"I have never welcomed the weakening of family ties by politics or pressure" - Nelson Mandela.
"He who travels for love finds a thousand miles no longer than one" - Japanese proverb.
"Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." - Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
"When people's love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change". -
David Cameron.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christian & Marcia

“We just want to spend Christmas as a family, with our family.”

Christian is a British citizen currently living in New York City. His wife, Marcia, is a citizen of Trinidad & Tobago. They are expecting their first child together.

In October 2013, when the couple was visiting UK to spend time with Christian’s family, Marcia was refused entry even whilst travelling with Christian. This was to be their first Christmas with the whole family together.

The couple arrived at Gatwick Airport on October 15th for what was to be the beginning of their honeymoon. After some preliminary questions at the border control – which they answered fully and truthfully, the couple was made to wait in a pen for further questioning, without being told why. After another hour, alternating between being held and questioned, Marcia’s luggage was searched and several items removed.

Christian was then told he could not wait for his wife – and sent out to airport arrivals alone. Marcia was then bodily searched, locked in a prison-like environment, fingerprinted and interrogated. In total, Marcia wife was incarcerated and interrogated for eight hours.

Marcia’s leave to enter the UK was refused, although she was granted “Temporary Admission to a Person Who is Liable to be Detained” since they had already booked a wedding reception for their friends and family on October 26th. The Immigration Officer repeatedly told Marcia this means she could be detained at any time.

Unsurprisingly, Marcia came out of the interrogation in tears and fearful of arrest and further detention. As of now, she is scheduled to be removed from the UK on flight BA2159 at 10am on October 31st. The couple is trying their utmost to have that date postponed.

Christian believes the immigration officers were wrong to refuse her entry and to treat Marcia in the manner they did. As a citizen of Trinidad & Tobago, Marcia is a "non-visa national". So just as British citizens can visit many countries in the world without applying for a visa, so can those from this nation. Marcia shouldn’t require a visa to visit the UK, and therefore should in theory be allowed entry on her own passport, even if not travelling with Christian.

The Notice of Refusal of Leave to Enter stated “You have asked for leave to enter the United Kingdom as a visitor for three months but I am not satisfied that you are genuinely seeking entry as a visitor for the limited period as stated by you. This is because, although you hold a return ticket dated 19th January 2013, I cannot be satisfied that you will be able to fly at that time. This is because you are at present 22/23 weeks pregnant and if you were to remain in the United Kingdom for the period you have stated you will then be approximately 35/36 weeks, and as such British Airways will not carry you."

British Airways' pregnancy regulations* clearly say "For uncomplicated single pregnancies, we restrict travel beyond the end of the 36th week." The primary reason for refusal is therefore shown to be completely false.

"In addition, you have made no provisions for your medical care whilst you are in the United Kingdom, and you have been unemployed by your own admission since 2011 and living off savings and I cannot therefore be satisfied that you will not be of recourse to public funds."

Marcia was in possession of bank statements and stock portfolio, examined by the Officer, which show that, although she had indeed been "living off savings", they were far from used up. She also had letters of invitation,from Christian and his mother. These letters made it clear that Christian and his family would be responsible for any and all expenses incurred by Marcia during her visit. These letters were also backed by bank statements from both Christian and his mother clearly showing sufficient funds. The secondary reason for refusal is therefore shown to be invalid.

This secondary reason appears to be intentionally worded to exclude Marcia’s financial statements and the supporting family letters and bank statements examined by the officer. The refusal selectively refers to the fact that Marcia has "been unemployed" and "living off savings" which says nothing whatsoever about her access to private funds.

"Furthermore, you have previously resided in the United States of America, and during further examination you admitted that you overstayed your visa there, this causes me to doubt that you will comply with any restrictionsattached to a grant of leave to enter the United Kingdom."

This third reason gives the impression that Marcia attempted to abuse a short-term US visitor's visa by overstaying in an attempt to become an illegal immigrant. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Marcia informed the Immigration Officer during her interrogation, she had been living in the US in continuous legal status for almost 14 years. She had official USCIS paperwork in her possession to prove this, which was examined by the Immigration Officer. Until May of this year, her entire life was US-based and she had good reason to believe she would continue to live there up until the last days of her final visa. She had been a graduate (F-1) student for many years, then worked under OPT for a company who subsequently sponsored her for H1-B status. The security requirements for her position were later changed by the US military to exclude non-citizens, so she was unable to continue in that position. She was advised that in order to remain in non-immigrant status she would have to change to B2 visitor status.

This is a long process Marcia went through, however by the time the B2 status was processed, the US sequester had been put in place and her prospective employer was subjected to a hiring freeze. Her B2 status was due to expire on 27th March and she was not informed of the freeze until only 10 days earlier. At this time she made arrangements to leave the US as quickly as was reasonably possible given that she'd lived there for nearly 14 years and thus had a lot of roots to sever (car, house lease) not to mention the prospect of being separated from her fiancé for an indeterminate time.

Although Marcia did stay briefly beyond the end of that visa, this is considered normal by US immigration and carries no penalty up to a 6 month overstay. "If you overstay but not more than 180 days you must leave the US but you can apply for a visa to return immediately." Marcia never faced removal proceedings in the US.

Instead, she voluntarily chose to leave less than two months into the six-month grace period. These are hardly the actions of a person recklessly ignoring immigration laws. The third reason for refusal is therefore also shown to be invalid. Indeed, given the US has not penalised Marcia for her very slight over-stay it is bizarre that the UK does.

In addition, the Officer made no mention Marcia being married to a British citizen travelling with her – presumably because clear family connection may mitigate the flimsy grounds for refusal.

This is a pair of newlyweds, intending to only stay with their British family through Christmas and New Years.

It should not be a function of the a government agency to tear citizens apart from their families. Christian understands there is pressure on the UK Border Agency to appear to be tough on immigration. It is probable that officers have targets for refusing applications, with the UKBA website brags about cutting migrant numbers.

Christian can’t help but wonder why his wife was picked out for further questioning in the first place. A British citizen travelling with his Commonwealth citizen wife would seem on the surface to be one of the most straightforward possible cases. Marcia is extremely intelligent and highly articulate. She comes from an English-speaking country and English is her first language. She holds three university degrees, a BSc in Biochemistry, an MSc in Agricultural Diversification/Sustainable Rural Development and a US MSc in Food Science and Nutrition. Had the immigration officer at the initial encounter spoken with her, she would have been able to ascertain this for herself.

However, throughout all the questioning where Christian was present, the officer addressed all questions, whether pertaining to Christian or Marcia, directly to him, speaking of Marcia in the third person, effectively treating her as if she were a young child or a foreigner with no grasp of the English language. Even when Christian re-addressed questions to his wife, and received clear, concise answers in perfect English, the officer waited for Christian to "translate" the answers. It felt to this couple like racial profiling played a major part.

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