Family Unity - the European Way
Guest Post by Chris Mead. Chris is the sponsor of a non EEA spouse and founder of the Family Immigration Alliance. After his own experiences as a Brit re-entering his home country he set up the blog in 2011 to promote the experiences and perspectives of families under the new immigration rules.
It must be no surprise to the UKBA and immigration observers that since the July changes to family migration, sponsors and applicants for family visas have sought alternative routes to legitimately enter the UK. As European citizens, British sponsors’ attention has been drawn increasingly towards the ‘EEA Family permit’ as the long way round to achieving a family life in the UK.
The EEA family permit makes it possible for British citizens who have been “exercising treaty rights” in another EEA country (i.e. having lived and worked in another EEA country) to return to the UK with their non-EEA spouse. It is also free, being a part of European free movement legislation and is enabled by a European court judgement called ‘Surinder Singh’, which allows a person to exercise their treaty rights not only in other member states, but in their country of origin too.
The family permit is essentially a visa for entry clearance, which lasts for 6 months and also entitles the non-EEA holder to live and work – in fact, these are rights they then have for as long as they remain in the UK, even after the family permit expires. So with increased discussion about this route I want to share my experience on this route with my New Zealander wife, with the aim of attracting clarifications from others who have been on this route too.
We got married in Feb 2011 and applied for an EEA family permit in March2011. We were living in Germany at the time.
In applying for an EEA permit; the only evidence required was to show that I, as the sponsor, had lived and worked in Germany. This was on the UKBA’s website detailing the evidence requirement, and was confirmed over the phone with them too.
In the wake of a Panorama investigation on sham marriages, to prove the integrity of our relationship, as we had not been married long, we took extra precautions. We also submitted a letter from my dad confirming our living costs would be taken care of while we lived with them – 3rd party support being acceptable on top of some small savings.
We compiled wedding cards, Christmas cards and photos of us together over the years in support of the application. We then went to submit all the documents and were advised by the staff not to bother sending the additional evidence of our relationship. They were apparently never requested for EEA family permits, and could complicate the process as evidence of my exercising treaty rights was all that was necessary. So we omitted the cards and photos from our application.
After a month we were finally informed that our application had been rejected on the grounds that we were party to a sham marriage – with no evidence of a genuine or subsisting relationship. We were rejected for not providing evidence that hadn’t been asked for online, by phone or in person.
This threw us into a tailspin, we opted to apply again (rather than wait 9 months to appeal), this time plying our application with a 2 year time-stamped facebook conversation, on top of the previous evidence we were originally discouraged from sending. We appeared, again, to submit this information to the surprised expression of WorldBridge staff; who had never seen an EEA family permit applicant be rejected before.
After 6 weeks we were successful.
When we arrived at the airport, the Immigration Officer was confused; not knowing how to respond to an EEA permit. Then, realising I was British, she argued that we had been given the visa by mistake and that we shouldn’t have been eligible. We spent the next hour answering the same questions on the application form, about my time in Germany. When they finally let us through, the Immigration Officer didn’t miss the chance to make her opinions clear; suggesting it was just a clever way to avoid UK immigration rules.
In the 6 months that followed, we both successfully got work and applied for EEA2; so my wife could continue to prove her rights to work here after the family permit expired. I had only temporary work and no other means of income. So in order to prove I could continue to support my wife (in a similar way to a spousal visa, only my income qualified), I submitted payslips and revised contracts throughout the 6 month processing period. The key difference here between the spousal route and EEA route (besides no risk of overstaying), is that 3rd party support could be sent in support of the application, as well my wife’s income – which was permanent. The main similarity between this and the spousal route is that the onus is still on the sponsor to prove they can support the spouse, where it was more likely at that stage that she would be supporting me. Luckily I got a permanent job a year ago, and we finally got the EEA 2 permit in March 2011. Had we have failed, my wife would have been allowed to stay and continue to work – but proving that would have been harder than it was with an Immigration Officer.
In 4 more years we shall probably apply for settlement – my only anxiety being how the status of EEA nationals in the UK may change in the meantime.
Due to the upheaval involved in exercising treaty rights, Surinder Singh and the EEA family permit is something of a path less trodden for British citizens. It offers a strong rights protection for family life, that we are now fighting to restore for the spousal route, but it comes with practical confusion. In spite of the oft cited ease that EEA nationals have to live, work and claim benefits here, obtaining documentation still requires an equivalent responsibility to demonstrate support for a non-EEA spouse, without recourse to public funds.
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