"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 25 August 2015

BritCits United Family of the Week - Amanda & Tony

“Income-related immigration tests for families is abhorrent; to say only the very wealthy can live with family is outrageous”

Amanda is a British citizen.  She grew up in Dumfries & Galloway.  After finishing university and working for a year to save up, she headed to New Zealand on a working holiday, initially just for one year.   However when she met and fell in love with Tony, a Kiwi, her stay in New Zealand became more permanent.


They built a fabulous life in New Zealand, buying a house together, then after four years together, they came to Scotland to get married so the day could be shared with Amanda’s family and friends.
They both had good jobs.  Tony is a carpenter who has worked for sixteen years for the same company.  Amanda is a marketing professional, having progressed to Director level – a position she has been in for the last six of the twelve years at her employer.

They both worked hard, saving money to buy two investment properties which afforded them a rental income, while maintaining a good quality of life.

However during the fourteen years in New Zealand, Amanda missed her family dreadfully and this always prevented her from feeling fully settled.  She is extremely close to them and though has been lucky enough to afford trips home twice a year, and of course making the most of Skype etc. there is simply no substitute for being a part of the day-to-day life of the people you love.   She is missing being part of her four nephews lives; seeing them growing up, having a real relationship with them. 

So Tony and Amanda decided to take a career break, spend a year travelling Latin America and then start a new life in the UK back in the bosom of Amanda’s family.   They never thought though that there would be such ridiculously restrictive new laws in place.

In blissful ignorance, the couple quit their jobs and headed off on their adventure.  For the last six months they have been hiking and exploring the southern part of South America, finally after all those years of work being able to have so much time together to just enjoy life. 

Three months into the trip, Amanda started looking into the rules for obtaining residency for Tony – and was shocked.  Amanda is appalled that the rules are such that a British citizen – simply by virtue of being a low-income earner is not afforded the same family rights as a ‘richer’ British citizen. 

On initial reading of the rules, despite her sadness at the clear class discrimination, she thought the rules didn’t restrict her ability to return home with her husband.  After all, they’d been together for fourteen years, of which ten is as a married couple. They both have good job offers in UK which satisfy the financial threshold.  They have savings and rental properties bringing in income each month.  There is no chance this couple will be living on benefits, especially with Amanda’s sister offering them accommodation until they have a chance to buy a place of their own.

The couple has surmised that:
·      Their trip of a lifetime prevents them from living in the UK as they have not been working.
·      Their savings aren't enough to be counted as the first £16000 is excluded altogether and it must be £62,500 in cash.
·      Rental income on their investment properties is excluded as - for tax efficient purposes – these are owned by a limited company, even though Amanda and Tony are the full owners of this company.
·      If they were to sell their property to show £62,500 in cash, they’d still have to spend six months apart and then, as Amanda says, ”God knows how many more months to process the application”

 Amanda is aware that she is lucky.  She is on a yearlong holiday, has a job offer back home, and has assets.  However despite this, they are left with a choice of living apart for likely a year on opposite sides of the world or never returning to the UK and her family.

Amanda is not just angry. She is livid with the UK government.  An income-related immigration test for families is abhorrent anyway but to have one that is not just about stopping people claiming benefits but is actually saying only the very wealthy can marry foreigners is outrageous.

She choked up when she read an example in the UKBA guidance notes that even a person with £1m in stocks and shares must liquidate his assets to show cash of £62,500 required!

Their much looked forward to trip now has a grey cloud following them, while Amanda and Tony wonder if they will ever be able to realise the dream of finally allowing Amanda the chance to live near her family...to have UK welcome Tony the way New Zealand did Amanda.

Update: Amanda & Tony exercised free movement rights, living and working in Netherlands for about a year.  They are now happily back in Scotland reunited with their family and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first baby.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

BritCits newsletter 19th August

The most recent news-letin from 19th August is now online, covering:
  • The crisis in the Mediterranean and Calais
  • Clarifications from the HO and EC to look forward to
  • OCC's report launch
  • Recent experience of Keith Vaz
  • Family of the week-Ravi
 Previous versions are available by clicking on 'Past Issues' on the top left hand side at the link above.

