There’s no denying it: Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle are a beautiful couple. That they look genuinely in love helps too. Their besotted and vaguely embarrassed shared glances don’t say to me that this is a royal approved marriage – they give every impression of loving each other in a way that most people can relate to.
Congratulations to them: I hope they have a long, happy life together.
The outpouring of excitement confirms to me what I already knew: Brits love love. We see young couples with happy years ahead of them and it makes us feel good. We think that one of the basic building blocks of a happy life is a family, at the centre of which is two people who love each other.
The science backs this national view up. Paper after paper shows that children have the best prospects (in terms of education, mental health, you name it) if they’re brought up in a stable, secure household with parents who love them.
In short, a loving family who live together is a good thing. You’d think that much is uncontroversial.
Sadly, for thousands of people in Britain, that’s not the reality. In 2012, Theresa May, then Home Secretary, changed the rules so that if you fall in love with someone from outside the EU, the Home Office will stop them from being able to live with you in Britain if your salary is less than £18,600 a year. And if you have children together, that amount goes up. Something like four in 10 Britons don’t meet that income requirement. In some regions of the UK, it’s more than half.
In short, we have a visa system which means that almost half of Britain could be denied the chance to live with the person they love.
On top of that, there is a complex regime of fees and administrative proof. A recent court case had to be fought to even get the Home Office to consider income outside a formal salary. Many couples had been split apart just because the Home Office refused to look at, for example, income from investments or from other family members. If the paperwork backing up your claim is even slightly questionable, the Home Office will reject it. Couples can spend thousands of pounds and years of their life trying to prove to the Home Office that they should be allowed to live together as a loving couple.
The result: 15,000 British children will spend this Christmas in a different country from one of their parents because the UK Home Office won’t let them be together. My husband is from Ecuador and I’m thankful beyond words that he’ll be here in the UK with me and our son. But that was never a given. We’ve gone through two years of hell to get here. When my husband’s visa runs out in a couple of years, we’ll go through it all again.
Put aside the emotional hurt this causes the parents. Many kids who can only know their dads through an iPad screen end up needing counselling. They can’t concentrate at school. They don’t understand why their friends have mum or dad around, but they don’t.
I wonder if the Home Secretary would come and explain the reason to them.
So what do we want instead? We want exactly what the whole country came together to celebrate: the chance for two people who love each other to be able to live together and create a happy family. We think that opportunity is a basic part of human life, not something that should only be open to people if they earn enough money.
I will be celebrating the royal couple’s marriage because I think that love between people is a beautiful thing. But I won’t forget the 15,000 kids who, on their letter to Santa, will have only one wish: for the Home Office to let Mummy and Daddy live together.
Caroline Coombs is a founding member of Reuniting Families UK, a coalition of British families asking the UK government to let couples who love each other live together in the UK.