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She grew up in Hampshire and Northumberland, with her older brother and sister and loving parents. During her childhood she developed a fascination with nature and the outdoors, and an obsession with chimpanzees and gorillas. She pored over books written by her heroines Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, and dreamed one day of getting to Africa to study these endangered primates for herself. After finishing school JoJo attended Durham University where she studied Physical Anthropology, graduating in 2003 with a 2:1 Hons. During her time at University JoJo’s mother passed away from a long illness, but her father and siblings were incredibly supportive of her passion for Africa and the great apes. After University JoJo worked as a retail assistant to save enough money to go and volunteer in the Republic of Congo at a chimpanzee sanctuary, where she worked for six months to release orphaned chimpanzees back into the wild. This experience opened JoJo’s eyes to the terrible plight of chimpanzees and gorillas in Africa, who currently face enormous pressure on all sides from poaching, habitat destruction and huge global demand for raw materials. Upon returning to the UK JoJo was determined to return to Africa as soon as possible to continue working in great ape conservation. She again worked as a retail assistant in the UK for 6 months while she applied for jobs in Central Africa, until finally in January 2005 she was successful, getting a job in Gabon to set up a new chimpanzee and gorilla conservation project for the Max Planck Institute (MPI) in Leipzig, Germany. Upon arrival in Loango National Park, Gabon, JoJo met Loïc: a Gabonese research assistant also hired by the MPI to work on the new ape research project. Loïc is a committed conservationist, previously working with endangered forest elephants, hippos and crocodiles in Gabon. He grew up in a village on the edge of Loango National Park and knows the area like the back of his hand. So in 2005, Loïc and JoJo began working in Loango with just two other staff, exploring the rainforests in search of chimpanzees and gorillas, estimating how many apes lived in the forest, and mapping an area of over 100km 2 to document the swamps, savannahs and different habitat types. JoJo and Loïc lived in a remote and isolated tented camp with no running water or electricity, but they loved the work they were doing, and felt that a lack of creature comforts was well worth it. After 5 months working and living together day in day out in Loango, JoJo and Loïc’s relationship turned from that of colleagues into something more. They moved into the same tent, and despite spending all day in the forest together and having little privacy in the basic camp in the evenings, their relationship flourished in the remote rainforest. For the next 5 years JoJo and Loïc lived together in Loango, managing the ape project and expanding it from one camp with 4 staff to two camps with 18 staff, all working on habituating the chimpanzees and gorillas for an eco-tourism project, which would ensure the long term and sustainable protection of the great apes and other animals in the forest. JoJo and Loïc carried out conservation education in the local schools and invited school children to accompany them into the forest in order to give them a more positive view of the local wildlife. They were very happy and developed a strong and stable bond despite their very different backgrounds and cultures, respecting one another’s way of life, and
living through some tough and traumatic circumstances, which only served to strengthen their bond and commitment to one another. Once a year JoJo returned to the UK for one month to see her family and friends, and even though it was hard to be separated from them for so many years, she believed strongly in what she was doing and felt it was worth the sacrifice. She was also deeply committed to Loïc, and being together with him required that they both live in Gabon. Her sister and father came out to visit her and Loïc on several occasions in Gabon, as did her aunt. In 2009 Loïc proposed to JoJo and she accepted, and the couple became engaged. However, given the nature of their work in such a remote location they were in no hurry to marry immediately, and the engagement was more a token of their long term commitment to one another. In August 2010, JoJo had to go to live in Leipzig in Germany (the headquarters of the MPI which she and Loïc worked for), to write up her dissertation for a PhD thesis which she had begun 2 years earlier. Loïc remained in Gabon to continue working in Loango, and managing the ape project in JoJo’s absence. In October 2010, thanks to some assistance from the MPI, Loïc got a “Schengen” Visa for a 2 month visit to Germany. During his visit, JoJo and Loïc applied for a tourist Visa to the UK so they could visit JoJo’s family. They travelled to Berlin to submit their documents and to undergo an interview with immigration officials. 