"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.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Tom & Olya

“The UK immigration process is lengthy, expensive and complicated...and thoroughly demeaning.”

Tom is a British citizen from the East Riding area, just west of York. His partner, Olya is from the Ukraine and lives in Kiev.

As Tom is a musician by profession, the couple has been lucky enough to travel all over Europe together for best part of the past two years. Their life together so far has been an adventure, full of all the care and love that anyone in a healthy relationship will know of. Olya is also lucky that as a linguist (fluent in English, Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish with some Polish and also now learning Greek) her employer allows her to work remotely, as long as she has a computer and wifi access, making their nomadic lifestyle possible.

They never had a problem obtaining visas for other European countries for Olya. However, when they decided it was time for Olya to come home with Tom, meet his friends and family they came across immigration horror.

Olya's passport is full of visas and stamps from visits all over Europe and indeed many parts from outside the region as well. The visa denial for a UK visit visa was completed unexpected. So they submitted a second application.

Flights were bought as required for the application and fees paid. Olya declared her savings and job status. Her parents provided 'emergency funds' just in case they’d be required, of over £1000. However the Home Office refused this application as well, stating that this amount was insufficient (even though Olya was only wanting to be here for two weeks); they also refused on the grounds that Tom did not declare his finances and prove that he could support Olya during her trip. Even though she didn’t actually need financial support from Tom given her own financial situation.

They made several visits to the visa application centres, which proved to be awful. The staff accepting applications were rude for no reason; Olya, an otherwise strong woman, broke down in tears after one such visit resulted in the staff humiliating her in public.

During a visit to Kiev in June 2012, they emailed to try and arrange another meeting. Around this time they met a number of younger Ukrainian friends – some without jobs or savings - who had applied for visas to the UK successfully. These were visitor visas just like the one being sought for Olya, except their reasons for visiting the UK were sightseeing and the club scene.

Tom and Olya are both, working people in a relationship. They’re bemused why they were being
denied a visa to see family and friends, while those for comparatively more trivial reasons were being granted the same type of visa, serving to highlight massive inconsistencies with visitor visa policies.

The couple submitted a visa application for the third time, going over the top with supporting documentation. The expected processing time passed and they still had no answer, and the date of their flights was fast approaching. A chaser call led to their being patronisingly told to "wait like everyone else has to".

On the day of the flight, Olya waited with her father outside the Passport Centre with her bags packed. The passport never came.

Another flight missed. Another chaser led to their being eventually told that the decision had been made some weeks ago, but the application was 'stuck in the system'.

The third refusal was a huge blow. Olya was deemed to have used 'deceptive means to obtain access to the UK'. An incredibly demeaning remark and unbelievable to the couple that anyone could come to that conclusion from their very standard paperwork.

Apparently the case handler thought it was suspicious that a large amount of money had entered Olya's bank account and disappeared after the previous visa refusal. Indeed, the person appeared to not have read the supporting paperwork explaining that the funds were a loan from Olya’s dad, and returned when not needed for the UK trip.

Olya was informed she could only make an administrative appeal and that the denial would remain on her record for a period of ten years.

Bear in mind, all this just for a visitor’s visa.

Tom is dreading the problems they will face when they decide to get married. With her language skills, countries should be falling over themselves to welcome Olya. Yet Tom fears that UK’s immigration policies would even reject her as the wife of a British citizen.

He never would have believed without firsthand experience, how discriminatory and contradictory his country’s immigration rules are.

Tom now regularly visits Ukraine where he tours successfully as a musician, selling out venues and generally being met with a great deal of support there. Olya has now met Tom’s family during a holiday in Cyprus. The couple remains closer than ever yet kept thousands of miles apart for 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."

Tom’s certain this is not being honoured in their situation.

Olya on Twitter : https://twitter.com/olya_dzhygyr

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