Gerard and Vilai “The UKBA is happy to take visa application fees, and then find spurious reasons

to reject visa applications, in order to take yet more fees... .” Gerard is a British citizen and 59 years old. He is a seventh child, the youngest child, and grew up in a loving family. Gerard’s wife, Vilai, is a good woman from a very respectable hardworking Thai family; and Gerard is a good man, a good husband and a good dad. Gerard and his wife are being forced to live apart, surviving mainly on emails and Dialwise phone calls. Gerard does not need to work, having paid off his mortgage after many years of struggle. But he does still work, proofreading for foreign students at British universities, and he does pay his taxes; but, he is kept apart from his wife, despite satisfying ALL the new rules. To be together in the UK they have had to embark on onerous labyrinthine bureaucracy, trying to satisfy a cold heartless agency doing this government’s cruel, callous and cynical bidding. Family and couple friendly? Gerard and Vilai think not; to the UKBA they are just two more pawns contributing towards statistics showing what a good job 'they' are doing to protect ‘our borders’ and ‘the taxpayer’. But Gerard is a taxpayer too. Vilai has never been married before, nor had any children. Vilai would prefer they live in Thailand, near her mum and four sisters, but for now Gerard believes the UK is the more realistic option, it is where his home, children, dog (not cat) and income are. So Vilai is prepared to leave her family, friends and career and live with Gerard in the UK, to be together as man and wife. Gerard is accomplished both practically and academically, having attended university not once, but four times. He has been selfemployed for most of his life, he was a professional photographer for about 25 years, in north Lancashire. He worked hard, he did very long hours and covered many weddings, family portraits and other memorable events for British families, amongst others, even Margaret Thatcher when she visited Morecambe. She personally thanked him for his professionalism. When, with his then wife, their work expanded, to include a letting agency renting out holiday homes in the Loire Valley, Gerard’s photos were even featured on the front cover of Chez Nous. The agency was successful and Gerard and his first wife contributed a lot in taxes to the British government. To help develop the French business further, Gerard went to study French again: conversation

classes, A-level at night school, a BA at university starting at age 47, at every level he was encouraged to go further. He soon closed his studio and rented it out as half shop, half flat – he still does. All however was not to continue smoothly. In 2002, two years into his BA degree and after a stint in France for the degree requirements, Gerard’s wife of 24 years admitted to an affair ... and promptly left. Now in the empty nest, Gerard was shattered and subsequently diagnosed with severe clinical depression. Eventually he had to take a sabbatical. As one must do, however, he learnt to move on, going to work in a BT call centre for a while before going back to complete his French degree where, despite the major upheavals, he succeeded in obtaining a high 2:1, a hair's breadth away from a first. With his qualifications, he was offered work at a university in Rennes (France), as a language assistant. So Gerard spent a year in Brittany while also completing divorce proceedings. Many of his students were the children of families from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, all delightful, hard-working, polite and respectful students – a joy to teach. He was able to retain his house and studio ... and a hefty mortgage; their other assets, including his share of the French business, went to his now ex-wife. Gerard knows all about the Samaritans (both sides of the counter), beans on toast and no heat, better that than to claim benefits. He is a proud man. Gerard went on to enrol for an MA TEFL course, again at university, starting just six weeks after burying his remarkable mum, aged 97 years. Both Gerard’s maternal uncles (John and Thomas) died in World War One, in 1917 (at Ypres) and 1918 (between Arras and Cambrai), aged 21 and 20. Gerard completed the MA, along with students from Greece, Iran, China and Taiwan, for whom he did some proofreading. He worked so hard, beyond what was required, that he got a distinction for his dissertation. Being over 50, Gerard found obtaining work difficult. He spent his savings to renovate his home. In the summer of 2007, he even worked as a postman for a short period, followed by starting to do paid proofreading. Then, he spent several months helping his elder son renovate the house he had bought in north Manchester – hard unpaid physical graft. Gerard had planned to sell his house, pay off his mortgage and perhaps move to France, but helping his son meant he got caught up in ‘the crash’, and missed the boat.