10 days later they were thrilled to find that Loïc had been accorded a tourist Visa and they spent 4 weeks in the UK, visiting landmarks, places from JoJo’s childhood, and JoJo’s family and friends. After a wonderful two months, where for the first time in their relationship JoJo and Loïc were living in comfortable surroundings with all the mod cons, in November Loïc had to return to Gabon, and the couple did not see each other again until March 2011 when JoJo returned to Gabon for a month to visit Loïc. They kept in touch through phone calls as often as possible, but bad phone coverage in the remote location meant that sometimes they had to go weeks with no contact whatsoever. After this visit it was another 2 months before the couple were reunited in Uganda in June 2011, at a gorilla conservation workshop which they were both invited to. After the workshop JoJo and Loïc fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing the mountain gorillas, and they also travelled to Kibale National Park to see the wild living chimpanzees there. They were then separated again until September 2011, when (again thanks to the MPI) Loïc was granted another Schengen Visa for a 2 month visit to Germany. During his stay, JoJo and Loïc travelled to France for a family holiday with her siblings and father, a magical week spent enjoying the last days of summer on the coast. Again it was with a very heavy heart that JoJo and Loïc said goodbye to one another in November 2011, but after 2 months spent living in Europe, Loïc had agreed that he could envisage their future here, and the couple were considering moving back to the UK together in 2012 when JoJo finished her PhD. In January 2012 they handed in their notice with the MPI, and said that they would be leaving in September 2012 to embark on a new life together in the UK. In April 2012 JoJo went for 2 months to Gabon, to help hand over project management to a new employee, and to visit Loïc. They decided that they would get married in the UK in December 2012, and began making plans for the ceremony. Although tinged with much sadness after 7 wonderful years living in the forest, JoJo and Loïc were very excited about their new adventure which would begin in a few short months. They were also thrilled that after two years of living a long distance relationship, they would finally be reunited for good in the UK.
Little did they know what the UKBA had in store for them. Loïc submitted his Visa application for a spousal Visa at the end of May 2012. Because Gabon does not have a British Embassy, Loïc had to pay to travel to Cameroon to submit his application to their embassy, but since the Embassy in Cameroon cannot process Visa applications, all his document were then sent on to the British Embassy in Ghana. Loïc was given no contact details for the embassy in Ghana, but told that they would be in touch within three months with the decision on his Visa. Despite their good experience with the British Embassy in Berlin, JoJo and Loïc had heard many stories of couples being refused Visas, and they therefore included as much information as possible in their application. The problem with living in tent for 5 years is that you don’t have utility bills, or even an address, and thus the couple were concerned about proving the genuineness of their relationship. As a result, they included dozens and dozens of photos spanning the 7 years that they had been in a relationship, and statements from their employer at the MPI, friends and relatives, confirming the genuineness of their relationship. They also provided evidence of visits they made to one another during the 2 years JoJo was in Germany. JoJo and Loïc were exceptionally lucky in that JoJo’s grandfather had left her a substantial sum of money in inheritance, which exceeded the £18,600 limit imposed by the UKBA for couples wishing to live in the UK. JoJo submitted her bank statements evidencing these savings, and in addition her father wrote a letter confirming that the couple could live in his house that he owned rent free and for as long as they wished. With all this in place, it was with some confidence that Loïc and JoJo submitted their application, confident that they met the financial requirements and that they had proved their long term relationship was genuine. During the 3 month wait for a response, JoJo made repeated attempts to contact the British embassies in both Cameroon and Ghana without success. Cameroon told her she must contact Ghana, but Ghana would not give any information without the unique reference number for Loic’s application, which Cameroon refused to give over the phone. In August 2012 JoJo successfully completed her PhD and moved back to the UK to look for work, expecting that Loïc would have his Visa in a couple of weeks and would join her there. The UKBA did not respond to the Visa application until the very last day, 3 months after the initial submission. Loïc had to again pay to travel to Cameroon to pick up his documents and find out if his application was a success. The application was denied. The UKBA gave 