The 2019-21 Domestic Abuse Bill is currently moving through the Houses of Parliament, and is now in the Report stage. Various groups – like Safety4Sisters, Southall Black Sisters, the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, and the Step Up Migrant Women coalition – have spoken out about the inadequacies of the bill in protecting survivors of domestic abuse with insecure immigration status.

At GMIAU, we see first-hand that people in this country subjected to both domestic abuse and immigration control are left behind and forgotten, often in the most dire circumstances.  

We were contacted by a woman who had applied for an appeal of the Home Office’s refusal of her application for indefinite leave to remain. She did not understand the applications, and the person who had helped her with them was unqualified to do so.

She was experiencing domestic violence at the hands of her husband and his family. She was a prisoner in her own home, and could not communicate with people outside the family because she did not speak English. On one occasion, she retaliated to physical abuse in self-defence. When she finally made a complaint to the police about the prolonged abuse she was suffering, she was arrested and cautioned for this incident of self-defence. When she made an immigration application after fleeing her marital home, it was refused because she did not realise that she needed to disclose this arrest.

Thankfully, her GMIAU solicitor was able to successfully appeal and she received temporary (but extendable) leave to remain in the UK.

Her solicitor said: “The case sticks in my head because the woman was so vulnerable from the start to finish. She did not receive the correct – or even any – immigration advice, despite being in contact with the police and some domestic violence support agencies. Without my input she could have been returned to a country where she would have been persecuted.”

The failures of police and other agencies in this story to identify the abuse and protect the woman illustrate the necessity of reform to domestic abuse response. But unless specific support of migrant women with insecure immigration status, and reform to the No Recourse to Public Funds condition, is enshrined in the Domestic Abuse Bill, women will continue to slip through the cracks. They’ll be badly advised, and at risk of being arrested and deported by the very authorities who are meant to be protecting them.

Radical change is needed, both in our immigration system and in the way this country treats survivors of domestic abuse. This story shows that these two areas are not distinct from each other and that trying to address one without the other will always result in deep injustice and neglect of the most vulnerable.

As the Domestic Abuse Bill moves through Parliament, amendments can be made to try to address its inadequacies. Southall Black Sisters have set out 3 clear demands for changes to the current Bill:

  1. Extension of eligibility under the Domestic Violence Rule (DV Rule) and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC)
  2. Extend the time frame for the DDVC from three to six months.
  3. The introduction of a comprehensive strategy on violence against migrant women.