SOME Zimbabwean single mothers based in the United Kingdom (UK), struggling to secure visas for their children to join them abroad, were dealt a severe blow following the introduction of tough immigration laws by the UK government.
The UK Home Office last week announced tough immigration measures that will make it difficult for Zimbabweans working there to bring along their families.
The European country’s Interior minister James Cleverly told lawmakers that the plan, which will see the country’s care firms regulated on visa sponsorship, is meant to end the “abuse of health and care visa” as well as stop overseas workers from bringing family dependants.
Cleverly said their government would raise the minimum salary threshold for foreign skilled workers to £38 700 (US$ 48 800), from its current level of £26 200 (US$ 33 000) and reform the list of jobs where exceptions are made due to shortages.
NewsDay, however, gathered that single mothers, particularly those who went to the UK on the Tier 2 Healthcare visa, already faced challenges in their efforts to bring or go with children before the new visa regime.
A women’s empowerment and advocacy group, Women of Zimbabwe (WoZ), was recently approached by 12 women to raise their plight with the relevant UK authorities.
WoZ representative and UK-based political and human rights activist, Patricia Chinyoka, revealed the trials of the single women adding that the situation is worse for women whose children bear the surname of their absent fathers as a consent form is required from them.
“We were approached by 12 women who wanted us to raise their plight with the relevant UK authorities,” Chinyoka said.
“The majority of them are afraid to speak out and share their stories as they fear reprisals from the Home Office, even under anonymity. Some of the parents have approached Members of Parliament in their respective regions but this has been ineffective.”
She said most of the single mothers did not have money to foot legal fees in the fight to have their children join them abroad.
“On refusal of the children’s dependants’ visas, the Home Office has offered most applicants the option for “administrative review”. This has proven very costly as legal advice is costing a minimum of £1 000 (US$1 259.70) for consultation alone,” she said.
“In addition, the parents must pay legal advice in the countries of origin.
“It is proving an expensive and unaffordable process, in the UK, they have bills to pay as well.
“Some of the affected women are broken emotionally.”
According to that country’s authorities, about 20 152 health and care worker visas were granted to Zimbabweans in the year ended June 2023.
Zimbabwe is ranked third after India with 33 669 and Nigeria at 22 278 in terms of countries granted health and care worker visas.
NewsDay spoke to some of the single mothers who shared the pain after failing to secure visas for their children back home.
A single mother of three (name withheld) said her two-year-old daughter was granted a visa as she carried her surname.
“However, the boys were denied visas by the Home Office on the basis that there was no compelling evidence despite submitting a sole responsibility document and affidavit,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The father does not live with nor supports the children. Currently, the children are living with their elderly grandmother who has a poor health condition.” Another single mother with two children from different fathers also shared her story. “The children’s visa applications were declined on two occasions,” she said.
“I intend to apply for the third time despite having spent a lot of money on legal and visa application fees.”
Chinyoka said the denial of visas to children was discriminatory and negatively impacted the mental health of single mothers.
“Normally, parents would not take out sole custody unless there was a need to do so,” she said.
Efforts to get a comment from the UK Home Office were futile.
A Zimbabwean lawyer based in Norwich who, preferred anonymity, said single mothers were facing difficult times because of the UK’s tough immigration laws.
“It does not matter even if you are divorced. If the child’s birth certificate has the names of both parents, confirmation is required from the other,” he said.
“The UK Home Office also wants to know why you want to deprive the other parent access to children by taking them to the UK.”
The Right to Remain Toolkit mandates require the Home Office to make sure that decisions concerning children safeguard and promote their welfare.
“The Home Office will always say that it has considered the best interests of the children, but may go on to refuse an application,” the guide read.
“It might be a useful phrase to know if you are trying to explain why your application should be granted (to the Home Office, or — if you are appealing a refusal — to a judge).”
The toolkit says that one must prove that the child is theirs.
“You will need to explain what relationship you have with the child — are they your biological child, adopted child or stepchild? Or are you their legal guardian or other primary carer?” it added.
“You need to show that you have an active role in your child’s upbringing and that you plan to continue to do so in the future.
“The Home Office suggests that evidence of this might include letters from your child’s school confirming you take them to school or go to parent evenings.”
Unsustainable unemployment levels have also seen Zimbabwe’s younger generation migrating to the UK, among other European countries, in search of jobs.
Zimbabwe has lost thousands of teachers and healthcare professionals, including at least 3 000 nurses to the UK in the past two years.
An announcement by the UK government on the eligibility of Zimbabwean teachers in that country also sparked a rise in skills flight.
It has since been established those agencies — often run by Zimbabweans in the UK and unregulated — are exploiting desperate job seekers.
Between 2019 and September 2022, the number of Zimbabweans granted work visas to work in the UK went up 1 576% from 499 to 8 363 applicants as the economic situation in the southern African country continues to deteriorate.