Some migrant women may become trapped in abusive relationships because of changes in government immigration rules, lawyers have warned.
Women with relatively serious or recent criminal convictions may now face deportation if, within two years of arriving in the UK, they seek leave to remain while fleeing an abusive partner.
Previously, people who entered the country as spouses could be given leave to remain if their relationship broke down because of domestic violence during the two-year probationary period.
But since 6 April this provision has been scrapped for people with unspent convictions – offences that are sufficiently serious or recent that they have to be disclosed.
In a letter to home secretary Theresa May on 31 March, Sophie Barrett-Brown, chair of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, said: “Women will be driven to remain subject to violence by reason of the terms of the rules and it will be apparent to them that their immigration status will be jeopardised by seeking to escape that violence.”
Last month, the government published an action plan on violence against women. At the time, May said she wanted to support those at risk, help victims and ensure offenders were bought to justice.
Referring to this in her letter, Barrett-Brown said: “The provisionwill constitute an abandonment of the government’s aim to eliminate violence against women in respect of migrant women who have an unspent conviction.”
Minister for immigration Damian Green replied: “I absolutely stand by the commitment that the government has given that we must end the continuation of violence against women and girls in abusive relationships and do no believe that the changes we are making to our settlement rules are incompatible with that.”
He said the number of women with unspent convictions fleeing domestic violence were few. But the Home Office would exercise its right to offer settlement outside the rules, case by case, to women with minor convictions or those who had committed offences related to the abuse they had suffered.
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