2 reasons for this: firstly, they did not believe JoJo’s bank statements were genuine (they were), and because her savings were in a 6 month “E-Bond” (which matured in Dec 2012) they did not believe the couple had “access” to these savings. The second reason for the refusal was that they “could not be satisfied on the balance of probability” that the relationship was genuine and subsisting, despite masses of evidence to the contrary which they did not mention. These refusal reasons could have been cleared up in a 5 minute conversation, or through a quick email containing extra information, but this was never an option. At no point was there the possibility of communicating with anyone from the UKBA, and repeated attempts to call the embassy in both Cameroon and Ghana to resolve the issue were quickly shut down by those
manning the phones. Family and friends of the couple were shocked at this outcome, most believing that being engaged or married to a British citizen was enough to gain entry to the UK. The only option was therefore to submit an appeal to the Visa decision, for which JoJo and Loïc were only given 3 weeks to amass all new evidence they wished to include. They also had to pay more money to the UKBA to move forward with the appeal. The UKBA was then allowed an enormous 5 months to make a decision. By this point JoJo and Loïc had planned their wedding day for the 7 th December, booked the ceremony and the registrar and invited guests. They therefore got together all the evidence, bank statements validated and stamped by the bank, more statements and testimonials from employers, colleagues and friends, more photos, and evidence of phone and email correspondence between JoJo and Loïc during the last two years. JoJo also got a job in the UK, working for an organisation focused on great ape conservation in Africa and Asia. This job earned JoJo more than the required threshold of £18,600 per year, and she submitted evidence of her contract and job description. They also submitted all the evidence of their planned wedding, and requested an expedited appeal so that they issue could be resolved in time for the wedding. The expedited appeal was refused, and so the wait began. JoJo and Loïc were forced to cancel their wedding, losing their deposit for the ceremony location and the registrar booking, and having to tell family and friends the wedding was off. Frustrated with having their lives dictated by an invisible and heartless entity who appeared to have no interest in engaging with them on an individual (or indeed any) level, and seeing that no decision was going to be made in time, JoJo and Loïc decided to defy the UKBA and get married on their planned date of the 7th December in Gabon. JoJo’s father and Aunt flew out at great expense to be present, and many family members of Loïc, and friends of both Loïc and JoJo were present. JoJo’s sister was pregnant and could not risk flying to Central Africa, and her brother had just started a new job one week prior and could not afford to come, and so sadly neither could be present on JoJo and Loïc’s special day. After the wedding the couple went on a beautiful 4 day honeymoon, before JoJo’s work commitments required her to return to the UK. And so it was that the couple began married life on different continents, a situation only made all the more painful due to their extended separation prior to the marriage. What was supposed to be their first magical Christmas together in the UK with all of JoJo’s family, turned into a sad phone call on Christmas day, with bad phone signal and getting cut off on numerous occasions. The couple comforted themselves in the knowledge that the appeal deadline was the 22 nd of February, and that in 2 short months they would certainly be reunited, since their appeal case was rock solid and full of irrefutable evidence. During the 5 month wait for the UKBA to change their decision, JoJo’s father sent regular emails to the British embassy in Ghana, updating them on the wedding plans, sending wedding photos, evidence of JoJo’s move into a rented house near Cambridge and other important bits of evidence. He never received a reply to any of his emails, and repeated phone calls went unanswered. Friends and family of JoJo and Loïc confidently told them that now they were married, the UKBA would have to let Loïc into the country, and most were shocked to discover that the new rules mean this is far from the case. Unsurprisingly, JoJo and Loïc did not receive any decision from the UKBA before the 22nd of February, in fact, they received no decision full stop. The UKBA could
