The UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group was created in 1993 as Stonewall Immigration Group by same sex couples and their lawyers to share information, lobby for change and inform and advise lesbians and gay men wanting to remain together in the UK on the basis of their relationship.
In 1992, the process of the politicisation of the issue of immigration rights of gay and lesbian couples began almost by accident. Each of four couples took independent decisions that they wished to make an honest, forthright application to the Home Office for permission to remain together based upon their relationship. Each subsequently contacted Stonewall Lobby Group, which was not working on the issue of immigration, but suggested that the four couples and their lawyers, meet to share information and experiences. Each of the couples concerned consisted of intelligent, articulate and successful individuals who clearly had a significant contribution to make to British society and who felt that their case would be treated exceptionally and the foreign partner would be granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom. At initial meetings, therefore, there was some wariness about being seen to organise as a lobbying group or to make it known to the Home Office that they were working with other couples. The process of politicisation began as the foreign partner in each of these couples was refused leave to remain and entered the complex system of immigration appeals.
It became clear in time that there was strength in numbers and, rather than continuing to remain quiet about their existence, the couples formed the Stonewall Immigration Group, separate from but loosely connected to the Stonewall Lobby Group, for the purpose of working specifically on the issue of gay and lesbian immigration rights.
From that time until now, the Immigration Group has held monthly meetings where couples facing immigration problems can come and seek advice and share experiences.
As the Immigration Group began to function more and more effectively, the effect was that dozens, and eventually hundreds of individuals made applications for the foreign partner to be granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom. These applications came from extremely serious, motivated couples who were prepared to fight long and hard on a matter of principle.
The concerted effort over a period of years by individual couples prepared to dig in their heels and fight difficult legal battles, by their lawyers who endeavoured to use every available legal and political method to draw out and pursue their clients’ cases and by the strong political organisational support of the Immigration Group has achieved a number of changes.
In early 1994 the Immigration Appeal Tribunal decided that the Home Secretary had improperly responded to two applications made on same sex relationships when he simply dismissed them as falling outside the Immigration Rules. The highest immigration court in the United Kingdom was prepared to recognise that a parallel could, and indeed should, be drawn between the way in which married partners and same sex partners were treated.
In May 1994, one of the original member couples of the Stonewall Immigration Group had arranged for their MP to schedule an adjournment debate on their case in the House of Commons. The then immigration minister admitted, for the first time, that there might be such a thing as a policy on same sex couples.
The Immigration Group monitored the approach taken by the Home Office and observed an apparent important change of policy in cases decided after April 1995. From that time, until May 1997 the group became aware of twenty cases where applications by the foreign same sex partner were successful. Once some cases began to be favourably considered, the immigration group had its foot in the door. While the Home Office continued to remain unprepared to articulate what exactly its current policy was, lawyers arguing in the courts were able to point to the existence of what appeared to be an emerging policy.
The Immigration Group engaged in serious lobbying activities in the run up to the May 1997 general election. In particular, the group sought, and obtained, the commitment of the Shadow Home Secretary that, if elected, a Labour government would recognise gay and lesbian relationships for immigration purposes. Once the election was over, the group lobbied hard to ensure this commitment was kept and within days of the election obtained the agreement of the immigration minister that all outstanding appeals relating to unsuccessful same sex relationship applications should be adjourned until a new policy was in place.
In October 1997 the Unmarried Partners Concession was announced. A concession is something that is not written in the immigration rules but which immigration officials follow and implement nonetheless. The concession made it possible for same sex partners to make application for the foreign partner to remain in the United Kingdom if they had lived together for four years.
The four-year cohabitation requirement created an impossible stumbling block for many couples and the Immigration Group continued to lobby and to challenge the policy through the courts. In June 1999 the Unmarried Partners Concession was amended and the cohabitation period was reduced to two years.
In October 2000 the Unmarried Partners Concession became an Immigration Rule. This was an important development as an immigration Rule is a statutory instrument and of far more importance than a mere concession.
Finally, in November 2004 the Civil Partnership Bill was passed. Once this legislation came into use in December 2005, it ensured equal immigration rights for same sex couples.
Despite this, same sex couples continue to seek our advice at monthly meetings, through our website and forum – all of which are run by volunteers. Although there is still a need to support and assist lesbians and gay men in same sex couples where one is a foreign partner, we have to a very large extent achieved the goals for which the organisation was established.
This resulted in a change in the kind of work we are doing.
A New Priority
Having finally achieved victory, over 11 years after the group began, we could have decided that the group had served its function. Instead we decided that we should meet the challenge of supporting those with the most pressing immigration need at this time – those seeking asylum – and began what was certain to be another long battle by setting up the asylum seekers support project. Initially focused on lesbian and gay asylum seekers, the need to include bisexual, trans and intersex quickly became clear. The organisation now works to support asylum seekers and refugees whose case relates to gender or sexual identity and to improve the asylum system in the UK and abroad for LGBTI+ asylum seekers. We have kept our original name as this had already become widely known, but mostly use the abbreviation UKLGIG.
An Organisational Change
On 31 December 2015 UKLGIG set up as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) registered with the Charity Commission under a new registration number 1158228 which has taken over from and incorporates the original charity. A new structure and identity for the organisation but the work and the purpose continues.