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'Ashamed to Be British': The Immigration Rules Keeping Married Couples Apart

23/09/2013 10:53 BST | Updated 22/11/2013 10:12 GMT

When Katie Frazer married her South African husband Cliff Frazer in 2010, she had no idea how difficult it would be to bring him to live with her in the UK.

The 31-year-old trained primary school teacher is living thousands of miles from her beloved in the UK after falling victim to the government's recently introduced £18,600 salary requirement to bring a non-EU spouse to the UK.

The rules, introduced on July 9 2012, mean that British citizens who earn below this amount are being separated from their non-EU partners and children and forced to live in separate countries, or if possible "exile" themselves to their partner's country.

Katie works as a senior practitioner for a children and families trust and currently meets the salary requirement, but recently her hours came under threat and she was facing the terrifying prospect of being permanently separated.

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The pair met in South Africa in 2007 when Katie was on a world tour. They were engaged in May 2009 and Katie went to live with Cliff in South Africa in October 2010.

But after her father died following a tough battle with bowl cancer in April 2012, Katie wanted to move back to Acle, a town in Norfolk, to support her 71-year-old mother who was dianosed with depression following the death.

Katie says the separation is putting their lives on hold as they hope to start a family but don't want to raise children in South Africa, as it is a less secure environment than the UK.

"It's stopping us settling down," she said. "It's stopping us making decisions on where we want to live, starting a family, buying a property. It's just delaying everything."

She thinks that, despite now being able to meet it, the £18,600 requirement is an unfair amount.

"They've got no right to tell you who you can and you can't fall in love with," she said. "We've known each other six years now. It's definitely a legitimate relationship and we just want to get on with our lives and we can't.

Katie says the government's approach to reducing immigration is misplaced.

"They need to tackle the people who are illegal immigrants rather than the people who are trying to do everything legally," she said. "I just find it difficult that all the Europeans are here and the claims that they can make, yet myself and my husband have never had recourse to public funding."

Because the £18,600 salary requirement is imposed by the UK government, it does not apply to EU citizens living in the UK, so if Katie were any other EU nationality she would be permitted to bring Cliff in.

"I suppose it makes me a bit ashamed to be British, because why should it be different?" she said. "It's just unfair. When I've been in South Africa I've always been very positive about my country. I understand that rules and regulations do need to be in place, but I just think these are too rigorous."

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Her 33-year-old husband is even more frustrated than her.

"He gave up his life over there," she said. "When we got the visit visa we sold everything and he came over. His life is on hold. He's living with his brother and not working at the moment. He's seeking work but it's not that easy to come by."

They originally intended to come to the UK earlier but Cliff, who worked in finance in South Africa, wanted to finish his two-year Business Administration degree there first to improve his job prospects. However, that delayed them coming over and the new rules came into force.

"He could have been here by now," said Katie. "It was literally the end of July 2012 we were looking into it and we couldn't believe we'd missed it literally by a couple of weeks. It was a shock."

She said her relationship should not have to be put through this unnecessary test and coping with the separation has not been easy.

"I've just been trying to keep as busy as possible to keep my mind off it," she said. "I've felt a bit of loneliness because I'm in a new area and I don't know anybody here. I've got my mum, but I don't have friends round here.

"I started a relatively new job just before Cliff left so that's been keeping me really occupied. I travel most weekends to see friends. I booked to go and see him within a few weeks because I needed something to look forward to. I needed to know when I'm actually going to see my husband again."

Last week Katie managed to top up her hours from 28 to 35 a week by working in the visitor's centre of Norwich prison and, having consulted with an immigration lawyer, she hopes that Cliff will be granted a visa within four to six weeks.

She is of course hugely relieved.

"Although we are still awaiting the final application and decision-making process I am feeling optimistic that we meet all of the requirements and believe the UKBA should have no reason to refuse Cliff's visa," she said.

"I actually feel quite proud of how Cliff and I have been coping through the months of separation we have had to endure through no choice of our own."

Others, however, have not been so lucky. Channel 4 journalist Simon Israel recently highlighted the plight of a British woman whose husband is stuck in war torn Syria despite her meeting the £18,600 salary requirement.