not even be bothered to write one sentence to acknowledge that JoJo and Loïc had lodged an appeal, the couple were simply met with silence. The HM Courts and First Tier Tribunal then wrote to inform the couple that they would have to attend an oral hearing in over 2 months’ time to appeal the decision, the HMRC also wrote to the UKBA in Ghana saying they must send documents to support their refusal…but so far nothing has been sent. So 5 months of waiting was essentially nothing but a very elaborate and effective delaying tactic to reach the 1st tier tribunal. Having finally shaken off her naïve belief that justice and common sense would prevail, JoJo began to look into the political side of immigration, and the immense pressure the current government is under to bring down net immigration or risk losing out to UKIP. Unfortunately, what is reported in the papers on a daily basis is grossly misrepresented, and the general public has little idea of the real situation. The UK government can do nothing to prevent EU nationals (who account for the majority of immigrants to the UK) moving into the UK, and they have therefore focused all their efforts on the minority of immigrants which come from non-EU countries, spouses included. It can only be assumed that the government wants so badly to dupe the general public into believing that they have some control over immigration, that they are delaying all applications made in the last 12 months for as long as they possibly can, so that they can gleefully proclaim “we have successfully reduced net immigration by X%” in time for the next election. What is even worse, it turns out that EU (but non-British) citizens DO have the right to bring their non-EU spouses into the UK to live here, while British citizens do not. Sheer madness. Funnily enough you don’t hear the politicians discussing any of this in public, their propaganda merely serves to increase the general public’s negative attitude to “immigrants”, with no distinctions made between different types of immigration. In the eyes of the great British public, all immigrants currently fall under the rather hazy image of a grubby and poorly mannered Romanian/Bulgarian woman with 25 children and many underlying health issues, gleefully rubbing her hands together as she dreams of getting free healthcare, housing and many other benefits in the UK next year. Such overt racism and propaganda has not been seen since the days of Hitler’s Germany, but it seems be having the desired effect of making those currently living in Britain react very negatively towards any kind of immigration into their green and pleasant land. Never mind that the notion of being “British” doesn’t even exist…for centuries and millennia humans have immigrated and emigrated their way around the world, with Vikings, Romans and Neanderthals in our “British” genetic makeup to mention but a few. And yet we are acting like this is some new and never before seen threat to our precious shores. But back to the story. Having realised that just following the rules and being a decent and honest British citizen was not enough to obtain a Visa, JoJo and Loïc sought the counsel of a lawyer to ensure that come the hearing they would have everything necessary to make it impossible for the Visa to be turned down. The lawyer was completely un-phased and unsurprised by the unfair and unreasonable behaviour of the UKBA, sadly it was just another example among hundreds that she deals with every day. She informed the couple that it was common for the UKBA to not even open appeal documents, and simply wait the 5 months twiddling their thumbs and allow it to go to a hearing. More often than not they never supply the documents requested by HMRC, and don’t even bother turning up to the hearing…the equivalent would be going to court case which
does not have a prosecution. Somehow the UKBA is allowed to get away with this behaviour completely unchecked, something no company would ever get away with. All this was just more evidence that the whole system is nothing but a delaying tactic, without a seconds thought for the thousands of families forced to live apart for prolonged periods. Presumably in the hopes that their relationship will not withstand the pressure and they will give up on the whole thing. Another success for bringing down immigration! Unfortunately for them, they underestimate the strength and determination of people in love faced with adversity…inevitably it makes their love stronger. JoJo and Loïc are incredibly lucky compared to many couples in a similar situation. They do not yet have children and so are not enduring the pain of raising a family apart. JoJo is very fortunate to be able to earn over the £18,600 threshold to qualify for a Visa, and with her grandfather’s inheritance it will be very difficult for the UKBA to claim they cannot support themselves. Loïc did not even have to take an English test (and run the risk of failing it) because there was not a testing centre in Gabon. JoJo and Loïc are well aware that compared to others, they are very lucky and are likely to get a positive outcome to their appeal at some point in the future. But that does not stop them being filled with anger and frustration on behalf of those who don’t and may never qualify financially. This is an outrageous breach of human rights…the right to a family life based entirely on wealth. It is hard to imagine what one would do in that situation, either making the impossible decision to live in a different country