yes, there were actually a couple of testimonies that that stood out to me in Dan Hancox's essay, […] now in her 70s, her father was among those deported, had said how she is and I quote, " still so surprised that there wasn't something sent out to the families, even if it was a lie, just to try to justify it. But they did nothing at all. My mom never heard the thing. She says, I just want to know, did he make it back to China safely? And what happened to him? I could have brothers and sisters in China couldn't I. It would just be nice to know." It goes on to report how for many of the children, their early years were marked by poverty and racist abuse, and some saw their families falling apart as a direct result of these events. Peter Foo, whose father was also deported upon finding out about the truth about his father said and I quote again, "This country doesn't know the damage is done to kids like Me, in a way, I wasn't shocked, really, because I've had to put up with racism all my life. I've never talked about compensation, I'm not interested in money, I just want a bloody apology." Against the odds. The stories do contain one instance where a man was deported and managed to return to Liverpool under a different name on one of the same ships that had been used to deport the seamen actually,

MB   That last example is absolutely incredible. And I think it's very easy to forget, at this point in time, how difficult it was to make your way around the world in the late 1940s, which in many ways is quite recent history, but seems, you know, a world away from where we are today. I mean, as I speak, I'm sitting in my mother in law's house in Greece, we regularly visit but but back in 1948, that would be quite challenging for lots of people to do. But I think that the story is more generally to return to those show the kind of the violence of breaking up families, and its kind of long term consequences for people, even to this day. I think it's a really important case that's been brought to light that helps us to see the longer term damage of immigration control. And its impacts on families in those ways. And I wonder, George, I mean, you and I talked about family and migration and borders before. And I was hoping that perhaps you might have an example here to kind of bring this up to the present day. Yeah,

GK  I mean, in fact, this topic today reminds me a bit of little Sarah's story, which we had actually discussed in a previous episode, the one with Tabitha Sprague. It's the story of a child of two mothers who had been stateless for the first two years of her life, as neither Bulgaria or the UK would recognise them as a family entitled to common citizenship. It's for different stupid reasons, of course. And I feel today's case also kind of illustrates, you know how ridiculous, yet inhumane and destructive. The actions of the home office have historically been, how the failure to recognise the existence of some families is not really a failure, for this would imply an effort to actually do otherwise. Right. But a purposeful policy of thinking some people in some families as more quote unquote,' important than others', and are therefore deserving of enhanced rights. Well, I'm sorry to spoil it for them. But I see no value defining people on the terms that the home office does.

MB  I couldn't agree more George. And I think that that idea that it's a race to the bottom, which I think is the one that comes across, quite often in that stratification of people by rights is something that we should avoid at all costs. I'll also pop a link to the episode that you refer to there, George, and that's the Episode 'What do the children denied the right to nationality through their British parents tell us about citizenship.' I'll put that into the Episode notes. But thank you very much. Thank you. You're listening to who do we think we are? A podcast all about British citizenship, hosted by me, Michaela Benson. If you like what you've heard, and you want to hear more, you can subscribe and rate us on your preferred podcast platform. The deportation of the Chinese sea men is just one of the examples that we could have chosen to demonstrate how the actions of the British state past and present, disrupt and in some cases, irreparably damage family life. But I want to bring us up to the present day by looking specifically at the regulation policy and legislation surrounding family migration. That is the terms and conditions governing the migration to the UK of foreign national family members. New immigration rules introduced in July 2012, seem an important turning point in this story. This was the moment at which the income threshold for family migration was raised. And what this means is that the eligibility of somebody to come to the UK will depend on the annual income of their sponsor. whether that was a British citizen, or a person who was formally settled in the UK, the rise at this time was quite dramatic, going from 5500 pounds to the 18,600 pounds that we've heard about in the title for LS article. She'll be telling us more about that later, highlighting how these new requirements further limited, who was able to come to the UK in ways that were notably classed and racialized. But this measure was introduced on the back of other provisions, which had already placed obstacles in the way of people coming to the UK through this route. For example, in a previous episode, we've heard from Kamran Khan, about the introduction in 2010 of English language requirements. For those coming to the UK, three family migration routes. Now, these are the early days of an immigration regime that the then Home Secretary Theresa May badged as tough on immigration. However, it's also worth noting that even during the labour administration, there had been consultations ongoing about raising the income threshold. This was also the time at which we saw the consultations which led to the introduction of language testing, as well as new conditions placed on whether dependents could accompany those entering the UK as students. Back in 2010, I was working with colleagues on a piece of research commissioned by the home office into marriage migration to the UK, which involves identifying trends in marriage migration between 1995 and 2009. And I'm mentioning it here because at the end of the report that we wrote, there's a helpful index that map's the changes in legislation relating to marriage migration, from 1980 until 2011, when the report was published. So I'll drop a link into the Episode Notes anyone who's interested. Before we hear more from Ala, I want to offer a brief overview of the so called Surinder Singh route. In 1992, the European Court of Justice ruled on a case that resulted in a ruling that third country national family members could accompany EEA nationals moving within the EEA without being subjected to domestic immigration controls. The arguments supporting this drew from article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states the right to respect for private and family life. Importantly, this article makes clear that this is a right which explicitly cannot be interfered with by public authorities, including I presume immigration controllers. In 2006, this ruling was formally incorporated into the UK immigration legislation. While the UK was in the EEA and later the EU, this meant that British citizens who'd exercise free movement within the EU could return to the UK with non EU or EEA family members using free movement. And similarly, EU citizens with third country national family members could use their free movement rights to bring those qualifying family members to the UK. But of course, Brexit has put an end to this, as EU law around free movement has been repealed in the UK and British citizens are no longer EU citizens with those rights to free movement. And while there are provisions in place that mean under some conditions settled EU citizens may bring qualifying family members to the UK after Brexit. Since the 29th of March of this year, that's 2022 the non British family members of British citizens repatriated to the UK from the EU, and no longer exempt from the UK domestic immigration controls. And similarly, this route is now closed to EU citizens newly arriving in the UK. But now it's time to hear more from Ala. I started by asking her to reflect on her entry points into thinking about family migration policy. As she explained, it was an observation from her conversations with one of the young women in her research that set her on this track

