Tom & Olya’s storyPosted: 21/08/2013
I felt now was the time to contact you regarding my experiences with the immigration process into the UK. I have found it to not only be a lengthy, expensive and complicated process; but also thoroughly demeaning.
I am based just west of York in the East Riding area. My partner Olya Dzhygyr, a Ukraine national, lives in Kiev. In my job as a musician, we have been lucky enough to travel all over Europe together for best part of the past two years. Our life together so far has been an adventure, full of all the care and love that anyone should be entitled to in a healthy relationship. Olya is also lucky enough to be able to work remotely for her company via laptop over a wife connection, which had always made things easier for her.
Obtaining visas for visits to other countries in Europe was never a problem, until we decided it was time for Olya to come home with me to the UK and visit my friends and family. I should point out that Olya’s passport is chock full of visas and stamps from visits all over Europe and indeed the rest of the world. Our visa denial for a UK visa was not expected, but we endured as we assumed that we had underestimated the review process for the UK. That time, whilst I was away touring Olya thought it would be a good idea to travel to the UK for a few days with some of her spare holiday time.
We made a second application. Flights were bought as were required for an application and fees were paid to you. Olya declared her savings and her job status. Her parents provided ‘emergency funds’ for if they were needed, a good amount of money – over £1000. Apparently it was not enough to support a two week trip. Even though, as a UK resident I know full well that it was. We were denied a second time. Another reason was for me not declaring my finances and proving that I could support Olya during her trip. Even though, apart from staying at my house, she needed no financial support. So now we were being condescended too.
During this time, visits to visa application centres were proven to be, frankly, awful experiences; with the staff taking applications being rude for no reason at all. On one occasion Olya, a strong woman, broke down in tears after being publicly humiliated by the staff.
During a visit to Kiev in June 2012, we emailed to try and arrange a meeting. Around this time we had a number of younger Ukrainian friends, men and women, who had applied for visas to the UK successfully. These were visitor visas like the one we sought, except their visas were just to visit clubs in London and to maybe do a little sightseeing. It should be noted that a number of the friends applying for UK visitor visas during this time were not only unemployed, but also without any significant savings or property. We were, and are, both working people in a relationship. It was confusing as to why we would be denied whilst people who wanted to visit a few nightclubs would be allowed to visit our great capital. In fact, it served to highlight the massive inconsistencies with UK visitor visa policies.
We were told via the email correspondence that we could visit the UK embassy in Kiev to discuss our application. Upon arrival we were told that we had been misinformed and that there was no chance of meeting anyone to discuss our situation. Instead we were told that the staff at the visa processing centre would see us. Again we were given wrong information. We were faced with a very rude young man and woman who offered no help other than shrugging their shoulders a lot. We were pointed towards the visa application centre across town who of course again offered no help.
We again submitted a visa application. It was over the top with the amount of information provided. Flights and fees were again paid for. The processing time passed by and we still had no answer. The flights were fast approaching. After a phone call we were told “wait like everyone else has to”. On the day of her flight Olya waited with her Father outside of the Passport centre with her bags packed. The passport never came. Another flight missed and with it the money it cost. Chasing again we were told that the application was still being processed. Eventually, we were given an answer and told that the decision had been made some weeks previously, but the application had become ‘stuck in the system’. No apology of course.
The third denial was a huge blow to us as well as our friends and family who were all convinced we had endured enough hardships. Olya was deemed to have used ‘deceptive means to obtain access to the UK’. I still find that remark demeaning and almost unbelievable that someone could come to that conclusion from our very standard paperwork. The person processing the application thought it was suspicious that a large amount of money had entered Olya’s bank account and disappeared after previous visa denial. If the person had read the paperwork supplied, they would have noticed that it was the same amount of money lent to Olya by her Father. The amount didn’t ‘disappear’, it was paid back to her Father. We were told in the decision that we could only make an administrative appeal and that the denial would remain on Olya’s record for a period of ten years. It seemed like the person at the processing centre didn’t realise the gravity of the decision she was making.
All this time we were applying for a simple visitor’s visa; something that many other people seem to obtain fairly easily.
I dread to think of the problems we are going to face when we decide to marry in a few years time. Olya has a brother who works as very skilled software developer in Finland where he will soon be given citizenship. Olya is a linguist and can speak fluent English (better than me!), Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish some Polish and is currently studying Greek. Would you not agree that should the opportunity arise, she would be a valuable asset to the UK? Yet our immigration policies and procedures leave a lot to be desired. Unless I had had firsthand experience, I would not have known how discriminatory and contradictory they are.
I regularly visit Ukraine where I tour fairly successfully as a musician, selling out venues and generally being met with a great deal of support there. We are closer than ever yet still kept thousands of miles apart for pretty ridiculous bureaucratic reasons.
Article 8 European Convention on Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
I would argue that this is currently not being honoured in our situation.
My question is this: where would you go from here? What would you do in our situation and who’s emails would you track down or try to convince? Would you be as frustrated and confused as we are?
Blog post taken from a letter to Chris Bryant