Precarious Immigration Status and Domestic Abuse Part I

Here is the first piece by Erin Gallagher. You can read Part II here 

To note: Home Office guidance describes domestic abuse as “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.” Thus the term goes further than physical abuse, and can be inflicted by individuals other than a spouse or partner, for example parents-in-law.

The difficulties that victims of domestic violence encounter while attempting to leave abusive relationships are well documented; fear for their own safety, financial barriers, lack of resources, emotional hardship, and so on. Less well known are the particular set of challenges faced by victims with precarious or insecure immigration status. Precarious or insecure immigration status can mean those with dependent visas (e.g. spousal or partner visas), those on time-limited visas, asylum seekers or undocumented individuals.  The particular needs these victims face are often ignored or misunderstood. Structural dependencies arise when an individual does not have independent, secure residence status and the risk of experiencing abuse by partners or family members is heightened. Abusive partners often make threats of deportation or losing their children; whether these threats are valid or not they are effective in inflicting fear in victims. Victims are thus reluctant to report abuse or seek help. The UK has measures in place to assist migrant victims of domestic violence, but they are often limited and exclusionary. Additionally, some UK Immigration Policies actively work against migrant victims of domestic abuse.

No Recourse to Public Funds

Many of those with insecure immigration status are subject to the No Recourse to Public Funds rule (NRPF) meaning they cannot gain access to public funds including universal credit, or housing benefits, etc. This is a key barrier that prevents many women from being able to escape abusive environments. Scottish Women’s Aid stated in a written submission to the Scottish Government that some local authorities have warned Women’s Aid groups that they are not to provide support or accommodation to those with NRPF. The NRPF creates a financial dependence on partners and forces victims to choose between destitution if they leave or violence if they stay.

Fear of detention or deportation

Fears of deportation or detention are unfortunately common factors that prevent many migrants from seeking help. Undocumented women are deterred from reporting abuse as they fear that they will be treated as the criminal, rather than the abuser. These fears are not unfounded – the criminalisation of immigration law has led to situations where victims have reported abuse in the hope of getting help, only to be treated as criminals, detained, and removed from their families.

Migrant women are also more likely to mistrust the police, particularly as they often share data with the Home Office. A recent report by the Latin American Women’s Rights services found that two in three migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse fear reporting to the police.

Fears of deportation or detention are unfortunately common factors that prevent many migrants from seeking help. Undocumented women are deterred from reporting abuse as they fear that they will be treated as the criminal, rather than the abuser. Migrant women are also more likely to mistrust the police, particularly as they often share data with the Home Office.

A recent report by the Latin American Women’s Rights services found that two in three migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse fear reporting to the police.

Migrant victims of domestic abuse may be residing in the UK on spousal or partner visas. If their relationship is to end, then the Home Office has the power to cancel the visa. The dependent nature of these visas means that victims are less likely to seek help as they fear deportation should they terminate the relationship. This provides abusers with an opportunity to exert control over their victims by threatening their right to reside in the UK. This is particularly effective where there is an additional fear of being separated from their children.

A ‘probationary period’ of 5 years is attached to spousal and partner visas. This time must elapse before individuals are able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK. The probationary period causes victims to delay reporting abuse, and allows abusers a significant time period to weaponize their immigration status.

Next in the Part II, Erin explores the Domestic Violence Rule and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession.

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