AS  One of the stories actually of one of these young women that really It sparked my interest in this particular area around family separated by borders. And this was a young woman who was engaged, but through her migration to the UK become separated from her fiance. And it was at the way she talked about trying to navigate that experience about being being engaged, but being sort of living apart, and that sort of really, actually really sad experience of being apart from someone that you love and how they tried to manage that relationship at a distance. So these new family migration rules came in in 2012, through the coalition, the conservative, Liberal Democrat, coalition government, there's various aspects of these rules. But that's the main thing that people really picked up on was this dramatic increase in the minimum income thresholds that British citizens needed in order to sponsor non EEA partners to and children to join them in the UK. So it used to be that this, this minimum income threshold was 5500. And this leaped up to 18,600. But as you can imagine, that was pretty dramatic and and really impacted on who was able to be reunited with with family members. So it made me start to think a bit more beyond the particular stories of these refugee young women to how other other people were separated through migration.

MB  I think that it's really important to remember that this wasn't the first time that the UK brought restrictions to family migrations was it. I mean, there's a much longer history here,

AS  We think about kind of post Second World War migration, particularly into into the UK, there's been really concerns not just in the UK, but in other European countries as well around the migration of family members. And a lot of kind of concerns around around national identity around integration around those sorts of issues around citizenship, of course, really have filtered through this, this control around family migration, of course, you know, if we think about some of the people that are speaking to, you know, family was so important in terms of that ability to feel a sense of belonging in a place. So, you know, without without family, people are seen as being perhaps more temporary. And, you know, once family joined, well, that's it, you know, they, they are here to stay. And I think that's really a route where a lot of the concerns arise. And often, I mean, if we think more historically, this this has centred, of course around ethnicity, race and integration, there's been real focus on particular, particular nationalities of migrants, particularly that in the UK context, the Asian and Caribbean migrants and citizens as some of them were thinking back to earlier episodes, and that their migration of their family members,

MB  What you've talked about there is how the idea of people bringing families to the UK, so migrants bringing families to the UK, is politicised and how it becomes a cause for concern, which I think when we look more generally into the literature appears to be around imaginings of who belongs and imagining the nation and producing and reproducing a predominantly white nation if we're really honest about this. But I think that there are other forms of family formation and reunification that don't necessarily sit clearly in that kind of chain migration model, in some respects, and and I suspect increasingly so. So I think one of the things that people don't realise is that these family migration rules today are not just about the rights of migrants to bring their families into the country. They're also about the rights of British citizens to bring their families into the country. And I suspect that there will be some listeners who are not even aware that as a British citizen, you do not have an automatic right, to bring potential family members or family members into the country outside of ordinary immigration controls.

