"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.

Monday 26 January 2015

Lizzie & Alexander - Featured Family

"We feel fortunate but I remember how hard it was to get here and wish the best of luck to those struggling against these rules.  I hope they find a way to battle on, to not give up; I hope these rules change."
Lizzie is a British citizen living in Devon. Her husband Alexander, is a doctor from Ecuador.  They lived together for four and a half years in Chile, two years of which they were married for.

They married in June 2011 in UK, in Lizzie’s local church, before returning to Chile where Lizzie worked as a financial consultant and Alexander eventually as a consulting doctor.  Their daughter was born in February 2012 following which they decided to relocate to UK to be close to Lizzie’s family and ensure their daughter benefited from a British education.  NHS is also looking to fill 2000 GP accident and emergency vacancies. By Lizzie’s side is a GP desperate for the chance to be with his family, integrate and contribute to the NHS and save British lives. If only he were so allowed.

They submitted Alexander’s application in November 2012 and then, nothing. No emails, no calls, no news.  In February 2013, Lizzie and her daughter came to UK expecting Alexander would follow soon.  In March 2013, Lizzie complained about the delay to WorldBridge. The response, a refusal.  The couple has been apart for several months already. Father and daughter have been apart for the same length of time.  The family is missing out on sharing precious ‘first’ moments which can never return.

What makes the situation worse is that Lizzie’s income in Chile combined with cash savings, actually meets UKBA’s financial requirement. Yet UKBA manufactured a reason to refuse, stating Lizzie had not continued employment for the six month period prior to the application since her income was from maternity payments i.e. that maternity pay was not evidence of continuous employment.  This is despite Lizzie having sent a certificate signed by her employer in Chile stating her continued employment.

UKBA said Lizzie had not shown evidence of her savings.  This despite her having submitted bank statements, although she admits they were a few months older – an ISA which only sends out statements on an annual basis and premium bond statements which were first sent to Lizzie’s parents home and then to Chile. But the money was there and she did the best she could to obtain evidence of her UK savings from Chile, while also juggling recent motherhood.   

Lizzie is furious that rules clearly discriminating against women are in place; rules which systematically penalise women - for having kids, for adopting the traditional role of homemaker, for sacrificing their career to care for their family.  For being women - who historically and statistically are paid less than men.

Legal advice indicates Alexander won’t qualify for a visitor’s visa as he has displayed an intent to live here.  So the only way for the family to see each other is for Lizzie to travel to Ecuador, on a 15+ hour flight with a toddler.  She can’t remain there as she is employed here and doesn’t want to jeopardise her income here lest she lose her appeal.  So she is juggling childcare and employment.

The real victim of these rules is Lizzie and Alexander’s little girl.  Geneva Convention was created to protect families from exactly this sort of abuse.  Her daughter only sees daddy through Skype for an hour each day and her mother is constantly stressed, tired and struggling.  This is not how their family was. They were so happy.  Lizzie never dreamed the system could get things so wrong; her family is torn apart just so politicians can say they’re being "tough on immigration".  She is upset British citizens are made the scapegoats for a political agenda.  She’s hurt UK has let her down; angry that no one is accountable for the misery caused.  

Following the visa refusal the couple appealed; they engaged the services of a barrister and contacted Lizzie’s local MP who was very matter of fact about the situation, with the conversation revolving around "why my husband is a contribution to the country".  This surprised Lizzie as to her Alexander not being allowed to live with them was clearly outrageous, whether or not he was skilled.  Without him Lizzie was a single mother, dependent on her parents and had it not been for them, dependent on the state!  Lizzie felt her self-worth and abilities to perform as a mother and employee had been severely undermined by the extra stress and strains of constantly worrying about reuniting the family.

The MP wrote a letter of support to the ECO in Brazil in April 2013.  In the meantime, Lizzie found herself desperately coaxing her daughter to "perform" on Skype to satisfy the increasingly frustrated and worried Alexander that the little girl was alright, happy, and though missing him, coping.  But the child rebelled against the tedium of screen-time – crawling, standing and walking for the first time, without her dad.  Slowly, Spanish was forgotten and English took its place.  However, none of this seemed of any importance; only Lizzie’s income was looked at.

Lizzie went to the media to share the plight of her family at the hands of the Home Office, and like so many, even wrote to David Cameron.  And like so many, she received a standard response that her letter had been forwarded to the Home Office.  In November 2013, the couple heard back with another refusal from the ECM.  By now, Lizzie had worked for 6 months, earning a salary in excess of £18,600.  Despite the refusal, this information was sent to the ECM for review once again. 

By this time though Lizzie had lost all faith in UK immigration and thus looked at alternatives for family unity, like living in another EU country.  Desperate to be together for Christmas the family decided to meet in Ireland, to then scope out options but at least, spend the holidays together.   In the previous ten months, the family had been together for only three weeks and the separation was taking its toll. 

Lizzie drove for seven hours to Holyhead and took the ferry to Dublin on December 16th.  Whilst on the ferry, Lizzie received an email from her MP indicating that their appeal had been subject to a special review, and that a decision had been made to grant the visa.  Lizzie could not believe it. The turnaround, the timing, that in fact it was all over….that the next time the couple said goodbye it would be for a matter of weeks, not months!  It was the best Christmas present one could have asked for.  Lizzie drove straight from the ferry to Dublin airport to pick up Alexander and told him the good news. The next three weeks were like a fairy tale, with the couple starting 2014 together and knowing they would be finally able to say we would continue together.  To this day Lizzie isn’t sure why the application was reviewed; the news reports, the letter to the PM or the email to her MP which showed six months employment in the UK?  Whatever, the family is grateful they are finally together.

Update January 2015:
Alexander has been in the UK for eleven months and the family couldn't be happier.  The couple had to re-learn how to live together; adapt to sharing parenting duties and allow Alexander to make mistakes Lizzie already had, to get to know their daughter once again, and forge a father-daughter relationship.  Shortly after his arrival, Alexander was unwilling to discipline their daughter for fear she wouldn't love him. Now he is far more secure of his importance in her life and feels confident in taking a more fatherly role in her upbringing.  They have "in jokes", sing special songs together and even take days out without Mummy.  

Alexander has adjusted to speaking English all the time, working in a factory job until he the now more suitable job working at Virgin Health Care, living with his in-laws, English food, our climate, and making new friends.  Red tape around trivial things like car insurance and NINO meant he relied on Lizzie constantly reiterating how much independence he had lost.  

The couple has had to be patient with the other and don’t forget how fortunate they are to be together, nor the misery of being apart.  They start 2015 with much to look forward to, with Lizzie on the verge of completing her AAT accountancy qualification and the imminent arrival of their second child.

Lizzie says: “I think our lives will always be a little more complicated than your average British family but together we can overcome so much. We are positive about our future in the UK and feel fortunate but I remember how hard it was to get here and wish the best of luck to those struggling against these rules. I had so much support from my family and from the people I turned to for help; my MP, local journalist and the community I live in.  I know others have many more hurdles and I hope they find a way to battle on, to not give up; I hope these rules change."

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