‘It feels like your life is just on hold’
Brazilian Monica Leal, 48, married her British husband, Martin Turner, 40, in 2006 but decided to return to England after 10 years in Brazil to be closer to friends and family. Without a permanent job on arrival, the couple have not been allowed to settle here together. After Wednesday’s supreme court decision backing the government’s £18,600 minimum income rule for British citizens to bring non-European spouses into the country, now facing the prospect of many months apart.
In one word, we are devastated. I spoke to a lawyer a few weeks ago and he said not to hang our hopes on this but at least we had some hope. It’s so hard not to have any now, it’s so hard to digest. And now we are facing the reality that I have to leave.
It’s so hard to save the money when you are earning Brazilian currency. The rules about what kind of job you can have are so tricky, if it’s a temporary job or zero hours they won’t accept it.
We met in England in 2003, when I was on a student visa to learn English, but I wanted to go back to my profession in Brazil. He decided to come and live with me after a year of doing long-distance. Martin though is a really English person, he missed it here, he missed his family, the English way of life. I work in IT, it wouldn’t be difficult for me to find a job. And we’d saved some money, so we decided to return. And then we found out about this law.
I’ve got a few more months I can spend here with him and then I have to leave. We are trying to see if he meets the requirements but meanwhile we have to live apart. We have never been apart this much, and it feels like your life is just on hold. How can I get a proper job in Brazil now when I want to come here and live with him?
We had a good life in Brazil, we earned enough to be very comfortable. But now we are two households, paying separate bills, and we can’t save much. We have to spend everything we saved because of all this nonsense. People say: ‘Why don’t you go back to Brazil?’ but then it’s like he’s a second class citizen, not allowed to live in his own country. All our friends in London, they had no idea we would have to go through this. They say: ‘You are crazy, this law can’t exist?’ But it does.
‘I never expected it would be like this’
You never expect you will find yourself on the opposing side to your government. I think of myself as law-abiding and tax-paying and then suddenly your government wants to block the one most important thing to you. It should be a wonderful time, your first year of marriage, you find someone you love and the government says you don’t earn enough to live with them. It’s not just being in limbo – it’s the existential feeling of: I’m not welcome in my own country because I dared to marry someone from another country.
The idea that if you are earning under £18,600 that means you will automatically sponge off the government is just insulting. It completely violates the idea of innocent until proven guilty. We are one of the lucky ones, who have never been separated, and we still had to sell our house and leave the country. That shows you how discriminatory this law is.
When we met I had taken six months off work and went travelling, and I was able to do that because I owned my house, mortgage-free. And that was what ruined our chances of getting the visa. They look at the previous year’s income. Not anything else, not at what you would earn when you return to work. So the only other way you can apply for a visa is to have cash savings of £62,500 for six months.
We had to sell the house, and by that time my husband’s visa had run out. We ended up then having to move to Australia for six months so the cash could sit in the bank account. And we still don’t have the visa, we’ll find out in March.
When we eventually have it, we’ll have to move somewhere smaller because we had to take the equity out of the property, the costs of the process. And he’ll have to reapply in two and a half years, when hopefully we’ll be able to meet the income requirements.
My dad was Nigerian and my mum warned it would be hard, that we would have to prove our relationship was genuine. I’m perfectly happy to do that but I never expected it would be like this.
‘The whole thing has really disrupted our entire lives’
The whole thing has really disrupted our entire lives. We want to make it, we want to be paying citizens, we want to do something with our lives that would benefit the UK, but we are finding everything so hard. We just want to get our lives going, but everything is in limbo.
We are now thinking of moving to Ireland but Brexit has disrupted that plan too. We just want the freedom to live our lives, without the costs, without the administration. It feels like your life is just on hold because of political events.
The first application we did took four months, and in that four months the rules changed twice. The physical application process was near impossible: I went to the British High Commission in Harare and they wouldn’t even give me the list of documents I needed or the web address where I could find it. They just said I had to find it myself online.
When Vanessa returned to the UK to find a job, it put huge strain on us in the time we were apart. I didn’t have any right to come to the UK at all. I can’t just go there on holiday for months on end, we are both just starting out in our careers, employers don’t let you have holidays more than two or three weeks. You can’t just quit your job and do nothing for months while you go over there on a tourist visa. And it was the same for her too. So it has been really tough.
We were facing the prospect of 11 months apart, and not even certainty at the end of it. Vanessa is a photographer, but she changed careers, she tried recruitment, she worked at a restaurant in Surrey, but nothing matched the requirements of the visa, even with 45 hours work a week.
We were able to move to Kenya together because Vanessa has dual citizenship, and she could start up her photography business doing weddings and real estate and I found a job and eventually started my own business here. But even here, it’s $4,000 a year for me to have a work permit, it’s a huge amount of money.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010