On 1 April 2012, the Home Office will introduce a concession allowing victims of domestic violence on spousal visas with no recourse to public funds (NRPFs) to access benefits and public housing while they apply for settlement under the ‘domestic violence rule’. The Home Office are expected to make an announcement soon.
The Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds, which involves over 27 leading women’s and human rights groups, welcomes this concession. It represents a major victory for the Campaign, and for the rights of women at risk of gender based violence and exploitation.
However, there are many other vulnerable victims who remain without a safety net. These include women in the UK on other visas, overstayers, and overseas domestic workers, who experience gender based violence or abuse and exploitation by their employers. Women who have been trafficked into the country are also not adequately protected. Under new proposals, they will not be entitled to legal aid to make an application to stay in the country or to appeal against refusal.
Monitoring data collected by the Campaign from some key agencies from across the UK, has found that during the period 24 October – 18 November 2011, there were 137 women and 74 children experiencing abuse with an insecure immigration status looking for accommodation and/or support. Of these, 52 were accommodated and supported, and 54 were provided with support only. Disturbingly 31 (29%) women and 16 children were unable to access any support, and only 48 (35%) were eligible for Sojourner funding. This means that a shocking 65% of women were ineligible for help from the Sojourner Project*, and were either dependant on limited support elsewhere or destitute.
The Campaign is also dismayed by the Government’s new proposals on family-related migration, including plans to increase the probationary period for spousal visas from two to five years, and changes to the Immigration Rules which require applicants for settlement under the domestic violence rule to be free of unspent convictions, despite the fact that many victims of abuse act in self-defence or are falsely accused of crime by abusive partners and family members. These changes undermine women’s ability to escape abuse and gain access to safety and support.
“It has taken Southall Black Sisters 20 years to obtain this concession for victims of domestic violence on spousal visas. The Campaign was formed in 2007 and has also helped to win this victory. It will help to save many lives. We hope that the Government will now act urgently to extend this safety net to other victims subjected to a stark choice between staying in an abusive relationship, and risking their lives and those of their children, and leaving and facing destitution.”
Liberty Press Office
Campaign Demands Include