The Colvilles could be faced with
the prospect of leaving the UK
following a series of blunders.
A married couple from Chester's life has been turned upside down following a mix-up by UK immigration authorities, threatening to either force them apart or to leave the UK.
When Briton Craig Colville, 31, married his Canadian wife Crystal, 29, in July last year, the couple pictured little other than a straight forward UK visa application for married partners.
The couple earned enough to meet the £18,600 salary requirement required to be eligible for a UK visa and had enough evidence to prove their marriage was genuine; they had little reason to think their application would be anything but straightforward.
First bad news
"You have to change your visa if you are a married couple so Crystal applied because she was now married to a British citizen," said Craig.
"We applied in September and then got a letter on February 4. You have to sign for it so they know you've received it. Crystal was at work so I asked her permission to open it.
"I was expecting it to be a happy result and that we'd all go out for a drink later, but the first I saw was 'REFUSED' in big black letter.
"It was a shock."
While UK visa applications can often be a complicated process and, particularly in the case of partner visas - which are open to abuse due to the subjective nature of a 'genuine relationship' - the Colvilles could not have expected to be rejected in this manner.
The letter did not so much concentrate on Crystal's application but on Craig, going so far as to claim he is not a British Citizen:
'You [Crystal] have not demonstrated any insurmountable obstacles that would prevent you from continuing your family life outside the UK, given that your spouse [Craig] does not hold settled status, is not a British Citizen and is not a person with refugee leave/humanitarian protection,' read the letter.
Craig was born and has lived most of his life in Wales, before moving to Chester a year ago.
"That was when I knew they had made a mistake, I just stood there reading it over and over for about 15 minutes in the post office not understanding how it had happened," he said.
"It was utter disbelief. I have deep family roots in the area. I have an identical twin brother whose citizenship has never been questioned. He was born nine minutes before me...that wouldn't have given my mother any time to cross a national border!"
A worsening situation
To make matters worse, the couple were given a deadline to appeal the decision and resubmit their documents, including the required financial evidence which was missing in the original application but mistook the stated deadline.
"Between us we earn well in excess of [the £18,600 threshold], we provided our employer details but didn't send them any bank statements or pay slips," Craig said.
"So we appealed and sent them the information. We were given a deadline of 10 working days by a letter signed on behalf of Theresa May, the Home Secretary. It arrived on February 4, so we had until February 18. It said so in black and white!
"We put everything together carefully and double checked it and then we sent it off."
However, the reply was further bad news, with the Home Office informing the couple the 10 working days had included weekends - putting the deadline at 14 February.
"The whole situation is extremely stressful," said Craig. "It goes from being ridiculous, hilarious, a big joke, to really upsetting.
"If we could have a chat with someone for just 10 minutes it would save time, effort and public money."
The UKBA has retained Crystal's passport, preventing her from leaving the country and the couple now fear the UKBA will revoke her right to work in the UK.
Should this happen, the couple will fall below the £18,600 threshold, making them ineligible for a UK visa in any fresh application.
"The Border Agency are still holding Crystal's passport, which means she can't return home to see her family. She can't leave the country, she can't update her name on her bank account, she can't sign up for a doctor though she's been working here and paying tax."
Crystal Colville shared her husband's frustrations:
"When I asked for an appointment to speak to someone face to face I was told that wasn't possible," she said.
"I know they have a backlog of cases, but these mistakes were avoidable and we did nothing wrong.
"We're just hoping everything will work out right."
Marissa Murdock, casework manager at the UK Visa Bureau, says the Colville's case is an extremely unfortunate situation but one which highlights the need for qualified migration agents.
"The Border Agency is one of the most overworked and busiest Government departments in the UK and the constant heavy caseload they have to deal with can lead to mistakes occurring," said Ms Murdock.
"While the Colvilles have been incredibly unlucky to fall victim to what is likely to have been a clerical error in mistaking Craig Colville's citizenship status, it does prove how vital it is to ensure all documents and pay slips etc. are properly prepared and sent in time.
"With such an incredible caseload, many applicants have just one chance to submit their applications to the UKBA and if it isn't done correctly, any error or slip up on either the applicants' or the UKBA's part can result in disaster."
- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the UK Visa Bureau.
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