AS  Absolutely. And that's so that when I mean, please go back to that list story of my thread of interest in this area once I started to think a bit more about this, this particular change in income threshold, especially, I did a bit of research, interviewing people who were affected by that income threshold as well as as well as some people who weren't. And it was really interesting, actually speaking to a number of British citizens who were impacted by these rules and like you say, who were really surprised to find so that they were being impacted by migration rules. You know, some people had met their partners while they were living or travelling abroad. But some people had met their partners never having been outside the UK. So, you know, their partners were on different kinds of visas in the UK when they met, and then they were trying to then look at ways in which they could remain together. And I think that was that was really interesting and seeing that surprise,and  also kind of how they navigated these new rules and trying to work through them. But I think sort of going back a little bit to your question, one thing that came up a lot in our discussions was people's responses to their relationship, and the kind of you're going with people's own narratives of how they felt these responses. But there was certainly feelings of around that relationships not being valued, of course, by the, you know, government and state, but also by people in our community, people, sometimes in their families, in their social networks, their relationships being treated as somewhat suspicious, not necessarily that this was a sham marriage or something, but sort of what why would you? Why would you be in a relationship with with someone from from another country is this, you know, is this really, this feels rushed? You know, why are you getting into this particular relationship, kind of concerns around that their children, I suppose, just, frankly, experiences of racism in the responses to their relationships. And I know, if you think back to perhaps yours, my family, I know, we also have, you know, thinking back, particularly, as you said earlier, to the 1980s, there's a long history of those sorts of responses. And we would go back even even earlier. And if we sort of think about also the different kinds of international families and how they're not always responded to in the same way, there's definitely also something not just there about race, but also about about class as well. So is this suspicion and intervention there with upper class or higher income families, they don't go through these hoops that other people have to go through.

MB  I think that's really helpful in terms of like outlining the classed dimensions and the racialized dimensions of this, and that I want to go back to 2012. And the Immigration Act of 2012, when this higher income threshold was introduced that £18,600. And I wondered if you had any reflections on what else might have been going on at the time, perhaps outside of the realm of immigration control. That might also help to explain this a little bit.

AS  Absolutely and think what was happening at this time, if we remember back was, it was fairly early in, in the coalition government's reign, and there was a lot of focus there on it was a period of austerity, there's a lot of focus there on kind of people taking responsibility, people, reining in regulating their behaviour, living within their means this idea that that good responsible citizens take responsibility for their lives, live within their means don't overspend, work hard, do all, you know, there was a real kind of moral message to to the kinds of policies that were kind of coming through and the real connecting thread, actually, through a number of different policies, this kind of moral regulation of the of the good citizen, there's this, you know, message around, well, will your, if you're in a lower income, is this partner going to be a burden on the on the welfare state? Are they what, you know, are they going to be able to work? Will they be claiming various kinds of welfare? Will children be going into schools here? How's that, you know, all those sorts of things. So, again, it it comes through in becomes connected to this idea about about living within your means, and that somehow, these sorts of relationships are seen as well, you know, if you, if you can't afford it, then perhaps you shouldn't be doing it.

MB  Yeah. I mean, I think that there's another side of this as well, we've talked a lot about what work those policies do, or what politically what they they kind of impacts in terms of who this means can can come to the UK. And you've highlighted that, you know, this is so reasonably high amount of money to ask as a minimum, bearing in mind what the average household income is in the UK, particularly at the time that this was introduced. I mean, we're, you know, we're over 10 years on and, but I'm also wondering, I mean, the other thing that starts to happen as these processes transform as policies change as new regulation is brought in, is that the people who might want to take advantage of them have to find ways of navigating them. They're quite complex routes, aren't they?

AS  Absolutely. People start becoming you know, much to their own surprise as well, but start becoming real experts in the legal aspects of Migration Regulations and all sorts of other other areas of law and policy, which you know, maybe a few months or years go, they wouldn't have known about at all or had any particular interest in and becomes it takes up a lot of people's time, frankly, trying to and, you know, finances as well trying to navigate these trying to get the right advice and reliable advice, because I think I suppose the other thing as well to say is that, just to add it is as well as it being a minimum income thresholds, there were all sorts of conditionalities around what kind of income was counted as well, which, which, again, impacted disproportionately on different and different people. So whether, you know, whose income could be counted? Where did they have to be working, what kind of saving or benefits were counted. And, and this had, we've talked a bit about gender This, of course, had gendered implications if we think about about wage levels and periods, you know, out for, for having children and other caring responsibilities, for example. But yeah, there was, there's lots of ways in which people try to navigate this,

MB  It's just really struck them by this, you know, it's not only the barrier that the money makes, so that is obviously a resource barrier. But having to spend lots and lots of time working out what's possible for you is another resource barrier that I think people don't necessarily think about. And, but I think that there's another resource dimension to that yet again, which is if you actually have the, the cultural, social and economic capital, to actually even start to find out what's possible for you, in order to do because, you know, in cases where people can't easily bring a spouse, because of, you know, there are certain barriers or obstacles, they don't necessarily meet the conditions laid out for that route. They're looking for other alternatives, just as a way of being able to be together.

