Rule change gives abused foreign spouses access to help

Theresa May
Image caption The home secretary said tough checks will ensure the rules are not abused by immigrants

Foreign partners of UK citizens and residents who flee relationships after violence are to get access to support services under changes to visa rules.

The Home Office said some victims may currently stay in abusive situations because their spousal visas give them "no recourse to public funds" during an initial two-year probationary period.

They will now be entitled to help while a claim for residence based on the domestic violence is considered.

The plan will take effect in 2012.

It follows an ongoing pilot programme known as the Sojourner Project which has seen 587 women and 358 children supported between December 2009 and January 2011.

It comes after Home Secretary Theresa May announced plans to tackle teenage relationship abuse and sexual violence against women.

Mrs May said: "We are clear that no-one should be forced to stay in an abusive relationship. We have always said we will support the small number of spouses who must leave their relationship and are unable to access any support services.

"However, we are very clear there will be tough checks in place to ensure this system is not abused by those seeking to stay in the country where they do not have the right to."

Current immigration rules allow spouses, registered civil partners and unmarried partners of British citizens and UK residents to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the country as victims of domestic violence.

But the Home Office says access to refuges can be "problematic" for those victims who do not have access to public funds.

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