If you'd like to receive the newsletters directly into your inbox, please sign up here.

BritCits Divided Family of the Week - Ravi

“My parents are alone in India as both my sister and I live here.  Aged 70 and 80, they should not have to fend for themselves when we are willing and able to look after them.”

Ravi lives in the UK with his wife and daughter.  Having arrived here in 2009, Ravi is now an ILR holder and eligible for citizenship in March 2016.

An IT professional and entrepreneur – one of the brightest and best UK politicians go to India to woo – Ravi provides his services to clients across the UK, mainly in the engineering and banking sectors, often thought to be the backbone of the UK economy. 

Ravi chose the UK as much as UK chose him, as he was offered a very good career opportunity, because he believed that UK respected family life and certainly afforded its citizens and residents with fair opportunities to live with immediate family, especially when with no recourse to public funds!

Ravi’s wife, also an ILR holder is a highly skilled professional working in the R&D department of a multinational company, which has its development centre in the UK.

The couple has worked very hard – with no recourse to public funds – to build their life and career in the UK, returning to the country in multiples by way of taxes and contributions to society, for the opportunities they have been given.

Ravi’s mum and dad are aged around 70 and 80 years respectively; they live in India by themselves, in an apartment belonging to Ravi, on whom they are dependent – financially and otherwise.  Both parents have mobility issues; neither can drive and there is only so much even good-hearted neighbours will do.

Ravi is very close to his parents; prior to moving to the UK he lived in the same household as his parents.  There is no other immediate family around as Ravi’s only other sibling, Veena, also lives in the UK where she is a doctor working for the NHS.  As Veena tends to the needs of those already in the UK, her own parents are left to fend for themselves, even in times of ill health.

Ravi’s daughter is also very close to her grandparents; even when Ravi and his wife lived in India, she was looked after by her grandparents who provided the day to day care she needed as both Ravi and his wife worked. 

When Ravi’s wife joined him in the UK in February 2010, the little girl stayed alone with her grandparents, who then became her primary carers until September 2010, allowing Ravi and his wife to establish a life for themselves without worrying about entrusting their child’s care to strangers in a foreign country.   When in December 2011 the grandparents indicated they were lonely and missed their granddaughter, Ravi and his wife agreed she could spend an extended period living with them in India again, where once again the grandparents became primary carers until April 2012.

The little girl is therefore especially close to her grandparents, and for them, she has been the focal point in their lives when they otherwise would have been alone.  The three miss each other very much; the cuddles and affection so often a part of the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.

Contrary to the impression many have, that domestic help in India is cheap, the cost is increasing at a dramatic pace, but the real problem is that it’s unreliable, disorganised and requires placing a lot of trust in complete strangers – the concept of criminal checks equivalent to UK’s CRB checks, doesn’t really exist.  Elderly known to have their only family overseas are likely to be vulnerable to scamsters.

Earlier in 2015, Ravi’s dad was hospitalised.  His mum neglected to inform Ravi, not wanting him to worry from afar.  She thus tended to her husband alone whilst also battling her own diabetes and severe arthritis.  Later when Ravi discovered this, he indicated this ‘pained me a lot, I cursed myself for the helplessness’.

The guilt invoked at being unable to be there for those who gave us life is difficult to explain in words; not only can he not be there physically for his parents, or have them join him in the UK, but that they feel as if they can’t even tell him when one of them is ill, lest it cause him more stress, is hard to accept, especially when Ravi is only in the UK because of sacrifices his parents made.  Ravi curses himself for being unable to be there during both the hard and happy times.

Ravi indicates that because of work commitments, it’s not possible for either him or his sister to leave their work and take a long-haul flight to India every time they are sick of need medical attention.  But this means that despite having raised two caring, financially-independent children, his parents are now in fact forced to be all alone.

