Irene Clennell first arrived in London in 1988, before the Home Office’s younger staff members were even born. Soon after, she married a British man called John, and received indefinite leave to remain. They made their home in County Durham. They have two children and one grandchild.
Now, though, Clennell is in Singapore, after being detained and forcibly deported on the orders of the British government.
Her crime? She spent periods of time back in Singapore caring for her ailing parents, enough to invalidate her indefinite leave to remain. It seems the Home Office decided her parents took too long to die.
Clennell’s case matters – and not just because her husband last heard from her sobbing on a plane. Her family is the latest to be torn apart by the government’s stringent immigration rules.
As well as an inflexible approach to the amount of time spent in the UK, the rules demand that British citizens must earn £18,600 a year to bring over a non-EU spouse – a rule that discriminates against women, who are more likely to work part-time for less pay, and those living in lower-paid regions of the country.
With EU nationals facing an uncertain future, and the government desperate to meet immigration reduction targets, this inflexible approach matters. Here are some of the families that have felt the consequences:
1. The father who can’t see his son
Toni Stew, from Worcester, met her husband Mohamed El Faramawi in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. But this was no holiday romance – they got married six years later, and have a young son.
But because Stew works part time, in order to care for her son, she does not earn enough to sponsor her husband’s move to the UK.
El Faramawi has only met his son a few times since the birth 17 months earlier.
2. A couple trying to look after their parents
Kevin Draper, from Bristol, met his wife Mae, originally from the Philippines, through friends in Hong Kong. In 1995 they settled in the UK, but then a job came up in Dubai.
In 2011, sad news summoned Kevin home – he needed to care for his mother, who had Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, Mae’s mother passed away, and she went to support her family in the Philippines.
She was advised to apply for a UK visitor visa, and finally received one in 2013 after two failed attempts. Having been reunited with her husband and daughter, she decided to apply for a spouse visa. But in 2014 she was told that in order to do that, she would have to return to the Philippines, and the process could take another two years.
3. A British father who was made redundant
Dominic James met his wife, an American named Katy, in 2005. After they married a year later, she managed to join him in Edinburgh for three years.
They moved out to Seattle, where they had a daughter, but the couple always intended to return to the UK. James managed to get a transfer from his employer to the Edinburgh office, but was made redundant shortly afterwards.
Despite Katy’s work experience in the UK, her visa application was denied because James, now self-employed, did not earn enough to meet the minimum income requirement rules. (The Home Office eventually granted Katy 30 months longer to stay).
4. A mother who thought the UK was home
Beverley Boothe arrived in the UK in 1979 as a teenager, to join her parents who had emigrated from Jamaica in the 1960s.
According to Boothe, she received indefinite leave to remain in 1980. At some point in the next three decades, she lost the passport with the original stamp in it. But she assumed the Home Office had a record of her application.
It turns out they didn’t – records are only kept for 15 years from the date of the “last action”. Boothe, a criminology graduate, gave the Home Office her fingerprints and information about her family. Just before Christmas 2013, she was ordered to go to Jamaica or face deportation.
Not only did Boothe have no close family to return to, she had her own children in the UK. Although they all have British fathers, her youngest daughters were unable to obtain passports because of her status.
5. A father facing separation from his wife… and parents
In 2012 AJ, an American, moved with his father to South Shields, Tyneside, when he went to join his new wife. There, AJ met Lian Papay, and fell in love. The couple discovered they were expecting, and married in 2013.
But Lian did not earn enough to sponsor AJ, and so her husband is forced to rely on short-term visas. Ironically, when AJ flys back to the United States, he leaves not only his wife and son, but his father and stepmother.
6. A woman who wanted to care for her father-in-law
Gary Walsh, a Falklands war veteran, married his wife Xia Zhao, an accountant, more than 16 years ago and has two adolescent children.
The family lived in Malaysia, but flew to the UK after hearing Gary’s elderly father was unwell.
Xia Zhao came on a one-year visa, but after discovering how ill her father-in-law was, applied to stay and work so the family could care for him. Her application was refused, and she was advised to apply instead from China in a process that could take years.