"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.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Haje & Ziah

“Missed deadlines, lost marriage certificates, baffling incompetence; welcome to the Home Office.”

Haje is resident in the UK. He came here about thirteen years ago from Norway; literally fresh off the boat as he disembarked at Newcastle to start his journalism course in Liverpool. The big shiny lights, the unfeasibly short skirts and the incredible amounts of Stella consumed was something to behold.

He remembers thinking, “so this is what the big world is like”.

Haje had no intention of remaining in the UK. However plans changed and he set up his first company soon after finishing university. Fast forward the best part of a decade and Haje is now living in London; his company is a success and he’s doing pretty well too.

However, something over-shadows everything else in his life: he is in love with Ziah from USA.

Truly, properly, and very much in love. She’s hot (why not!), awesome (of course), talented (what else) and from the USA (unfortunately). They met whilst Ziah was in the UK working in visual effects - one of those industries that would have collapsed if it hadn’t been for foreign talent.

From here, it’s a pretty standard tale of boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-go-travelling-round- world, boyand- girl-move-to-South-America-for-a-year, boy-proposes-to-girl, girl-says-yes, girl-narrowly-avoidsturning- into-bridezilla and so forth.

They got married at the end of 2012, planning to return to UK. But first, they had to go through the Home Office process.

They expected it to be easy. After all, Haje is an EU citizen with a job and a lovely flat. As an EEA Citizen, the EU guarantees the right to move and reside freely anywhere within the EEA. (see Directive 2004/38/EC on the right to move and reside freely).

Being married to Haje, Ziah should be able to enter the country and get an EEA Residence card, as per Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006.

However they didn’t count on Home Office placing unnecessarily obstacles in their way.

The irony is that Ziah doesn’t need this piece of paper. In fact, on the UKBA site, they say “You do not need to obtain documents confirming your right of residence in the UK if you are a family member of an EEA national”, but you “may have difficulty proving that you are lawfully resident in the UK”; i.e. it will be difficult to re-enter the UK if you go abroad, and that you “may find it difficult to obtain or change employment.” So essentially, what they’re saying is that you don’t need this piece of paper, but if you don’t have it you’re screwed.

Keen to be immigrants of the legal variety, the couple submitted their EEA2 form, which means that — by law – the Home Office has to issue the residence card within six months. Months went by and the six month deadline went and passed.

Eventually, the Home Office did get back to them, rejecting the application as the payslips they received were ‘copies’. Given the company is paperless, the originals of payslips are PDF documents, how do the Home Office expect submission of these?

More importantly: why couldn’t Home Office have contacted them? The second they opened the envelope and the payslips tumbled out, they’d have been able to spot that something wasn’t quite “official” enough for them.

In the meantime, Ziah may lose the job she has been offered – a job that would mean she starts paying income tax – because she can’t prove she is allowed to work here, even though she is! So, we start our long and arduous climb up the slippery pole that is the appeals process.

Receiving an EEA residence permit really is a formality: apparently it used to be possible to rock up at an office with a pair of passports, a marriage certificate, a couple of pay slips and a tenancy agreement, and they’d stamp the EEA residence card into your passport there and then. The whole process would take less than a day. The underpinning laws haven’t changed, but the process has morphed from taking 4-hours to 4400 hours.

To ‘prove’ the payslips and other digital documents are effectively ‘originals’, Haje was advised to purchase a rubber stamp; his lawyer said “It’s only £30, buy one. It’s the Home Office, logic does not apply.”

As they prepare to put in their appeal, Ziah realises Home Office never returned their original marriage certificate. So she sends a letter to the Home Office, asking for her marriage certificate back. In response, they received a most insidious letter from “EO2 LNC21” (as their case worker is known - god forbid they actually get the real name of the person deciding their fate) claiming to work for the UK Boarder Agency (sic) ‘application was seen and decided by myself,’ and that ‘there was no marriage certificate in your application’ The caseworker goes on to say that the ‘application did not contain a covering letter stating the contents of the application and the only record this office has that there may have been a marriage certificate included in this application is the application form.’

The absolutely incredible thing about the latter statement is that the couple included the marriage certificate and a cover letter specifying this. How can they be so sure? Because the Home Office returned their cover letter to them!

It does appear that Home Office puts up artificial hindrances in the way, even for people from the EU (and their family members), because they are trying to dissuade potential migrants from EEA countries as much as possible. Is that legal? Absolutely not. Does the Home Office care? Actions speak louder than words.

Haje finds it hard to explain exactly how powerless he feels when facing a government agency which finds it easy to flout the law. Doubly so when what ought to be a simple formality becomes an unsurpassable wall that stands between the right-here-right-now, and being able to start a life in the UK as productive members of society.

Ziah would love to work. She would love to start paying taxes. Both her and Haje would love to be a shiny example of exactly the kind of immigrants we need in this country.

Now if only the Home Office would let them.

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