The UK Domestic Abuse Bill
The long-awaited Domestic Abuse (DA) Bill, initially introduced by Theresa May in 2019, promises a swathe of sweeping reforms to the criminal justice system and to the courts. It pledges to protect victims with unprecedented measures, including a statutory definition of abuse that recognises emotional and coercive behaviour, as well as brand new protection orders.
It also promises to put an end to the abhorrent practice which has seen survivors of abuse cross-examined and interrogated by their perpetrator in court.
While victims of domestic abuse can be male or female, women are disproportionately affected by the crime. On average, two women are murdered by the hands of their abuser every week – a figure which rocketed to five during the height of Britain’s Coronavirus lockdown measures.
As such, the legislation has been hailed as a landmark victory towards tackling Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). However, campaigners fear that the Bill will only entrench a two-tier system of support in the UK where only women with British citizenship can benefit from the full scope of the Bill while migrants are left to fall through the cracks.
Seeking support as a migrant survivor
For migrant women in particular, domestic abuse is an acute crisis. They are often isolated by the language barrier and kept financially dependent on their perpetrator as a result of their No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition.
To add to their traumatising ordeal, victims are often threatened with detention and deportation – initially by their abuser but also by the police should they attempt to report it. In the absence of a firewall between the authorities and immigration control, victims who are able to seek support from their local police force find themselves reported instead. Research by King’s College London in 2019 found up to 62% of women with an insecure status were threatened with deportation by their abuser and over half (54%) were warned they could lose their visa. Many refuges and shelters are unable to accommodate migrant victims since beds are provided by public funding, which the state prohibits for those without permanent immigration status as part and parcel of the NRPF rule.
Stifled from financial support, excluded from legal protections and shunned from a safe place to sleep, migrant victims of abuse are therefore increasingly vulnerable to destitution, homelessness and prolonged abuse.
Amendments to the Bill
In recognition of this impossible situation migrant victims face, the DA Bill has been debated numerous times with proposed amendments to cater to this marginalised demographic. The Bill has even endured ‘Parliamentary ping pong’ between the Lords and the Commons as each amendment is considered but dropped before receiving the backing it requires.
Three amendments are considered so vital that MPs are scrambling to get them approved today as the Bill is considered by each House for the final time. This includes a firewall between the police and immigration control and a ‘no discrimination’ clause which would grant fair and equal treatment to all survivors of abuse, irrespective of their immigration status.
The final amendment, backed by campaign groups such as Southhall Black Sisters and the Step Up Migrant Women coalition, wants to see the existing Domestic Violence (DV) Rule and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) extended. As it currently stands, only those with a UK Spouse Visa can seek support – and even then it is only marginal. Migrant victims can apply via the DDVC for three months of financial aid, during which time their NRPF condition is temporarily suspended while the Home Office considers granting the victim Indefinite Leave to Remain status.
However, campaigners feel the application process to access this support is fraught with unnecessary complications. Victims have to supply reams of evidence to be considered, which is no mean feat for those sharing a space with an abusive partner. Meanwhile, migrants under a different visa such as a Fiance Visa or Student Visa are barred from applying entirely.
The House of Lords has also backed the initiative that would amend the DDVC. The Lords echo that of campaigners, arguing in favour of extending DDVC support from three months to six months and tweaking its eligibility criteria so that all migrants can access it. It is believed the amendment would benefit at least 2,000 women every year.
Rejected by the Government
Despite enormous support, the Government has refused to support many of these key amendments.
Instead, a 12-month pilot scheme, ‘Support for Migrants’, has been implemented. Yet MPs and activists alike find the £1.5m fund that is pledged in the scheme to drastically fall short in covering the resources required to prompt key change. They argue that victims would be better supported if the existing provisions were amended.
The danger remains that the Bill will be passed through Parliament today without any of the reforms it needs after a lengthy two-year stint. The Bill has been stalled time and time again having endured a general election, a new government, Brexit and Coronavirus.
You can monitor the status of the Bill as its amendments are considered for the final time here.
How the IAS can help
Here at the Immigration Advice Service, our immigration lawyers are well equipped in assisting survivors of abuse. We honour full confidentiality and handle each case with compassion and sensitivity. In some cases, we can even help victims for free due to the provisions in Legal Aid.
If you wish to speak to an immigration lawyer in private about switching from a Spouse Visa to Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), or you need assistance in filling out the DDVC form, our lawyers are on hand to help. We can even represent you at a Tribunal hearing in the event that your application is refused and you wish to appeal.
Speak to our friendly customer care team today on 0333 305 9375 to hear more about how we can help.
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