With his mum suffering from depression, Ravi’s father also looks after her even while having health issues himself.  Its symbiotic relationship as families so often involve.

But it’s not just about providing care for physical ailments.  It’s about being there for each other.  Having a cup of ‘chai’ with your dad, watching sitcoms with your mum, playing with the drapes of your grandma’s sari for the little girl – it’s the small things that end up being memorable and thus missed.

Ravi’s sister, Veena, did consider sponsoring their parents citizenship back in 2010, under the old rules.  However they did not want to move then.  They had a good social life in India, in familiar surroundings.  Moving to a new country at this age, did not really appeal.

However, now their friends in India all live with their own children and grandchildren; at social events, they are the only ones alone while others come with their complete family – there is a clear void in their lives. 

This elderly couple is lonely, understandably pining for what they see around them on a daily basis.  However, as parents who do not even let their children know when they are hospitalised, lest it cause worry, the couple is keen to not disrupt the lives Ravi and Veena have worked hard to establish here and have indicated that they want to move to the UK ‘if it is not too much trouble’ for Ravi and Veena. 

Ravi is bemused as to why his parents can’t live with him.  A hard-working, law-abiding, net contributor, he just wants to be able to spend some time looking after his own parents in their old age. 

His parents would have no recourse to public funds, but Ravi is willing to also sign a bond that as their sponsors, the rest of his family, even when British citizens, will not avail of any benefits for whatever number of years is required.  He is also ready to take out private health insurance to address the NHS concerns. 

Ravi and his sister are perfectly capable of taking care of their parents, and ensuring they won’t be a burden on the state. Yet they are made to feel like second class citizens denied the basic human right and responsibility to take care of family.

There is also concern for the impact of the absence of grandparents in Ravi’s daughters life as grandparents so often are the ones who teach their grandchildren about their language, heritage and culture; it’s a very special bond.

If the rules are not changed to allow sponsorship of his parents, Ravi will leave his adopted country - now his country of nationality - and live where he can look after his parents.  However, it is not right that a British citizen is forced out of his own country for simply wanting to look after family without recourse to public funds.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Children and visas

An incredibly touching video showing a child's reaction to discovering his 'baba' got a UK visa.   'Baba' is the boy's stepfather, and the mum informs us the two are very close and the little boy kept saying "this is my bestest day ever".  The innocence of the response is heartwarming and the excitement contagious.

It is however sad when children so young have to face the harsh realities of UK's divisive family immigration rules especially when it has been inflicted on us by our own politicians who are paid to supposedly represent us.  We hope sense and justice will soon prevail so kids can once more be excited at the thought of playing games and going on holidays, rather than for something as basic as being able to hug a parent.

Monday 10 August 2015

BritCits newsletter 10th August

BC's latest newsletter: covering legal challenge of ADR rules and meetups to come in London and Edinburgh.

Previous versions are available by clicking on 'Past Issues' on the top left hand side at the link above.

If you'd like to receive the newsletters directly into your inbox, please sign up here.
'Love Letters to the Home Office' at the Edinburgh Festival

Via:Katharine / Love Letters to the Home Office

There will be a one-off reading of the Love Letters to the Home Office show this Thursday 13th August at 10.30pm at the Edinburgh Festival.  It is in the Paines Plough ROUNDABOUT venue at Summerhall.

Tickets are only £4 for families affected by the Rules (no proof required - the organisers trust that divided families are who they say they are) so do please let divided families in the Edinburgh area know about the show. Please do also share on social media.

Here's the link to the show, and tickets can be bought here too:
Love Letters to the Home Office on Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/lovelettershome
Previous posts about Love Letters Home / the White Feather Campaign : http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/love%20letters%20to%20the%20home%20office 

Stories from the book : http://lovelettershome.org/stories/stories-book/

BritCits Divided Family of the Week - 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 restrictions attached 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 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 playing a major part.