"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.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Steve and Yoko

'I'm Steve, from Tunbridge Wells. My wife, Yoko, our one year old daughter and I are all stuck 6,000 miles away from home, despite having more than the required funds in a current account. Here's my background and how the Home Office's anti-family rules have affected me and my family:

'I was born and raised in the Conservative heartland of south east England. As it happens, my grandfather was a close colleague of Winston Churchill during WWII, my great-grandfather was a viscount, and if you look further back in my family tree, you'll find Robert the Bruce and a few other well-known figures. Those are my credentials for Britishness, if anybody needs to know.

'I moved to Japan in early 2007, shortly after I completed my masters' degree. Very soon after I arrived in Japan, I reconnected with a friend of a friend who I had met once in London. That friend of a friend was Yoko. We started dating shortly after meeting, and were engaged and living together less than a year after that.

'Now, as much as I love the place, I never intended to spend my life in Japan and I always intended to return to the UK at some point. Meanwhile, Yoko, a fluent English speaker and a great admirer of British culture, was also keen to move to the UK. Because of this, we kept our future visa application in mind, and we were careful to keep records of living together right from the moment we signed our first tenancy agreement.
'In 2012, a little while after our little girl was born, we decided that the time was right to move to the UK and settle down, figuring that it would be easier to move while she was still small rather than uprooting her when she was at school. We started looking into the UKBA's immigration rules. We had records of having lived together for five years, we had countless photos, we could get testimonies from friends and family, we had our marriage documents, we even have a daughter who shared our DNA! We could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have a genuine marriage. I imagined that we'd have some trouble filling in the paperwork, and that we might have to answer some very invasive questions, but I thought that our application would really just be a formality. Prior to July 2012, it would have been.

'As we dug further into the UKBA website, we came across the financial requirement. OK, £18,600. It was a lot of money, but we could cover that. I'm just a schoolteacher, but I have savings. Then we came across the Home Office's formula for determining how much money they think you have: savings minus £16,000, divided by 2.5. The £62,500 minimum is a lot more money. Thankfully, my wife works in international investment banking, and also has savings. Pooling our resources together, we could raise over £62,500. What's more, thanks to Japan's low interest rates, we'd never bothered investing our savings. Our savings were in cash, just as the Home Office was demanding. So here's why we still couldn't come home:

'After realising that we had next to no chance of navigating the immigration rules ourselves, we spent a lot of money on hiring a solicitor. Our solicitor looked through all of our documents, and said that an application at the time could succeed, but that a UKBA caseworker might ask for my wife's previous six months' payslips as proof of the source of our savings. Yoko had been on maternity leave. We could not supply those payslips. If a UKBA caseworker asks for extra evidence and the applicant is unable to supply it within two weeks, the application is refused. We couldn't risk that. We'd lose the application fee, and at the time, my employer was asking me if I would sign up for another year or not. A refused application would have left me unemployed in Japan and unable to return to the UK. For this reason, we decided to delay our application until Yoko had been back at work for six months, just so she could get six payslips.

'We'll get there. Once Yoko has her six payslips, the UKBA will have absolutely no legal reason to refuse our application (which is no guarantee, of course!) But the bizarre inflexibility of the rules has meant that we've had to put our daughter into daycare, and put our plans on hold for a year just to satisfy utterly pointless bureaucratic requirements. And in the meantime, our daughter still hasn't met most of her family, and Yoko and I have to cope with raising a kid without any family support for another year. And when we finally get to the UK, we won't be able to buy a house or invest our savings in any way, because we'll have to keep them in a current account for the next five years.

'I fully recognise that my family and I are some of the luckier victims of the family immigration rules. We haven't been separated, and we will be eligible for a visa in the near future. What I think our case shows though, is that you can be self-sufficient, you can satisfy all of the requirements, you can prove beyond a doubt that your marriage is legitimate, and still fall foul of the rules, just because of pointless, unnecessary bureaucracy.

'And just in case anyone's wondering why we want to move to the UK:

1. I'm British. It's my home.
2. My wife still loves the UK, British people and British culture, even after the way she's been treated.
3. My family can help us raise our daughter; Yoko's family is much smaller and less able to help.
4. Mixed race children almost always face racist bullying from their peers and discrimination from teachers at school in Japan. Bullying of haafu ('half') children often starts in preschool and continues into adult life. While racism is still a big problem in the UK, being half Japanese in the UK is more likely to be viewed as something positive.
5. My wife and I survived the Great Earthquake of 2011 and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster. Another major earthquake has been predicted within the next four years. Fukushima is making headlines again with further radiation leaks and risks of another meltdown. It's time to come home.

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