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Lords approve Bishop’s amendment to Domestic Abuse Bill to protect migrant women

18 March 2021

It would allow migrant victims of domestic abuse to apply for temporary leave to remain

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AN AMENDMENT to the Domestic Abuse Bill, proposed by the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, to allow a migrant victim of domestic abuse to apply for temporary leave to remain in the UK, has been passed by the House of Lords.

Amendments to the Bill have been debated over the past month (News, 12 March; 12 February). Bishop Treweek’s amendment was tabled at Report Stage on Monday, and was approved by 318 votes in favour to 269 against. The Bill will return to the House of Commons for further debate.

Moving her amendment, which was directed at the Secretary of State, Bishop Treweek explained that it would “provide migrant victims of abuse with temporary leave to remain and access to public funds for a period of no less than six months, so that they can access support services while they flee abuse and apply to resolve their immigration status.

“The mechanism for doing so is straightforward: extend the eligibility criteria of the existing domestic violence rule, which is a proven route for a limited group of survivors, including those on certain spousal and partner visas. . . This is not about guaranteeing indefinite leave to remain to all migrant victims of abuse.”

She argued that the law should provide protection for people on all visa types when there is evidence of domestic abuse, “since many have insecure status through no fault of their own. We know that domestic violence often dramatically changes women’s circumstances and expectations, and the Immigration Rules should reflect this. I say ‘women’ not to exclude men but because the experience and data has come from those working with women.”

This would benefit about 2000 women annually, Bishop Treweek said — a relatively small number but for whom the change would have a “life-saving and life-changing” impact. “It will also remove the power of abusers to weaponise someone’s immigration status to exert absolute control, and will allow people to hold their abuser to account by being able to report them.”

Concerns from Government that this new settlement route would be vulnerable to exploitation had no basis in evidence, she argued. “The reason is that robust criteria and assessment mechanisms are already in place to guard against false claims and exploitation of the immigration system.”

The government pilot scheme which sought more evidence of the numbers of victims involved was inadequate, she said. “Even as an interim measure, the £1.4 million allocated to the pilot fund is nowhere near sufficient to address this urgent and mounting crisis. At a stretch, the pilot project is likely to provide only minimal and basic support for up to 500 women for a maximum period of 12 weeks.”

She told Radio 4’s Sunday programme of her hopes that her amendments would contribute to a culture change around the safety of women, which had been the topic of public debate since the murder of Sarah Everard. This included her call for statutory guidance on the Bill to be “clearly linked” to the strategy concerning violence against women and girls. “It seems very poignant that this is happening at this time,” she said.

A further amendment which was co-sponsored by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, was also approved by the Lords on Monday. If successful in the Commons, it would ensure that personal data of a victim of domestic abuse in the UK that is processed in order for that person to receive government support is not used for any immigration-control purpose.

This, Bishop Mullally explained, would include the provision of “accommodation, banking services, education, employment, financial or social assistance, health-care and policing services; and any function of a court or prosecuting authority”. The amendment was agreed by 321 votes to 262.

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