AS  Absolutely and so yeah, the kind of things that people did, did really vary according to that their resources so So you have people and we'll come back to this in a moment we have people manage, managing to relocate elsewhere, at least for a period of time and or planning to do that, but But then some people, you know, didn't have the resources on networks to be able to move abroad for a period of time and reunite there and come back here, because, well, first of all, it takes money to be able to do that. As we've mentioned, before, you know, there were some people involved who had never migrated before and who also had, you know, deep family and community connections here, who, for many reasons, couldn't leave the UK, carrying commitments and so on. The people with health conditions that it made it very difficult for them to move not, you know, let alone abroad, you know, with even within the UK as well, because of the resources that they needed and services you know but. So people were trying to do all sorts of things, you know, moving moving in with family trying to gain financial support from from extended family members, which places people in quite dependent positions, moving jobs, changing jobs, sometimes sacrificing aspects of their future career aspirations to be able to, at this point, earn enough try to earn enough money delaying having children, because that adds to the, to the minimum income threshold that you're going to need all sorts of things. But one route some people were able to take was this this Surinder Singh route?

MB  Yeah. So this is a situation where EU law, trumps national law so it Trumps domestic legislation, and you're absolutely right. So what you end up with is, you know, it's not it's not just, it's not just British citizens. Obviously, it's other EU citizens who can go and live in another member state because they could use freedom of movement directives, and within those freedom of movement directives. There's also the provision for qualifying family members to have those rights to free movement. So to access those rights to free movement, which basically meant that British citizens and EU citizens who had what in the EU are called third country, national family members, or non EU, EEA family member, but I wanted to reflect and ask you to reflect a little bit on what restrictions and conditions attached to moving or not as a family member are doing to family life, and what are the impacts at that level

AS So people start finding that they kind of get you know, having and this is often having tried lots of different ways to navigate these rules, finding they were kind of getting blocked and blocked again, and facing barriers. whichever way they turned, they were, they were increasingly becoming really creative about about, you know, how they might be able to live together. So you get really, you know you get sort of situations where people are saying, oh we, you know, we just want, we will find any country in the world where we could actually live together. It's not even countries where they've never lived previously have no connections with so you find sort of, for example, one, one man whose partner was from a country in South America would say well, we're looking for any country where we could speak, you know, and work in English or Spanish that any country in the world, and they weren't, they were literally applying for jobs and looking at visa regulations in in places that they had never been to had no connection with. And we're facing, being having both parties being uprooted from, from their communities, their families, and jobs and so on, to migrate once again, just in order to live together. I think that's what really struck me in particular with that, that actually willingness, you know, under not pure choice, but willingness really to do whatever it takes. And often, you know, and the responses were, why, you know, why don't you just go and live in if you if you say, want to be together? Why don't you just go and live back in your partner's country as if people are not willing to take these sorts of actions to be together. And in fact, people were willing to do really dramatic things just in order to be together.

MB  I think that you've shown there really how creative people are having to get in navigating all of these systems, as you said, just to be together. Before we close, I'd like to ask you one final question, which is to reflect a little bit about that main theme of who do we think we are, which is around British citizenship? To your mind? What do all of these issues relating to family migration, tell us about British citizenship?

AS  I think the main thing that, you know, the main theme that we could learn about in looking at the impacts of these family migration rules in the UK, is this, how this shows us the blurring of the migrant citizen divide. So and in a number of different ways, though, I would say, you know, one thing that really, that really strikes me there it is the kind of hierarchies of citizenship and exclusions that we see and the way in which these are not simply about being citizen or migrant, but are based in much more complex and less stable ways actually around hierarchy around axles of race and class. And so that pit off, you find that sometimes, there might be actually much more connection between certain groups of migrants and citizens, much more connections with each other's experiences than they might have with say, you know, migrants with other migrants or citizens with other citizens that this axis of race and class actually, there's a lot more continuity there in their experiences then than we might first imagine. So I think that's that's one aspect. But then I think perhaps in a much more, that's maybe more analytical sense. I think just just it reminds us that people don't live in these very neat compartmentalised lives of a migrant family and a British family and that actually with the proliferation of migration status is a different route routes and roads to citizenship, many more people are living in what we might call mixed status families.