So he rented out his renovated house and went to France on the off chance that some work would come his way. He succeeded in obtaining a language assistant job in Valenciennes. As before, he paid all the deductions in France and living/ travelling expenses (not tax deductible), more tax on his French salary in the UK, and tax on his rental income. He came back to find the flat he had rented out trashed, not for the first time, and had to spend several weeks sorting that out. He does what he has to do. In late 2009 Gerard felt fed up, lonely and disillusioned. However, finally, things were to take a turn for the better; with his mortgage of over 30 years newly paid off, Gerard went to meet his now second wife, Vilai. They spent a month together in Thailand in 2010. In 2011 Gerard went there again and Vilai applied for a visit visa in Bangkok. But she was turned down, the usual ‘insufficient reason to return’, despite having a long-term job to go back to and proof of same. Gerard queried the decision, he contacted his MP’s office and other individuals to get help. Mysteriously, the decision was reversed and no explanation was given. Gerard wanted Vilai to marry him while she was here, but honourable Vilai had promised her boss she would go back, and so she did. The plan in December 2011 was for Gerard to spend more time in Thailand with Vilai, his fiancée, and proceed to marriage if and when they were both sure. Eventually, despite and perhaps because of some cultural differences, they were ready. They had to get through some bureaucracy before they could marry, little did they know the insane bureaucracy that was to follow. And so one fine day in February 2012, they got married. The intention was that Gerard would return to the UK with his wife, but they were first hit by the English test requirement; it had to be taken and passed before applying for a visa, along with a TB check. Gerard firmly believes, in line with his various studies, that the place to learn English is in an English-speaking country, by immersion (acquisition) in an anglophone environment, à la Krashen, not just in a classroom. Soon it became apparent that they would not be travelling together, as Gerard had urgent matters to attend to at home. Gerard did at least hope that his wife would be with him in time for the Olympic torch coming through his village in late June. Alas, that was not to be. Similarly watching Wimbledon together or the Olympics. Vilai sat the English test in March and passed first time, with Gerard's help in the preparation, although it took until May for the certificate to arrive. There was then a query over her TB test: the one she had had done in February was clear, as was the routine one

organised by her employer in April. It was when she was applying for a visa that she was told her test had to be done at a different hospital to satisfy the IOM. She went there, they had a query and made her go back two months later, for the all-clear to be given. This delay meant she could not apply for a spouse visa application before 9 July and the draconian new rules, which seemed to come out of nowhere, would apply. Finally, in August, Vilai was able to apply for a settlement visa, pay about £860 (Gerard reimbursed her of course) and wait up to 12 weeks for the UKBA to decide if this married couple, who satisfy ALL the rules, could live together. Worse was to come. Vilai’s application was rejected, as the UKBA wanted a vast array of additional documentation to prove Gerard's income, none of which was made clear at the outset of course. No chance was given to furnish what was missing. It was a flat rejection, and either another £860 to be paid before they would consider Vilai's application again, or appeal. The UKBA appears to be happy to advise what they want only after they turn you down; then, on subsequent applications, they may find something else, and so it goes on, paying through the nose to be treated badly. They don’t ask for more information during the waiting period, though they claim to, which is scandalous. During three manic weeks Gerard took OISC advice, which was to appeal and pay £140 for a court hearing. That way they 'only' had to prove his (more than sufficient) income, not prove again that the marriage was genuine or any of the other numerous criteria that applications can be rejected for, e.g. English test, TB test, suitable accommodation, etc., etc. For the appeal, Gerard had to supply copies of: Proof of ownership of his former premises in the form of a solicitorcertified official Land Registry entry (the old rules said the deeds to the premises, hardly realistic or wise to part with those, but after a long delay in Bangkok the Land Registry entry option was confirmed and the rules have now changed to reflect this); His two tenants' leases; A letter confirming registration for self-employment; A statement proving payment of NI contributions; the 2011-12 tax return (an ex-Inland Revenue employee always does those for about £125, they are never queried);

