On Thursday I watched a tv programme. Nothing out of the ordinary about that but it was on Channel 5 and I knew before I watched it that Channel 5 does not show the most truthful and revealing documentaries but I thought I would give it the benefit of the doubt.
Big mistake, massive, huge mistake! The name of the programme? Sham Wedding Crashers. Synopsis? An investigative journalist posed as a best man together with an actress acting as the bride to expose a sham wedding.
I ended up shouting at the television most of the time. I understand there are people who set out to exploit the system and I get that. What I don’t get is that they seemed to demonstrate that a) getting married automatically equals a visa and b) it is easy and quick to get married.
It’s not. I speak from experience. Admittedly things may have changed since 2006/7 but I want to share my experience in the hope that people won’t be fooled by the media into thinking sham weddings are the norm. I wouldn’t have minded if Channel 5 had showed two sides to the story but they didn’t.
So I met my husband back in November 2004. He’s from Libya and was in the UK on a student visa. We met, fell in love and in October 2006 he proposed to me. At the time he had submitted his application for his student visa to be extended to complete his course. He had submitted it in July and had not received a response by October. We decided on a venue and booked a wedding for November 2007 as we looked into the guidelines to obtain a certificate of approval to get married and the guidelines said 90% of the applications would be decided in 3 months. We were still waiting for the student visa decision but on advice from the Home Office we submitted the application anyway.
On or around February 2007 we received news that his student visa would be declined. They returned his passport and we launched an unsuccessful appeal. We rang the Home Office and they said we could either a) send his passport in on the basis that we had an outstanding application or b) he should go home on the basis of being an overstayer but we would forfeit our application and the application fee (£400). We decided to continue with the application as £400 was a lot of money but it meant that he was unable to work on the basis that he had no right to remain.
As it started to approach August we began to feel worried as we had heard nothing from the Home Office. We rang every other day asking about progress and all we were told was that it was in progress. We resorted to contacting our MP but even she had no luck.
It meant that in November 2007 (11 months after the application was submitted) we ended up having the marriage ceremony without the legal marriage. It could have been horrendous but it wasn’t, it was lovely.
Over the next few months we persisted contacting the Home Office. Each time we emphasised the need to get the application sorted. We were in constant fear that they would withdraw the application and were also struggling with money relying on friends and family.
Eventually we received correspondence! A questionnaire for each of us asking us to divulge details about where we met, our first date, when we talked about marriage, what we wanted out of life, where we wanted to live…the list was endless and we had to provide copies of proof like photos, cards, letters, bills. Just imagine sharing bits of your life to a complete stranger and having to write it all down.
Finally in October 2008 we received the certificate of approval. We quickly arranged a visit to the registrar and on 5 November 2008 (1 year 2 days after our intended marriage date) we were legally married!
Was that it? Well no. We then spent about two months trying to track down and locate his passport and working out our next steps. In January 2009 my husband left to go to Libya to apply for leave to remain as a spouse (£500 cost). He couldn’t apply in the UK as he was classed as an overstayer (despite the fact the Home Office caused him to overstay!). He left and I was not sure whether I would ever see him in the UK again as there was no guarantee that he would be granted the application. Five weeks later (thank heavens the British Embassy was quicker at deciding applications than the Home Office) he landed at the airport and, after a call to me, he was allowed through.
Two years passed by and we had to apply for indefinite leave for him to remain. £700 later for that application, a test to check he knew when penicillin was invented and a visit to the Liverpool office for an instant decision (we were taking no chances this time) he was allowed to remain in the UK. Did this mean he was a British citizen? No, that was another application and another 3 months of waiting. Finally he could apply for a British Passport and he is now self employed and works in addition. He works pretty much 7 days a week and contributes taxes. He speaks better English than me and he is a ‘functioning member of British society’.
As well as the monetary impact, words cannot describe the strain on our relationship during the four years. There were tears that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Even writing this blog post is making me cry remembering all the feelings we had during that time but through it all I had friends and family rooting for us both and through it all I knew that my husband was worth the fight. On Monday we will be celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary. Everyday I am thankful that he came into my life and more thankful that the Home Office did not make us part. I get the need for immigration rules. I studied law and took immigration as an option during my Legal Practice Course. I even applied for a job at the UK Border Agency after university! But please bear in mind that the Channel 5 programme shows a sliver of society and it isn’t the norm. I am angry at people who take part in sham marriages. I am angry at the Home Office for focusing all their energy on that small section of society and leaving the rest of us to literally go through hell.