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‘We’re a family not a case number’

LIVING IN LIMBO: British citizen Debbie Catwell’s husband has been denied a spousal visa

NET MIGRATION is down – cut by a third since its peak in 2010, according to statistics and the government says, that it is winning its ‘war’ on immigration.

Its new raft of policy changes, which include amendments to the family visa, have already resulted in a rise in settlement refusals and a significant decline in long-term migration from the ‘New Commonwealth’, regions which include Africa and the Caribbean.

But critics warn rampant refusals are affecting relationships and families, which are now in danger of breaking down.

One of the more controversial changes was the amendment to the spousal visa. Under new rules EU residents have to earn an annual salary of £18, 600 to have their non-EU spouse join them in the UK.

The Catwell family, who is being supported by Migrants Rights We are Family campaign, is one of those who have been affected.

Debbie Catwell is a British citizen. Her father served in the British Army for 23 years.

Her husband, Robin, is from Barbados, the couple have been together for 20 years and have four children. The youngest is 8 years old.

They live in Barbados, but kept links to the UK. In 2011, the Catwells’ decided to move back for the children’s education.

Debbie said: “Initially, we didn't apply for a spousal visa. Robin came and went as a visitor as he owns his business in Barbados.

“But when he came back in October 2012 he was asked about his frequent visits. He explained to them he had children and a spouse here. He was given one week in the country and told to go back to Barbados and apply for a spousal visa from there.”

The family applied in December of that year, but were turned down as Debbie, who became a stay-at-home mother after her six-year-old daughter died of cancer, does not come into the £18,600 threshold.

Debbie said: “Robin does not have even as much as parking ticket, so we thought it was an open and shut case. I was shocked when he told me we had been refused.

“We appealed that refusal and we were promised an answer by July this year – but there is no news till yet.”

As Robin cannot come to the UK until he gets his spousal visa, the family have been separated, which is having a “devastating” impact on their children, particularly their behaviour and schoolwork, said Debbie.

She added: “We used to Skype with my husband every day but we don’t now as it’s too upsetting [because he can’t be with us in person].

“I feel like we are being punished. You are doing everything right, everything by the book and it looks like honesty doesn’t pay. We have done nothing wrong; we don’t want benefits.

“I don’t see why I must go to work to provide £18,600 for Theresa May when my husband more than meets that. To the Home Secretary, we are just a case number; I want her to know we are a real family.”

A Home Office spokesperson said it does not comment on individual cases, but added that applications are considered on their individual merits, in line with its immigration rules.

He added: “We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard and make a contribution. Our family rules have been designed to make sure that those coming to the UK to join their spouse or partner will not become a burden on the taxpayer and will be well enough supported to integrate effectively.”

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The Clarke family's story

MAJORIE CLARKE fled Jamaica in 1999. Forced to leave her four children, she sought asylum in Britain after members of her family had been killed. She herself had been reportedly targeted and attacked in front of her young son.

Clarke’s lawyer Hillary Brown, of Virgo Consultancy Services, described how she suffered through delays and a myriad of other challenges in her battle to secure indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

When Clarke and her son, who had witnessed her attack, were invited for an initial interview for her asylum application, they were made to sit together – against her lawyer’s advice – as she recounted her horrific experiences.

The interview had to be stopped because the boy became so upset he collapsed on the ground in a fit of hysteria. The immigration officer apologised and admitted the family needed help. Yet the Home Office refused Clarke’s claim for asylum and granted a four-year exceptional leave to remain instead.

Not having refugee status meant that Marjorie and her son were not able to access the services they needed to help them rebuild their lives in Britain. Clarke became depressed and her son began to get into trouble with the law.

Since then, she has married another Jamaican migrant and had three children. Her settlement application was declined and even while the family faced homelessness and poverty, Clarke had to take her case to the High Court where she was granted discretionary leave to remain for an additional 30 months.

Clarke, who has now been in the UK for more than a decade in total, said the system is unfair: “I feel like the insecurity, the limbo is never going to end for me. When this leave is up I have to start fighting again. It has had such a bad impact on me. Sometimes I wonder if [UKBA] are human, if they’ve got kids or a family themselves.”

The Home Office told The Voice it had nothing to further to add to this case as Clarke’s 30-month visa had been approved.

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