Carol Karmoud, of Barnstaple, and her husband Lahsen Karmoud, of Morocco, say they are “in limbo” and struggling to manage the red tape required by the British and French governments.
Although they have been in a relationship since 2016 and have a marriage certificate, the couple were told they need to document an “authentic relationship” – something that Carol says is difficult because since they’ve been living together they went through two blockages and couldn’t do normal things.
Carol was recently diagnosed with cancer and has other autoimmune issues meaning she felt unable to get her Covid vaccine further complicating matters as the French government demands that people be fully immunized so that they can access cafes, restaurants, public transport and places of entertainment without a negative test.
She told Devon Live: ‘They have our marriage certificate, they have a certificate of cohabitation, rental agreements, all that – but they want proof of us on a family vacation or doing activities together in our country of 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.
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? “
Since Brexit, non-UK family members, including spouses, must apply for pre-established status by March 29, 2022 – only becoming eligible after receiving an EUSS family permit from the Home Office.
The EUSS Family Permit 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 an EU member state.
After the deadline, family members will have to apply for a family visa, which will cost them thousands of pounds.
Carol has lived in Brittany for almost 20 years and started a relationship in 2016, three of those years being a long distance while Lahsen worked as a teacher in Morocco.
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.
After surgery for her cancer last year, Carol 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.
But she said the process meant they had “aged about 10 years” because it’s “their whole life has turned around” – adding that there is “no more joy in life”.
“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. “
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.
Even though Carol and Lahsen manage to get the family permit and renewed passport approved 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. “
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.
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. “