Barnstaple couple trapped in France in bureaucratic Brexit nightmare – .

Barnstaple couple trapped in France in bureaucratic Brexit nightmare – .

A married couple fear they will not be able to return to the UK after the rules of the post-Brexit movement have buried them in paperwork for two years.
Carol Karmoud of Barnstaple and her husband Lahsen Karmoud say they are “in limbo” and struggling to manage the documents required by the British and French governments.

Before Brexit, EU nationals, including British nationals, were granted freedom of movement, which allowed them to travel and work between Europe and Britain at their leisure. Non-UK family members, including spouses, must now apply for pre-established status by March 29, 2022 – only becoming eligible after receiving an EUSS family permit from the Home Office.

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The EUSS family permit, or ‘Surinder Singh route’, allows family members of an ‘eligible UK citizen’ to bypass usual immigration law and return with them to the UK after a period of residence in a EU member state.

After the deadline, family members will have to apply for a family visa, which will cost them thousands of pounds.

Before living in Brittany for 19 years, Carol grew up in Barnstaple with her family, owners of Bob’s Bargains furniture store on Bear Street.

Carol and Lahsen started their relationship in 2016, with three of those years at a distance while Lahsen worked as a teacher in Morocco.

After being diagnosed with cancer and having surgery last year, Carol has decided to return to the UK with her husband and reunite with her two sons in Barnstaple. She also plans to help care for her mother, who suffered a stroke in 2019.

Carol said she had always known that paperwork would be involved in the process of getting home with her husband, but didn’t expect the distress the process would create.

She said: “Just in terms of health, it has been devastating. We think we’ve aged about 10 years in the two years we’ve been together physically. From day to day, it’s really our whole life that turns. ”

“I haven’t been able to visit my mom since 2019, when she had a stroke. She doesn’t have the ability to really talk anymore, so we can’t even talk on the phone. I have two sons at Barnstaple who I haven’t seen for two years. It is not something that logically anyone with a little common sense would look at and conclude that we are trying to get around the system.

“We are trying to get back to the UK, but all we try is a brick wall. There is no more joy in life. I think we’ve had more stress in the past couple of years than most people will have in their entire lifetimes. “

Lahsen added, “The whole day is just paperwork, paperwork, paperwork – for two years. We are both worried about the future. “

Lahsen entered France legally to live with Carol in 2019, marrying her in 2020, but struggled to get her residence permit processed by the French government.

Although she lived in France for 19 years, Carol also had to apply for a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement residence permit – a process that took 11 months.

Carol and Lahsen first applied to the UK Home Office for the EUSS family permit in July 2021, but that request was rejected in October 2020.

To reapply, Lahsen must receive his residence permit withdrawal agreement to renew his passport, which expires at the end of the year. Without his passport or the necessary assistance from the Home Office, he will not be able to travel to the UK to apply for pre-settlement status, which also has a deadline of March 22, 2022.

Even though Carol and Lahsen manage to get family permit approval and passport renewal before the deadline, the married couple fear they won’t have enough time to arrive in the UK and apply for pre-settlement status.

Carol said they had to navigate the bureaucratic system on their own and couldn’t find an organization or ministry to guide them through the process.

She said, “The process is so, so complicated. By handling part of a paperwork in a certain way, you end up creating problems for yourself down the road. You shouldn’t have to be a lawyer to figure out how to get back. in your home country, but it appears to be. “

“Once you are in the UK it looks like there are organizations out there that want to help you, but there is no one that wants to offer us support in France. We even emailed the British Embassy in Paris and were told they couldn’t provide advice. to non-British nationals. We have the impression that we are not wanted anywhere. ”

She added: “We are trying to go the legal route and it looks like we are being punished for it. The Home Office tells us on their website that it is my right as a UK national to come back with a family member, but it seems they are deliberately making the process too difficult. “

Carol and Lahsen’s experience comes a week when the Home Office released a report on visa and immigration border services in the UK, carried out by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and L ‘immigration.

In its conclusions, the report stated: “Although there is a large amount of guidance published officially online, respondents to the Call for Papers (CfE) indicated that it is difficult to try to navigate and navigate. understand the directions. There are several links and landing pages to read carefully, and they felt they should do extensive “research” or use paid agents to help them. “

While free to apply for a European family permit, the Home Office requires that all foreign documents be translated into English by a certified translator – the couple’s first request having three documents rejected as evidence on this basis.

As a result, Carol and Lahsen spent over 1000 euros on translators alone to give themselves a chance to return to the UK.

The Home Office’s rejection also concluded that the evidence provided in their first application did not prove that a ‘genuine family life between (Lahsen) and the eligible UK citizen had been created or strengthened during (their) joint residence. in the host country of the EEA ”.

Lahsen said: ‘In the denial they made reference to our marriage certificate and I was described as not being a family member of a UK citizen. It made me wonder: how can I be legally married but also not be a member of the family? What am I then? “

Carol told DevonLive that the coronavirus pandemic has made the process of defining an ‘authentic’ relationship even more unfair.

In July 2021, the French government issued vaccine passports requiring residents to be “double-bitten” to access cafes, restaurants, public transport and places of entertainment without testing negative. Due to her recent diagnosis of cancer and other autoimmune issues, Carol felt unable to receive a COVID vaccine, making it less likely to provide evidence of a real time with her husband.

She said: “They have our marriage certificate, they have a cohabitation certificate, rental contracts, all that – but they want proof of us on a family vacation or doing activities together in our country of life. ‘origin. “

“What they don’t take into account is that we’ve been through two lockdowns and all the ongoing restrictions from COVID. It was very difficult to have what we would call normal life to fit in.

“It’s not something we would be living if we didn’t have a real life together. Lahsen gave up his family and a good teaching career so that we could start our life together in Europe.

She added: “To be honest, I think most people would have just given up and gone their separate ways at this point. Fortunately, we are strong together. “

The couple’s experience with the EUSS family permit is part of a national issue, with many other UK nationals struggling to meet the requirements set by the Home Office to return home with a member of the family.

The Project in limbo campaigns to give a voice to British nationals living in Europe after Brexit. Campaign director Elena Remigi said the Home Office should extend the March 29 deadline and review each case accurately and effectively once received.

She said: ‘In recent months we have seen an increase in the number of cases of non-UK spouses of UK citizens unable to leave their country of residence in the EU because they have been denied an EUSS family permit by the Ministry of the Interior. This caused great distress even among the children.

“Among them we had the Dutch wife of an English vicar, whose application was refused, and a very pregnant British woman residing in Spain with her Moroccan husband, who wanted to settle together in the United Kingdom in order to be able to take care of his seriously ill father. After much pressure, the Home Office granted the permit to the two couples, but how many families might not be able to return as a result of this process? ”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Applications for EUSS family permits are reviewed on the strict date of the application order and we continue to review staffing levels and deploy resources in the areas. the most needy. Each file is examined as quickly as possible and on its individual merits, but processing times may vary depending on the volume and complexity of the requests.

“We have left the possibility for UK nationals and their family members returning to the UK from the EEA or Switzerland to do so after the deadline of 29 March 2022, and for family members to apply late here with the EUSS, when there are reasons – which may include reasons related to COVID-19 – why they missed that deadline.

“We will take a pragmatic and flexible approach to examining the required evidence of common family life in the EEA or Switzerland, including in light of the impacts of COVID-19. “

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