and never being able to bring your family to the UK, or alternatively to give up on love altogether. However, being more financially secure than some does not prevent JoJo and Loïc being furious at being forced to spend the last 10 months living on separate continents for no good reason, 10 months that they can never ever get back. Being treated like criminals and not even getting to defend themselves against the sheer irrationality of the UKBA. The first 10 months of married life, a golden time for most couples, has been spent in miserable solitude, with nothing but intermittent phone calls to sustain them (Loïc lives at the research camp in the rainforest where it is not possible to have Skype). The hearing is now set for June 2013, 12 months after they applied for a Visa, and while JoJo and Loïc want to remain optimistic that this nightmare will finally come to an end, experience so far suggests that the outcome might not be what they have hoped, nor what common sense would predict. They are prepared for more delaying tactics and preposterous claims, but intend to fight the UKBA every step of the way, determined that in the end, love will conquer all. On the 27th March, completely out of the blue, Loic received an email telling him that his appeal had been “successful”, and asking him to urgently bring his Passport to the British Embassy in Cameroon. No more details were provided. Loic duly travelled to Cameroon and dropped off his passport, and was greeted with surprise by the staff there, who didn’t seem to know what to do with him or his passport. He showed them the email he had received, and after some conferring they explained that his passport would need to be sent to Ghana to have the Visa put inside, a process which would take 2 weeks. Loic returned to Gabon to wait the 2 weeks, booking a flight to the UK for 3 and a half weeks after the date of submitting his Visa, just to be on the safe side. Two weeks came and went, with no word, and after several emails went unanswered Loic decided to return to Cameroon to find out where his passport was.
Upon arrival at the embassy, he was told to come back the next day, and then the next day, and the day after that; and each time he was told his passport would likely be among the post being delivered from Ghana. After a week of this, and staying in hotels at great expense, and having to change his flight also at great expense, Loic made a bit of a scene at the embassy and demanded to speak with one of the managers. When he finally got to speak to someone, they told him that the Visa printing machine in Ghana was “broken”, and that he would either have to wait another month, or alternatively they could try and send his passport to another country with a UK embassy that had a machine which was working.
On the same day, JoJo’s father happened to be staying in London close to the UKBA offices in Croydon, and he also decided to pay them a visit and kick up a bit of a storm. After an hour of not even being allowed through the door, he finally got to speak to someone, who knew a colleague who worked in the Ghana office, and she promised to call her colleague to find out what was going on. Less than 2 hours later, Josephine’s father received a telephone call from the colleague in Ghana (a miracle given the UKBA’s skill at avoiding any kind of direct interaction!), promising him 100% that the Visa was now in the passport and that it was being sent back to Cameroon the very same day. So clearly the story about the machine being broken was not true. Six more excruciating days went by, at this point Loic had now spent 3 and a half weeks sitting in Cameroon and going to the embassy every day without success. Finally, on the 2nd May, the passport arrived and Loic was able to return to Gabon to take his flight to the UK on the 7 th May. JoJo was there to meet him at the airport. At passport control Loic was taken aside and questioned for over an hour. He had with him a letter that JoJo had written, explaining that she was in the arrivals hall and happy to answer any questions (since Loic’s English is very basic), but they did not call her. Finally, Loic was allowed through and the two were reunited. The entire application process had taken over 11 months from start to finish, and cost thousands of pounds and a lot of heartache. As already mentioned, Josephine and Loic know they are much more fortunate than many couples, but their experience serves to illustrate what a “best case scenario” can look like when dealing with the UKBA. Even with adequate savings and a long term relationship which could be backed up by many colleagues and friends, the process still took almost a year and cost more than £5000 in application fees, appeal fees, hiring a solicitor and flights to Gabon. Given that the immigration rules are becoming even more stringent, particularly now that the government is feeling the pressure from UKIP breathing down their necks; any couples seeking to come and live in the UK would be well advised to plan any move a very long time in advance.