Bringing your spouse to live in the UK shouldn’t be this stressful

As I write this, I haven’t seen my wife for six months. We have been kept apart unlawfully, me here in the UK and her stranded in South Korea, following a Home Office error which saw her denied entry into the UK for ten years. Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy in action.

Our story is a simple one; I moved to Korea to teach English in 2013, I met Seulgi there where she worked as a bar manager, and we fell in love. I proposed on a cloudy mountaintop in 2017 and we immediately made plans to start a life together in the UK. It seemed a sensible choice; a life together in a country with better working conditions, higher salaries, a free health service and fresh air. We even went to Seoul’s registry office to marry three months in advance of our planned wedding day, because we knew we would need our marriage certificate early to prepare for Seulgi’s UK visa application.
We quickly became acquainted with the rules, regulations and flaming hoops set by our glorious, Tory-run Home Office. Yet despite the many obstacles piled up in front of my right to bring my foreign spouse to my home, we managed to meet all of the requirements and submitted all of the necessary documents. Everything was double and triple checked and then tied up with ribbons (literally in some cases). Everything from the sincerity of our relationship, my income, my job prospects, Seulgi’s health and her English ability would be scrutinized. But we weren’t worried, there was no reason we should fail.

I came back to the UK in January, ahead of Seulgi and while we waited for her visa, so that I could take up work (as is necessary for such an application to be successful) and to set up our first home here. But then in March, inexplicably, an anonymous ‘Entry Clearance Officer’ from the Home Office declared our marriage certificate to be “not valid” and Seulgi was informed that she would not be allowed entry into the UK for a decade. Bearing in mind I was already in the UK and Seulgi was all packed up and ready to leave.

Of course, our marriage certificate is valid, and we quickly appealed against the decision. Its validity is something that we easily confirmed in a five minute call to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was surprised that our own Home Office doesn’t seem capable of such a call. Our appeal, a simple request for the Clearance Officer to double check our marriage certificate, cost another £1,500 on top of our original £3,000 in application fees.

The mandated deadline for a Home Office response came and went. We were ignored. I approached my MP who could do nothing except call and confirm that we had been ignored. I approached a Baroness who told me she was powerless. I emailed Sajid Javid who never got back to me. By June, we had had enough. Six months apart with no idea when we would see each other again is quite an emotional strain, not to mention the drain on our finances. We made plans for me to move back to Korea, and I accepted that I would be forced to say goodbye to my job, my home, my friends and my family in the UK. As a last ditch attempt, more out of frustration than hope, I put out a call on social media to get 100 people to email the immigration minister, Caroline Nokes, to force some kind of response.

People came out to help remarkably quickly. My local Lib Dem branch shared my posts. Within hours we had sent the 100 emails. By the end of the day, over 300 emails had been sent, no doubt flooding Nokes’ inbox, and they continued to be sent overnight. Friends, family, and Lib Dems across the country were writing, demanding that someone double-check our marriage certificate. It would take minutes, saving us months of suffering. And it worked! 24 hours later Seulgi received a generic email response from the Home Office stating that the refusal decision had been overturned and she would be granted her rightful visa immediately. At the time of writing, her passport has just been submitted and we are waiting for the visa to be glued into its pages. She should be joining me here within a fortnight, hopefully just in time for the World Cup final.

Now this has been quite a miraculous and dramatic result and we couldn’t be happier. We have been deeply touched, in particular, by the outpouring of support from the Liberal Democrats, most of them strangers, who rallied behind us in our time of need. But the issue remains; this just isn’t the way that life changing visa decisions should be made. It shouldn’t take 300 emails from the public to correct a minor error. These errors shouldn’t even be made in the first place. Though sadly we have already been contacted by couples stuck in identical situations, arising even in the last few days. The Home Office is repeatedly not following due procedure, and it is honest families that are repeatedly suffering for it. A government is meant to work for its people, is it not? The Home Office carries out its duties in the name of protecting British citizens, does it not? So how is it that British citizens, many like me, are being denied their rights following unexplained errors, inherent incompetence and a complete lack of accountability? Even the Courts and Tribunals service, the mechanism in place to keep the Home Office in check, has no power to force adherence to the rules. The best we were offered for our trouble was a refund on the appeal, 18 months in the future and dependent on us fighting a court case. This is hardly a deterrent for the Home Office who are now known to make millions in profit of off their exorbitant application fees. No, that is not a solution, and it is certainly not fixing the root problem.

As an approved parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats, I have now been given a sharp reminder of why I wanted to stand in the first palace. It has become painfully clear to me that no one is really safe from the injustices of Theresa May’s Tory government, not even those of us that tried to follow their rules. I will now be striving to do whatever I can to fix our broken immigration system. I would see a Home Office that is held accountable for its decisions, and a Home Office that cannot hide behind anonymity. I would see an immigration system that cannot profit from visa fees and a system that must resolve cases within weeks rather than years. I would see arbitrary, financial barriers between young, international couples torn down and humanity bought back into the equation.

It is the Liberal Democrats that can build such a future and I know that, when Seulgi arrives, we will have at least one more member to help us get there.

* Luke Devenish is an approved Lib Dem candidate from Hitchin in Hertfordshire.

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15 Comments

  • The arbitrary horror of what The Home Office routinely put people through needs to be made clear to the British people, many of whom still seem to be under the impression that we’re open door and that all it takes to get citizenship is to marry someone.

  • “I would see arbitrary, financial barriers between young, international couples torn down and humanity bought back into the equation.”
    I would like to see the financial barriers to be removed for old international couples.

  • Does anyone have an insight into what it will take to change the culture of the home office? Presumably more than just a change of government, This was already a deeply discredited department under (New) Labour. It’s not possible to remove large numbers of civil servants I assume.

