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IN THE NEWS - "Tories have made it harder to bring my family to UK – they’ve lost my vote"

Colin Mason, 63, who can vote in a general election for the first time since 2015, says he is unlikely to vote the Tories back into power

Colin Mason, who has lived in Japan for 23 years, will vote for the first time in the general election since 2015 under new voting rules (Photo: Colin Mason)


Senior world reporter

May 10, 2024 6:00 am


A British expat who will be voting in the upcoming general election for the first time since 2015 says his biggest concern is recent visa changes that make it harder to bring family to the UK.


Colin Mason, 63, who has lived in Japan for 23 years and is married to a Chinese woman, says it is unlikely he will cast a vote to keep the Conservative government in power.

“I doubt that I could be persuaded to vote Tory,” said Mr Mason, who runs an IT company in Yokohama, south of Tokyo.


He said he hoped to return to the UK, but changes to the earnings threshold British citizens must meet for their partners to secure a visa means he may have to use a large portion of his savings to bring his wife.


“It’s unfair not to be able to move family to the UK easily,” he told i, saying the “frozen” pension policy for UK citizens living outside Europe was “another thing that vexes me”.


The Government introduced “votes for life” in January, making all British citizens living abroad eligible to vote in a general election. Previously, people who had lived outside the UK for more than 15 years lost this right, but the Conservatives pledged to scrap the rule in their 2019 manifesto.


The new rule is believed to have extended the vote to an extra 3.5 million British expats, according to Government estimates.


Mr Mason said he previously voted for the Liberal Democrats in his constituency in Sedgefield, County Durham, which has been represented by Conservative MP Paul Howell since 2019, but was former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s seat for 24 years.


“I suspect it will go back to Labour. I will be interested to see who stands in that constituency,” Mr Mason added.


Edward Vickers, 53, a university professor in Fukuoka on Japan’s Kyushu Island, said he was also most concerned about the rise in the earnings threshold to bring a foreign spouse to the UK, which could affect him and his Japanese wife, Aya Kiriake.


The Government announced the rise in December and the threshold went up from £18,600 to £29,000 on 11 April, with plans for it to rise to £38,700 in early 2025.


Professor Vickers, who previously lived in London and has been in Japan for 12 years, said he wanted the option of retiring in Britain, but believes he may struggle to reach the new income threshold with his pension.


He said Ms Kiriake has had issues with obtaining a visa in the past, when he returned to the UK in 2021 for a year as a visiting professor at University College London (UCL).


A spouse of an academic visitor can obtain a visa to accompany them in the UK, but Professor Vickers told Ms Kiriake was rejected by the Home Office because the “confusing” rules deemed him a British citizen and not a visiting academic.


“If I had been a Japanese professor coming to sabbatical, no problem! But because I am British there was actually no visa that she could’ve applied for,” he said.


“There’s no appeal to this, and in the end we managed to get her leave to enter outside the rules but only because I knew a Liberal Democrat MP [who] very kindly intervened."


Edward Vickers, a British professor, said his Japanese wife has had problems with obtaining a UK visa in the past (Photo: Edward Vickers)


“Even then she had to fly all the way to Japan via Singapore in the middle of the pandemic and go through quarantine just to submit her passport back in Japan to get this stamp.”


Professor Vickers will again vote for the Liberal Democrats, saying he was not swayed into voting Labour.


Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock said Labour would review the spouse visa if in government, and ask the Migration Advisory Committee to make recommendations about the level the income threshold should be set in future.


But Professor Vickers felt he could not trust Labour, saying the party had made the visa system “much more hostile” when it was in power.


“We’ve experienced that kind of hostile environment, which most people in Britain thinks is directed against foreigners, but it’s also directed against British citizens with foreign spouses,” he added. “That gives me very little confidence about what’s going to happen after I retire, and this ridiculous [visa] threshold that has been introduced recently.


Bruce Darrington, chairman of the British Overseas Voters Forum, which supports for UK citizens living abroad, encouraged expats to register to vote and invited them to join the advocacy group to “collectively influence MPs and candidates, constituency by constituency, at the next election and beyond”.


“Other European countries give the right to their citizens to bring their foreign national spouse to live with them in their country automatically,” he said. “The UK is the odd one out.


“But as overseas citizens we are now at last voters and it is now in our hands to get this changed.”


A Home Office spokesperson said:  ”The current levels of migration to the UK are far too high. That is why the Government announced a plan to cut the number of migrants coming to the UK by 300,000 a year – the largest reduction ever.


“Migration policy must be supportive of the wider ambition for the UK to be a high-wage and high-skill economy, which is why we have raised the minimum income requirement. This ensures migrants are making a net positive contribution to the UK."


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