The human cost when the UK’s immigration system gets it wrong


Rhian Waller

"ALL WE want to do is be together," said Craig Colville... “but we're being held in limbo."

After marrying in July last year, Craig, 31, born in Wales, and his wife Crystal, formerly of Vancouver, should be going through a nesting period at their Chester home, thinking about their future careers and even about starting a family.

But thanks to two blunders by the Home Office and UK Border Agency, all that has been put on hold.

Craig said: "You have to change your visa if you are a married couple. So Crystal applied because she was now married to a British citizen.

"We applied in September and then got a letter on February 4. You have to sign for it so they know you've received it. Crystal was at work so I asked her permission to open it.

"I was expecting it to be a happy result and that we'd all go out for a drink later, but the first thing I saw was "REFUSED" in big black letters.

"It was a shock."

Even more of a shock was a section of the letter that said that Craig himself was not a British citizen.

It read: "You (Crystal) have not demonstrated any insurmountable obstacles that would prevent you from continuing your family life outside the UK, given that your spouse (Craig) does not hold settled status, is not a British Citizen and is not a person with refugee leave/humanitarian protection."

Craig, who was born in St Asaph, works in Mold, lived in Talacre for most of his life
and has resided in Chester for just under a year, was staggered by the statement.

He said: "That was when I knew they had made a mistake. I just stood there reading it over and over for about 15 minutes in the post office not understanding how it had happened.

"It was utter disbelief. I have deep family roots in the area. I have an identical twin brother whose citizenship has never been questioned. He was born nine minutes before me at HM Stanley Hospital, but that wouldn't have given my mother any time to cross a national border!"

To complicate things further, the couple had to prove they earned over a threshold of £18,600 a year.

Craig said: "Originally it was an oversight on our part. Between us we earn well in excess of that, but we provided our employer details but didn't send them any bank statements or pay slips.

"So we appealed and sent them the information. We were given a deadline of 10 working days by a letter signed on behalf of Theresa May, the Home Secretary. It arrived on February 4, so we had until February 18. It said so in black and white!

"We put everything together carefully and double checked it and then we sent it off."

But there was yet another sting in the mail when the Border Agency replied saying
the appeal had been quashed because the Colvilles missed the deadline.

In this new letter, the deadline was set as February 14 as the Agency failed to take into account the weekends.

Craig said: "The whole situation is extremely stressful. It goes from being ridiculous, hilarious, a big joke, to being really upsetting.

"The Border Agency are still holding Crystal's passport, which means she can't return home to see her family. Her brother is quadraplegic and she hasn't seen him in two years."

Craig slammed the Home Office for its "incompetence", saying he was disturbed by the fact they considered him a non-citizen despite being sent his passport and copies of documentation.

Now he fears the Border Agency may revoke Crystal's right to work, which would drop the couple below the salary threshold and make it impossible for her to stay.

He said: "She can't leave the country, she can't update her name on her bank account, she can't sign up for a doctor, though she's been working here and paying tax. It's crazy bureaucracy. But the terrible thing about it is that there's no way to talk to someone directly about it.

"If we could have a chat with someone for just 10 minutes it would save time, effort and public money.

"Just knowing that the people I trusted to hold my passport and details can manage to somehow class me as basically an illegal immigrant is remarkable. These are the people whose job it is to keep the bad guys out and the good guys in. It's worrying."

Crystal, 29, shared her husband's frustration.

She said: "It's driving me nuts just thinking about it. It affects everything I do. My little brother is in a wheelchair, so he can't fly. His birthday was on Sunday and I wanted to fly home and surprise him, but I couldn't.

"It seems that they want me to leave the country, but at the same time they won't let me because they're holding my passport.

"The worst thing is that they have a duty of care, but they are failing in it. I know they have a backlog of cases, but these mistakes were avoidable and we did nothing wrong.

“But nobody is reading the paperwork any more. And when I asked for an appointment to speak to someone face to face I was told that wasn't possible.

"We are just hoping everything will work out right."

Craig's only extensive time away from the UK was when he worked on the GTS Infinity, a cruise ship where he met Crystal in 2006.

He said: "We were in next-door cabins. She was a cruise cosmetician. The first time I saw her I thought: 'she looks like fun. She also looks trouble!'

"We got chatting at crew parties when we were stationed in Alaska for three months. It was an interesting place for a romance to blossom, but it meant she could go back to Vancouver to see her family.

"When we were in Hawaii, Crystal got a phone call saying she had to go home as soon as she could because her brother was in hospital.

“He'd been attacked and severely injured. I visited her when I could, but the cruise left at Christmas for South America. It was horrible.

"We then lost touch for a while. I had to go home to North Wales because my mother was ill.”

But despite the distance the relationship blossomed.

"In 2010 Crystal got a Youth Mobility Visa which allowed her to work here,” explains Craig.

"The whole plan was to get some money behind us and get on with being together.

"We got married in Llangollen. It was a beautiful wedding with family and friends.
We'd like to start a family and build a decent way of life, but that's pretty much impossible under the current circumstances."

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