The UK Border Agency (UKBA) backlog affecting postal further leave to remain (FLRm) applications has been well-documented and despite undertakings by the immigration authorities to reduce if not eliminate it by the end of 2012, huge numbers are still outstanding. In the first six months of 2012, there were 10,805 postal applications for UK spouse and partner visas and in November 6,236 were still pending. Reading these figures, one would be excused for assuming that this number represented couples whose situation needed further investigation, but a large percentage of that total more than meet the criteria of being financially self-sufficient and having adequate accommodation. Many are professional couples who want to move on in their careers but are prevented from doing so because of the time it is taking for the granting of a UK marriage visa.
When one member of a couple is a British citizen and the other is from outside the EU/EEA area, they need a proper visa before they can work in the UK, travel or even access health services. When delays of over ten months are the norm, as seems to be the case, this can put serious strain on the relationship. Living on one salary when they expected to have two professional level incomes is very stressful and couples report that one or both of them are suffering from depression as a result. More upsetting still, the foreign spouse or partner is often prevented from visiting their family abroad for weddings, holidays, to visit sick relatives and, very sadly, funerals. These life events are very important to everyone and more especially for those separated from their family and this shortfall in delivery of reasonable service by the UKBA is causing much sadness, distress and disharmony in families who had every reason to expect a happy future in the UK.
Some couples are using the Freedom of Information act to try to find out what is happening to their UK marriage visa application, but rarely get an answer. Results are variable but not often helpful. One couple who used the FoI ruling to try to get an answer did at least receive a reply – it said that the UKBA had failed to meet the 20-day target deadline and it would be in touch as soon as possible. This was the last communication they had – and the deadline of 20 days had, by the time of the letter, been exceeded by a staggering one hundred days! Other couples have received no replies at all.
Foreign spouses who are unable to work have sometimes attempted to use the time profitably by improving their English skills but they find that they are not allowed to study in colleges either. They are not allowed to volunteer, so many skills useful to the communities in which they live are being wasted. The British spouse is put under enormous strain as the single breadwinner and even there their hands are often tied; because the other partner is not allowed to travel, job opportunities have to be set aside if they wish to remain together.
The UKBA have issued a statement, but it will be cold comfort for the thousands of couples who still await a reply to their application for a UK spouse or partner visa made under the FLR (further leave to remain) category. A Home Office spokesman said, ‘Our reforms are working and we are bringing immigration back under control. Fluctuations in the number of applications can lead to visas temporarily taking longer to process. We will continue to address this, but we cannot compromise the security of our border.’ Taking each phrase separately, it would seem that the statements of the UKBA’s representative are out of touch with the reality of the situation. Talent and expertise are leaching out of the country as the queues get longer and couples find that love and affection are not enough to prevail against waits of over a year.