A tax statement (SA300 and/or SA302 – Gerard has sent copies of both, to be sure); An EXTRA set of chartered accounts (costing £384, again the rules have now changed, a tax return can be signed off by a chartered accountant); And as if that wasn't enough, to pour yet more salt into the wound, a full year's bank statements – the UKBA don't even trust a chartered accountant! Someone in a 'normal' job, who can be made redundant in a moment, only needs to supply payslips. Why do they punish someone for owning a property and/or being self-employed? Gerard's 'problem' is not getting work but coping with the demand. He can't be fired. All the required documentation was submitted to Leicester in midNovember, along with a further £140 fee, making £1,000 in all. The court took until late December to process it and refer it back to Bangkok. It arrived there, allegedly, on 10 January – it takes 3 weeks to arrive! In Gerard's view, the extra documents could be checked in 10 minutes and the visa promptly issued. In late November, after submitting the appeal, Gerard went to Bangkok to see his wife after 9 difficult months apart. They did 9 months, the Huhnes only got 8 months. They then spent a month together, going through a delayed Buddhist marriage ceremony in Vilai's mum's house near Borabue and having a week's delayed honeymoon on Koh Samui – they were there during the 3-day power cut. Gerard naively hoped Vilai might return to the UK with him for Christmas. Once back from honeymoon in Bangkok, he emailed scanned copies of all the appeal documents to the embassy and called them. Yes they had them, but no could do nothing until they heard officially from Leicester, then they could respond. So once again Gerard returned alone in late December to spend a heartbreaking Christmas without Vilai, his wife. The UKBA staff in Bangkok did not respond in January because they have until May to reply to the court ... and it appears that they will wait until then. Why? Because they can. And if they can find, or claim to find, any flaw, and thus refuse this couple yet again, this sorry saga could drag on until next Christmas. And so that takes them to at least 215 months of living apart, and this is a couple who satisfy the rules, so what hope is there for those that don't? And what is utterly crazy is that with Gerard's income, over the

threshold both last tax year and this, and the property he owns after a lifetime of hard graft, there could never be any possibility of claiming any benefits whatsoever – not a penny, not a bean! What does Gerard think of all this? He thinks it’s appalling. What should have been a happy joyous time after a decade of misery turned into an edelweiss trampled on by jackboots. HMRC is happy to accept the thousands he pays in taxes, meanwhile the UKBA is even happier to take the visa application fees, and find spurious reasons to reject visa applications, in order to take yet more fees, like some #visasettlementnightmare. Gerard and Vilai's case has been mentioned in the House of Lords twice; Gerard has been interviewed for Radio 4 'Today' and Radio London 'Drivetime'; his MP has written to Theresa May, she probably never even read it; Gerard has written a long letter to Rob Whiteman (UKBA CEO), no reply yet; Gerard has had many email exchanges with Bangkok – they would rather spend time replying to emails than issuing visas. Now, in answer to long email, they simply say they have nothing to add to what they have written before, i.e. you will wait because we can and will make you wait. Gerard is whom he is. In such a situation, he sees three options: fight, flight or hide behind the settee. You can stand up and be counted, as Gerard has done; you can leave the country, as others have and Gerard may still; you can keep quiet, keep your head down and hope it all comes right one day, maybe. Gerard is no Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi or even Don McCullin, the legendary war photographer, but he does believe in fighting for his rights, and those of others, for justice. Some wellmeaning people have advised him to remain silent until this is all over, perhaps that is good advice, but that does not accord with his academic training. Gerard considers himself lucky to have had the benefit of a good education, at British universities. He feels he has a duty to fight not only for his wife but for those less able to put what they feel into words. He may be his own worst enemy, he accepts that. If the UKBA seek to victimise him, make he and his wife sacrificial lambs on the altar of UKBA border control, then so be it. But if good men, and good women, do not stand up to be counted then who knows where this will end. Surely no one wants to go down the road of authoritarianism, totalitarianism and dictatorship (remember Greece 1967-74). And so, despite or because of all of the above, the cruel wait goes on. The UKBA make you wait because they can. Is this world-class

service? Gerard and Vilai think not. This government doesn’t care how long they keep married couples apart; they don’t care about British citizens and their spouses; they don’t respect marriage or families. Article 8 is just a thorn in their side, though it should not be required in this case. All British citizens hear about, in the same newspaper breath, are scam marriages, terrorists, drug dealers and people-trafficking. Fair play died long ago. The government and its agencies seem to have forgotten that there are still many decent honest citizens who just want to get on with and live their lives, which is a basic and fundamental human right.