Partner visas can be a 'powerful tool' for abusers - survivor who left violent ex-husband tells LBC

4 March 2024, 07:37 | Updated: 10 March 2024, 09:00

  • Warning this article may contain distressing content
A woman whose visa expired months after she left her violent partner tells LBC that the system can be weaponised by abusers.
A woman whose visa expired months after she left her violent partner tells LBC that the system can be weaponised by abusers. Picture: Alamy
Lillie Almond

By Lillie Almond

A woman whose visa expired months after she left her violent partner tells LBC that the system can be weaponised by abusers.

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Maria, who has been renamed to protect her safety, left her ex-partner of nine years because of his coercive controlling behaviour, and physical and emotional abuse.

Maria tells LBC: “Everybody just thinks, ‘Well, you’ve got kids, you should grow old together for the sake of the kids.’ But it wasn’t even safe for the children. Because I remember once, the silence in the house, you could cut it with a knife. And I’m just thinking, ‘I do not want my children to be modelling their own relationships on mine.’”

But Maria had been here on a partner visa - which was due to expire four months after she left her ex. She explains, “Whilst I was in a women’s refuge, I went to my support worker and she said, ‘My visa is expiring.’ She said, ‘I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing with you - because if your visa expires, then that means I can’t keep you here.’”

Maria says that she went to see a solicitor - who quoted her £8,000 to arrange visas for her and her two children. But she did not have this money, because her partner had prevented her from working.

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In a twist of fate, Maria says she was almost hit by a car when leaving the solicitor’s office - thus bumping into someone who saw her distress, so invited her for coffee and a chat.

Maria tells us, “And that turned out to be an angel sent - she turned out to be a solicitor and I just broke down, told my story - and she said, I know exactly what you need to do, and I will support you all the way.”

The woman explained the process that Maria needed to follow, in order to have her visa fees waived. Maria says that more awareness is needed around this information and adds that it took four years to receive a response to her visa extension application - thus leaving her in a womens’ refuge for far longer than necessary: “I remember at one point, they used to call be a ‘bedblocker’ because there was no need for me to be in a refuge - because I had finished. I had done all the training and support I could do.”

Maria says she was told that all her options had been exhausted - and that it was with the help of her MP that she was able to eventually get the process towards housing into motion.

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She now volunteers at a charity called Power of the Mind, which supports Black women, by creating a social network and safe space.

Mavis Mundirwa its Founder: “It’s part of our culture: we are told not to go and air out our dirty linen. So, to go and say something to a total stranger, and go and to talk about your life, share these intimate issues - people don’t do it. So, here, it’s not like we are saying we support people through domestic issues as such.

"We are doing activities: [...] We come here, we do arts and crafts, we do cookery sessions, we do exercise - so when they come, it’s not really just about domestic abuse, but we are approaching it in a holistic way. So that’s why we say, we have a holistic approach to domestic abuse awareness. People now become very comfortable with us, with everyone, so that they start sharing their lives,” she told LBC.

Maria agrees: “I feel personally, that if I had somebody to hold my hand through the journey, that would have made all the difference. So, I’m making that difference in the small way that I can.

"Because when you talk to somebody going through a situation, it feels like you are climbing Mount Everest, which it is: it is really difficult. But when you’ve got somebody, when you hear the worst news that you could possibly hear and you were expecting a positive outcome - and it’s just shattering, you just want somebody to talk to.”

Mavis and Maria say that groups such as Power of the Mind, with cultural awareness and specific knowledge about domestic abuse in Black and minority ethnic communities, are vital in helping survivors to feel safe in leaving abusive relationships. They say that charities such as Power of the Mind are “saving lives” - and saving the NHS immeasurable amounts of money, by providing support at grassroots levels before matters escalate.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting all victims of domestic abuse, regardless of their immigration status.

“Through our Migrant Victims of Domestic Abuse Concession, victims who have entered the UK on certain partner or spousal visas can access public funds for three months, which can be used to fund safe accommodation.”