In a week dominated by bad news for family migration rules, we are pleased by the publication today of a new Appendix Victim of Domestic Abuse (Appendix VDA) which, for the first time, provides a specific route of re-entry to the UK for victims of domestic abuse abandoned overseas. The changes come into effect on 31 January 2024.
This is a historical moment for us, as we have been working closely alongside Southall Black Sisters and others over the last decade to support client victims of transnational marriage abandonment.
Transnational marriage abandonment (TMA) is a form of domestic violence. It affects spouses who have been resident in the UK as the partner of a British or settled person and are then deliberately stranded overseas by their British partner or family. Until now, such victims have not been able to benefit from the domestic violence rules as these have always required the applicant to be present in the UK.
For the past 10 years, we have been supporting victims of TMA to seek alternative routes for re-entry and to remain in the UK ‘outside of the rules’. These cases are usually very complex and their success has often relied on the discretion of individual decision-makers rather than published policy or rules. It has also been the case that, by not being able to secure their long-term immigration status quickly, victims of transnational marriage abandonment then face greater hurdles in the family courts when trying to re-establish custody of children they have been forcibly separated from.
Awareness of transnational marriage abandonment was raised following research by S Anitha at the University of Lincoln, whose report was presented to the House of Commons in early 2016 with an expert panel including Barry O’Leary. In 2017, the Family Court amended its definition of domestic abuse to include TMA. Since then, we have been working with ILPA, Southall Black Sisters, Dawson Cornwell and Rights of Women to advocate for a change to the Immigration Rules to create a route for indefinite leave to enter as a victim of domestic abuse.
However, it was the landmark ruling by the High Court in the case of AM v SSHD in October 2022, when Mrs Justice Lieven held that victims of transnational marriage abandonment are unlawfully discriminated against because they are outside of the UK. Unlike victims of domestic violence inside the UK, there is no current provision in the Immigration Rules or policy guidance for victims of transnational spouse abandonment to apply for indefinite leave under the domestic violence rules. Such discrimination was held to be unlawful and a disproportionate interference with their rights under Article 8 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (Read more in this article by the instructing solicitor, Nath Gbikpi).
The ruling in AM finally meant the Home Office needed to make provision to allow victims of transnational marriage abandonment to be treated like other victims of domestic violence who are in the UK, and therefore provide a route to allow them to apply for indefinite leave. With today’s Statement of Changes, the Home Office has now created a route to indefinite leave to enter for victims of domestic abuse.