MB  Ala's final thoughts on the blurring of the boundaries between migrants and citizens? And of the possibility for Mixed status' within families, are very apt and timely. Our conversation came at a time when along with my colleagues, Elena Zambelli, and Nando Sigona. I've been thinking about how Brexit has produced and deepened the inequalities of status within some families. We've been looking at how some previously mobile European families have been transformed into mixed status families with new and varied regulations shaping that access to mobility. For one family that we've heard from delays in the issuing of the British partners post Brexit residents documents mean that their non EU EEA partner is unable to renew their residence permit, which has now expired, leaving them undocumented, with potential implications for that access to employment and health care, among other things. undoubtedly This is a precarious position to find oneself in. Similarly, their sons residence permits, which they require in order to access Child Benefits has also expired and cannot be renewed until the British parents permit is issued. What this shows is a veritable domino effect that makes visible the precarity of legal statuses and the unanticipated repercussions of administrative holdups for other family members will be continuing this discussion of the blurred boundaries between migrants and citizen, and the insecurity of legal status' is in future episodes. But to conclude, family has always been caught up in the UK as migration and citizenship legislation. We've seen this in earlier attempts to frame access to the rights of citizenship around the idea of patch reality. But as the examples we've spoken about today show immigration regulations have explicitly developed to deter or at least seriously limit who is eligible to migrate for family purposes. And as such, these measures have the capacity to disrupt family life in innumerable ways. That's all for today. But Ala and I will be back again soon with another episode of beyond the headlines. Thanks for listening to this episode of Who do we think we are a podcast series produced and presented by me Michaela Benson. Special thanks to Emma Holton at brilliant audio for her production and post production support, and to George Kalivis. For the cover art, social media assets and archival research. You can check out our show notes for further resources, transcripts, and links to all our socials. If you like what you've heard, take a moment to subscribe on your preferred podcast platform. And you can also find us at who do we think we That's all for now, but we'll be back with another episode very soon.

End of transcript

You start a relationship with someone living abroad. As the relationship gets serious, you decide to take the next steps and live together. But there's a border in the way. We’re joined by Ala Sirriyeh, senior lecturer in sociology at Lancaster University to how borders disrupt and remake families, why as a British citizen your non-British family members are not exempt from immigration controls and what this tells us about British citizenship today.

George Kalivis goes back into the archive to look at the secret deportation of Chinese merchant seamen from Liverpool after WW2 and how this shattered families and left many unanswered questions for their wives and mixed-race children left behind. Michaela Benson looks at the 2012 changes to the UK’s immigration rules and their impact on non-British family members, the ‘Surinder Singh’ route which exempted from the UK’s domestic immigration controls for some family members under EU free movement directives. And Ala talks to Michaela about how family migration rules exclude people on the grounds of race and class, and the creative ways in which people try to overcome these in order to simply live together. 

You can access the full transcripts for each episode over on the Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit website

In this episode we cover … 

  1. The secret deportation of Chinese Merchant Seamen
  2. Family Migration Rules 
  3. The right to family life, the Surinder Singh Route and Brexit


In looking at the impacts of these family migration rules shows us the blurring of the migrant-citizen divide … The kind of hierarchies of citizenship are not simply about being citizen or migrant but are based in much more complex and less stable ways … around a kind of hierarchy around access of race and class.

— Ala Sirriyeh

Find out more … about Ala and her work here, take a look at her books Politics of Compassion and Inhabiting Borders, and follow her on Twitter

Further Resources

Ala’s article ‘All you need is love, and £18,600’.

Dan Hancox’s Guardian articles on The Secret Deportations and how they were coerced to leave by the Home Office

Michaela’s co-authored works on marriage-migration to the UK and how Brexit has deepened the inequalities of status within families.

If you liked this episode, you might also enjoy our episodes on English language testing for migration and citizenship and the children denied the right to British nationality.

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Active listening questions

  1. What example of family migration was the most impactful and why?
  2. What was the purpose of increasing annual income threshold for sponsors?
  3. Has this changed how you view your own citizenship, how/how not?

View all active listening questions