Domestic violence, abuse and immigration concerns – can you stay in the UK if you leave an abusive relationship?
With Covid-19 domestic violence is in the news, for all the wrong reasons. Sadly, with the coronavirus lockdown there has been a real surge in incidents of domestic abuse. The rise in domestic violence figures have been highlighted by government ministers who have said that those in abusive relationships are some of the hidden victims of Covid-19. The government is promoting its ‘’you are not alone’’ campaign but in this blog we address the common worry that if you leave an abusive relationship you won't be able to remain in the UK because of your immigration status and visa conditions. That worry can wrongly force many people to remain in abusive relationships.
Domestic violence and Indefinite Leave to Remain solicitors
London based OTS Solicitors specialise in Immigration and family law. That means we have substantial experience of securing domestic violence injunction orders to protect those in abusive relationships and applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain if your relationship has broken down because of domestic abuse.
If you are experiencing domestic violence or are contemplating a separation or divorce call OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 to discuss your best family law and immigration options or compete our online enquiry form. Appointments are available by video conference, Skype or telephone appointment.
Can I stay in the UK if I leave an abusive relationship?
What is Appendix FM to the Immigration Rules?
Appendix FM applications are Immigration applications to enter or remain in the UK on the basis of ‘’family life’’. They are called Appendix FM applications by immigration solicitors because all the complex Immigration Rules relating to family life visas and the eligibility criteria are contained in Appendix FM.
Which family life visa holders can apply for ILR because of domestic violence?
Family life visas include a spouse visa and partner and dependent visas. That means that if you are in an abusive relationship you don’t have to be married to your partner to be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain because of a relationship break down that is due to domestic violence. You can be unmarried but in a relationship or you can be civil partners and still fit the criteria.
Residence requirement and Indefinite Leave to Remain
If you apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain when your family life visa is about to expire you have to meet a strict residence requirement. The ILR residence requirement is five years of lawful and continuous residence in the UK. The thought of not being able to meet the residence requirement because you have left the relationship that your family life visa was contingent upon makes some people stay in an abusive relationship.
That is why if you end a relationship because of domestic violence and you are in the UK on a family visa (spouse visa, partner visa or civil partner visa) you don’t have to meet the standard Indefinite Leave to Remain residence requirement.
The Immigration Rules are clear that the residence requirement of five years is only waived if the relationship ends because of domestic abuse rather than because, for example, you drifted apart from your husband, wife or civil partner or your partner has met someone else.
Indefinite Leave to Remain and domestic violence
Immigration solicitors tend to find that there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what amounts to ‘’domestic violence’’ to meet the eligibility criteria to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain because you have left a relationship whilst on a family visa as a result of domestic abuse.
That misunderstanding about the definition of domestic violence can be because your partner, husband, wife or civil partner has told you:
What they are doing to you isn’t domestic violence
That they are only being violent because of your behaviour
That they can do what they like because you are on a visa
That they can report you to the Home Office if you leave and get you deported
That controlling how you behave isn’t abusive as it is for your own good
Their behaviour is normal in the UK
That you can't report them to the police as you aren’t a British citizen
That no-one will believe you because you aren’t bruised
That if you leave you won't be able to take your child with you
That you can't apply for an injunction order to force your partner to leave the family home because you are only in the UK on a visa
That if you leave the relationship then your family will be disappointed in you and blame you.
All of the above reasons and excuses are wrong. There are many other reasons and excuses given by perpetrators of domestic violence. Family law solicitors recognise that if you are isolated in a new country it is understandable to believe what your partner or spouse tells you. In addition, immigration and family law solicitors find that those in the UK on a spouse visa, partner visa or civil partner visa tend to base their understanding of what amounts to domestic violence based on the laws on domestic abuse in their country of origin. The laws and remedies on domestic violence between different countries can vary widely but for the purposes of seeking help from:
Charities and domestic violence organisations
Family solicitors and the family court with non-molestation and occupation order injunctions
Immigration solicitors and the Home Office with visa and Indefinite Leave to Remain applications
It is the definition of domestic violence that is used in the UK that is important and not what your partner says, your family thinks, or the law in your country of origin.
