In 2010 my wife, a New Zealander, and I (British citizen) moved to Germany following the expiry of her working visa in the UK. We stayed in Germany for about 7 months, during which we got married, before opting to move back to the UK due to difficulties in finding work and making ends meet. Knowing my family would have us until we could get back on our feet we set about applying for entry clearance with an EEA Family Permit. This became a seemingly unusual path for us, relative to the spousal visa route. Due to my working and living in Germany I was considered to be exercising my treaty rights as a European citizen, which drew us to this category. In the eyes of the UKBA I was viewed as a European sponsor, rather than a British Sponsor (not that this should mean anything, other than that British family visas are far more expensive and difficult to acquire than in this European category). Either way, our application was completely legitimate and unquestioned by the UKBA’s commercial visa processing partner, WorldBridge.
In support of this application, we were asked chiefly to provide evidence that I had been living and working in Germany, evidence that we were married, and evidence that we could support ourselves upon entering the UK. To this end we provided pay slips from my German employer, our rental contract, and included bank statements citing overdrafts, remaining savings and a letter from my parents confirming we could live with them indefinitely upon our return.
After the normal 4-6 weeks of waiting we were informed that a decision had been made. Her application was rejected, because the entry clearance officer was not convinced we were in a subsisting or affectionate relationship. They went as far as to assume that our relationship was a sham. At this stage in our plans we were distraught by this outcome, not to mention deeply insulted by the allegation that our relationship was a sham. We had lived together for over a year already by that stage both in the UK and in Germany. Furthermore, we felt we had been undermined by the UKBA; who had rejected us for not providing evidence that they themselves didn’t request, after repeated telephone enquiries during the application process.
In the frenzied 6 weeks that followed we sourced some accommodation for another month while we weighed up our options. We considered trying to move to New Zealand, where we could start up again, but this turned out to be way to be an unaffordable alternative. We looked at the appeal options from our rejection. This would take 9 months to appear before the immigration tribunal, all for a 6 month entry clearance visa, and was again unaffordable without any money or even accommodation in Germany. We opted to simply reapply citing all the reasons for the previous rejection and plied them with 60 pages of facebook conversations, photos, birthday & Christmas cards and more personal items like letters and notes to each other. All this personal detail (bar the facebook material obviously) was duplicated and (remains) kept by the UKBA.
In the meantime we borrowed money from family members and pulled favours with friends to stay with them when our 1 month temporary accommodation also ran out. Our 2nd application was further delayed by the Easter bank holidays and the royal wedding. In the frustrating silence of whole procedure we contacted Theresa May and sought an explanation of the delay and some insight into the result, my parents and grandparents all wrote in complaint at the initial decision. I even started blogging as a way to chronicle and exorcise the helplessness of the situation. Eventually, my wife was granted entry clearance, literally one day before we were forced to find yet more accommodation.
In the time we spent placing two applications for entry clearance, I missed out on numerous job interviews and spent nearly all of my remaining savings on attending a precious few. Our attempts to secure an income in the UK to support ourselves was stifled by the needless difficulty we were forced into, brought about only by the inept communication of requirements for this sort of visa. As a young couple, we were both hard up against rising unemployment (and indeed faced further months of this upon our return), which the UKBA made so much harder to overcome with our own sham-free, benefits-free plans.
When we reached the border at the airport just days later, we were met with further confusion. Due to the above distinction between me as a British citizen, and me as a rights-exercising European citizen (and never the twain shall meet so it seems…) the immigration officer at the desk initially refused her entry with her visa, as she considered that a mistake must have been made – assuming that EEA family permits were literally only for European citizens. There was of course no mistake, the border staff simply did not know the decision process of the entry clearance staff, and that British or otherwise, since I was exercising treaty rights, the visa was entirely valid. After some time in the sin-bin we were allowed through.
This whole process has been seriously upsetting. It has pushed a young couple to the limits of their livelihoods just to resort to family support during worldwide economic trouble. No benefits have been claimed, no sham has been committed –and yet we stood accused and suspected for following the rules and taking the advice of the UKBA. While this first stage is now over – we have years more of this headache ahead while we apply for EEA2 (a 5 year visa) then further residency and citizenship applications after that.
We can be thankful at least that our experience has not been completely unnoticed. The Independent Chief Inspector of the UKBA has recently published a review of entry clearance decision making and called for improvements where in 16% of cases
“applicants were refused entry clearance for failing to provide information which they could not have been aware of at the time of submitting their applications. This was unfair.”
Finally, I write this as a sponsor and British citizen. My human right to have my spouse live with me has been so blindly hampered by excessive and contrary regulation over immigration, that it amounts to a severe form of discrimination to me. The shear arbitrariness of my wife’s country of origin has been used to chisel away at the strength of our relationship, which only through our own resolve we have been prepared to put up with.
Now that the government is considering the Migration Advisory Committee’s proposals to raise the minimum income threshold for sponsors to have their their spouses live in the UK with them, they should greater heed to the disgrace they undertake in attempting to split apart families. The simplicity and one sidedness of the immigration debate as presented in the media simply cannot continue when British citizens, as I am, are becoming the targets of immigration restrictions. I can say unambiguously that I love immigrants, inasmuch as I love my wife. These proposals neglect the deepest human emotion entwined with family immigration, concerned only with economic burdens. As it stands, visas of this type are based on the sponsor’s income alone, the earning potential of the spouse being ‘difficult to calculate’. Without the combined contribution of a family, anybody under such a threshold has neither the comfort & cumulated financial support of loved ones.
As a young person, I have found myself unemployed many times, and fear it enough to take issue with the proposals from a personal perspective. To separate a family because the sponsor is poor is a draconian breach of human rights. Discretion is badly needed, not to mention a proper effort to assess the spouse’s contribution to the family unit. To conclude that this calculation is ‘difficult’ should be a more humiliating failure for the Migration Advisory Committee.