Former world squash champion and 6 time British champion Cassie Thomas is unable to return to the UK with her husband and two daughters because officials refused her husband's visa application.
The sportswoman's husband, who is an Australian national, worked in the UK for 8 years until the couple moved to Melbourne in 2010. Despite having a guaranteed civil engineering job in the UK, Mr. Thomas has been denied entry as a permanent resident to the UK by the Home Office.
UK Permanent Residence (indefinite leave to remain) denied
Mr. Thomas was previously granted indefinite leave to remain in Britain. He therefore hoped to return to the UK as a Returning Resident, but his application was refused on the grounds that he had been living outside of the UK for more than 2 years and had left through 'personal choice'.
As part of Returning Resident visa rules, anyone given indefinite leave to remain who then leaves the UK for 2 years or more is likely to be refused entry as a permanent resident – unless they can show that 'exceptional personal circumstances' led to them being out of the UK for that long. Mr. Thomas may still apply for a marriage visa.
UK Spouse visa rule changes
In 2012 the government tightened the immigration laws for citizens of non-European Economic Area Countries. Part of the changes to spouse visas included the introduction of an £18,600 income threshold for the sponsoring partner, and abolishing a rule which said that couples living together overseas for at least 4 years could apply for indefinite leave to enter for the UK – introducing a 5 year probationary period instead.
Cassie Thomas commented on the case, saying: "Because there is no control over people from the EU coming into Britain, they are targeting non-EU people instead, to try and keep immigration numbers down. My husband is from a Commonwealth country. We have a house in Norfolk, he has a job waiting for him. He's never claimed benefits and we've always paid our taxes.
"The girls and I were born in Norfolk and I've represented my country at world level - what more do they want?"
Other UK Visa options
The couple could apply for a spouse visa, also known as a marriage visa. But Mrs. Thomas says that the visa conditions would mean splitting up her family. In order to satisfy the visa conditions the squash champion would have to work in the UK for at least 6 months without her husband, in a job paying at least £18,600 per year.
Alternatively, she could prove to officials that she has at least £62,500 in savings in order to obtain the visa, but would have to sell her house.
There is a chance that Mr. Thomas could apply for a Tier 2 visa for skilled migrants as there are currently several civil engineering jobs on the Tier 2 Shortage Occupation list. However, it's not clear whether his skills match the visa requirements, or whether the company offering him a UK job holds a Tier 2 Sponsorship License.
An immigration lawyer has advised the couple that appealing the Home Office's decision would be expensive, lengthy, and unlikely to succeed.
Sanwar Ali, Editor of workpermit.com News has the following to say:
Unfortunately the returning resident rules for those with indefinite leave to remain in the UK are quite restrictive. This has been the case for many years. If you spend considerable periods of time outside the UK there is a risk that you will lose your indefinite leave to remain status in the UK. That is why many people choose to apply for British citizen. It is exceptionally rare for the Government to take away your citizenship.