What is domestic violence?
The definition of domestic violence in the UK is the same whether you are:
Seeking help from a charity or refuge or the police
Asking a domestic violence solicitor to apply for an injunction order for you
Applying to the Home Office for Indefinite Leave to Remain because your relationship has broken down because of domestic violence.
You may find that, for example, a family court or the Home Office want more evidence of the domestic violence than say a refuge but the definition of what amounts to domestic violence is the same.
In this blog we are setting out the Home Office guidance on the definition of domestic violence but the government and its agencies (the police, the family court, local authorities) all use a very similar and broad definition of what amounts to domestic violence.
The Home Office guidance says that domestic violence is:
"any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged sixteen or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality".
That guidance means the abuse doesn’t have to be physical abuse. The Home Office accepts that domestic violence in a relationship includes psychological, sexual, financial or emotional abuse and controlling behaviour.Therefore, unlike what you may have been led to believe your partner’s behaviour towards you can amount to domestic violence even though you haven’t been assaulted or if you have been hit but haven’t had to go into hospital for treatment because your partner ‘’knows when to stop.’’
When to seek help
If you are in the UK on a spouse visa, partner visa or civil partner visa and you are in an abusive relationship you should seek help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek help the sooner the abuse can be made to stop.
Some family visa holders think that they have left it too late to seek help to escape an abusive relationship. They haven’t. You can still apply for an injunction order or apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain based on the domestic violence route even if your spouse visa or partner visa has already expired, That is because the Home Office recognises that in some cases a partner’s behaviour can be so controlling that they prevent the visa holder from applying to the Home Office for a visa extension as they want to be able to exert more control over their partner.
As immigration and family law solicitors we are often told that ‘’ I didn’t know who to get help from’’. That is understandable as many family visa holders worry about speaking to a family law solicitor because they are concerned about their Immigration status but are also too embarrassed to speak to an Immigration solicitor. At OTS Solicitors our family and immigration solicitors work together to help you with:
Domestic violence family court injunctions for non-molestation injunctions and occupation order injunctions ( so you can stay in the family home on a temporary basis even if your partner owns the property or he or she is the named tenant on the tenancy agreement)
divorce, dissolution of civil partnership and separation advice
child care arrangements including temporary child arrangements orders for your children
Financial help after a separation including applications for spousal maintenance and help paying the bills on the family home
spouse visa , partner visa and civil partner visa extension applications
Indefinite Leave to Remain applications because your relationship has broken down due to domestic violence
British citizenship applications after you have secured Indefinite Leave to Remain through the domestic violence route
Advice on alternate visa options, for example if you have a dependant British child or if you can secure a Tier 2 (General) visa as you have sponsored Employment.
Domestic violence and Indefinite Leave to Remain solicitors
Our specialist immigration and family law solicitors can help you with your separation, divorce, an injunction application as well as children and financial issues and applying to the Home Office for Indefinite Leave to Remain if you meet the domestic violence eligibility criteria for ILR.
If you are experiencing domestic violence or are contemplating a separation or divorce or worried about your Immigration status call OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or compete our online enquiry form. Appointments are available by video conference, Skype or telephone appointment. Our friendly and approachable solicitors will discuss your family and immigration law options and find the best solutions that meet your needs.
What our clients say about our family law and Immigration expertise and client service:
04 October 2019 client review
"I would like to thank OTS Solicitors for the AMAZING JOB they did on my legal matters. The best communication and support I have ever received from a busy London solicitors firm. My first interaction was with one of the firm's partners who took their time to discuss my case and understand my situation. Once Mr Shahiean had understood my Immigration situation he arranged a consultation with our lawyer to fully understand my family and divorce issues and concerns. I really liked the way this firm approached my Immigration and divorce problems, with speed, and accuracy they were able to identify my problem and clearly and concisely explain the next legal steps they needed to take to resolve my legal matters".
They exerted so much effort in making this happen and to deal with what i at first felt was a very hard and complex case. They are very professional, easy to communicate with and work extremely hard. Thank you so much again to the whole Team at OTS Solicitors".