  • Under Clegg the Lib Dems contributed to this situation becoming tougher for Britons marrying foreigners.

  • Stephen Yolland 3rd Jul '18 - 6:41am

    As I keep saying, the Tories are our enemy. The enemy of all good people trying to play by the rules.

  • William Fowler 3rd Jul '18 - 7:08am

    Good start would be to charge three grand only for those visas that are successful, unsuccessful ones would be a couple of hundred quid – that would focus the minds of the box-tickers.

    Getting visas etc has been a long running battle, it got almost reasonable under Blair but now has become very tough… even something like Windrush did not dent the Tory support as they came out with the usual stuff about keeping illegal immigrants out and will doubtless do the same when this subject is broached even though it is barely relevant.

  • Luke – I hope you will spearhead a Lib Dem campaign against all this Home Office injustice. The Party Leadership, perhaps ashamed by their collusion with the Tories on making the bringing of partners into the UK more difficult, need to go to bat on this in a much bigger way. They should be encouraged to apologise and admit they were terribly wrong. We then need a campaign to clean up the Home Office and root out the racists and the sociopaths who make these awful and inhumane decisions.

  • Samantha Roberts 3rd Jul '18 - 8:55pm

    How do i get intouch with luke
    The very same that happened to him is happening to me right now

  • Luke Devenish 3rd Jul '18 - 10:45pm

    Samantha, I would be more than happy to help in any way that I can. You can reach me on Twitter @LWDevenish (dm me) or at [email protected]

    Thank you all for the interesting comments. Some constructive ideas. I would certainly like to drive this forward. I plan to stand run in an upcoming PPC selection and, should I be successful, it might give me a bit more of a platform to raise some of these issues within the party and beyond.

    Anthony_H – I can understand your concerns which are obviously shared by many in this country, and are therefore worth consideration. But it’s also clear that the current system is not working and too many innocent people are being penalised. A system of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ should not be the way we run our immigration system. The necessary language requirements are already in place for a visa to be granted, as you have suggested, and I agree that the process should be humanised so that applicants’ true relationships are taken into account, not only the papers they can produce. No such ‘human’ evidence is currently required by the Home Office. Though the exact form of such a humane assessment is a much longer topic in itself.

  • Antony_h
    I know two Britons living abroad who are going to get married. They have found the restrictions such that they will not return to the UK to get married. This means some family and friends will not be able to attend their wedding because of the expense of travelling.
    I do know some Pakistani Christian refugees. Would they not be able to integrate in the UK?

  • Yeovil Yokel 6th Jul '18 - 10:08am

    Forgive the late contribution, Luke, but I’ve been away and have only just spotted your article. My experience has been similar to, although nowhere near as bad as,
    yours so I’ll share a few hurried observations and tips.

    I married a woman from S.E. Asia in 2010 and after reams of paperwork with intrusive questions, much expense, and a six month wait, brought her to the UK at this time of year, which helped with acclimatisation. Unless you can afford to travel Business Class with the benefit of Fast Track Immigration I would try and avoid bringing your new wife into the UK through Heathrow, first because of the frequent congestion and occasional chaos, and second because a few Immigration officers are openly hostile towards foreigners – they are a tiny minority but your wife doesn’t want to be dealing with them after an arduous journey. Whichever airport you use check and double-check that you have all the necessary paperwork to hand before you leave S. Korea, and take her through Passport Control with you in the British/EU lane and tell the officer that you are spouses travelling together. I once made the mistake of sending my wife down the non-British/EU passport lane and had to watch from afar as she was verbally abused by an Immigration officer at her inability to answer questions in English, even though all her paperwork was in order. Before you arrive in the UK teach her to be able to answer a few basic questions in English, such as your nationality or what she did for a living in S. Korea. She may not be asked, but it’s as well to be prepared.

    On a more general point about paperwork: be punctilious in completing paperwork because mistakes will be punished by having to repeat the exercise and paying fees a second time, and as you will already have realised the processes are slow and expensive.

    When she arrives in the UK for the first time from S. Korea she may be surprised at how relatively scruffy and inefficient the UK is, and at the lack of law enforcement or respect for the elderly or people in authority – it isn’t all the Green & Pleasant Land she might have been expecting.

    Treat her and very importantly her family with respect, be moderate and stable in your behaviour, and don’t get drunk!

    Glad to hear that your local Lib Dems helped you out. All best wishes to you both in your new life in the UK, and don’t let the b******s grind you down!

  • Tony Dawson 8th Jul '18 - 8:43pm

    When I worked for a Lib Dem MP, correcting this sort of idiocy from the Home Office/Borders Agency was fairly routine and cost the person raising the matter nothing. As successive Tory reshuffles took place, however, the Ministers involved became less and less helpful. It was that ‘uncomfortable environment’ thing.

    Remember that you CAN sue the government and/or take them to the Court of Human Rights if you have been genuinely wronged by their staff doing things wrongly.

  • Dipsikha Thakur 10th Jul '18 - 12:45pm

    My spouse visa application has just been denied on the basis of lack of evidence (call records, photos etc) when in fact there was ABSOLUTELY no provision for such evidence to be presented as supporting documents. More importantly we gave all our contact details with the request that the ECO contact us if they need anything else. We would have been extremely happy to offer everything. Instead after paying thousands (application fee, IHS fee and priority service fee) we have a denial and our supporting documents are missing. My passport was returned to my house in Kolkata, India on Friday but I have not still not received my supporting docs which included an original marriage certificate and copies of notice of marriage and utility bills, employment contract of my husband and a bunch of other stuff.

    Can you please help us?

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