Couple forced to live apart because of income threshold law

A BORN and bred Woking man has lashed out at what he calls an ‘absurd’ and ‘cruel’ law that prevents him and his Colombian wife from settling down here and raising a family.

Sean and Liliana O’Conor, who met and fell in love in 2009, are desperate to set up home in Woodham.

HAPPY DAYS – Sean and Liliana in Woodham at the Olympics

HAPPY DAYS – Sean and Liliana in Woodham at the Olympics

But, due to a law passed in July 2012, non-EU spouses are barred from living in the UK if their British partner earns less than £18,600 a year.

Sean said: “Why £18,600? This figure is the minimum someone can earn without claiming benefits.”

Sean, a bookseller who lives in Woodham, admits his is not a highly paid profession, but added: “It should still not deny me the right to live with my spouse.”

He said that, with a career in medicine, it is unlikely his wife would be a drain on the British state.

Liliana is currently a gastroenterologist living and working in Madrid, and is due to become a GP next year. But the couple have been ‘forced to live apart’ since their wedding in 2013.

Sean added: “Any other European resident here can bring in a non-EU spouse. For instance, a Lithuanian in Woking can live here with his Colombian wife but I cannot. Where’s the fairness in that?”

Liliana has a Colombian passport and a work/study visa for Spain and the Schengen Area, which comprises 26 of the 28 EU countries. The remaining two, Ireland and the UK, maintain opt-outs.

According to Sean, the Migrants’ Rights Network who are leading a fight to change the law, say it results in anguish affecting an estimated 18,000 British citizens a year, with married couples divided and children separated from one parent.

Sean admitted: “I accept that excessive immigration is a legitimate worry and I think that EU freedom of movement should be looked at again. But there can be no moral case for stopping genuinely married couples like us from living together here.
“I love my country and have always been interested in other cultures too. At university I studied in France and Italy, then worked in the USA, taught in Africa and have always travelled.”

It was on his travels that Sean met the love of his life. He said: “In 2009 I went to South America, starting in Colombia. In Bogota, I had the good fortune to meet Liliana, who told me she was shortly moving to Spain to pursue her career as a doctor.

“We started to visit each other regularly and she got to know Woking well. We have spent many an afternoon along the Basingstoke Canal or at RHS Wisley.”

The couple also saw some of the 2012 Olympics together. That Christmas they got engaged in Woking and were married in September 2013 in Colombia.

Sean said: “Barring a change in the law, I will have no option but to emigrate to enjoy a married life, which is wrong and ridiculous. We wanted to make a life here but the Government says we cannot.

“Still, I am hopeful of this law being overturned and I think the more British people know about this, the more they will realise this is a very un-British thing to do to British citizens.

“As it stands, Liliana and I call each other every day, speak on Skype and visit when time allows, but we’d rather be living together as husband and wife in Woking. I am a victim of the current hysteria about immigration to Britain.”

A statement from Woking MP Jonathan Lord’s office said: “The requirements for spousal visas are set at the level of income at which a couple, once settled in the UK and taking into account children, generally cannot access income-related benefits.

“This is based on recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee, the independent body who advise the Government.”

Mr Lord added: “I am extremely sympathetic to the situation that Mr O’Conor and his wife find themselves in and, having been contacted by him, I will be looking carefully into his case.

“As I understand it, the current laws and regulations in this area are in place in order to deter sham marriages and to try to ensure that those granted UK citizenship, or residence in the UK, are not likely to place undue demands on the taxpayer.

“But I do believe that it is very important that all individual cases are treated fairly and that the law needs to strike the right balance overall.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Our rules have been designed to make sure those coming to the UK to join their spouse or partner will not become a burden on the taxpayer.

“British citizens can enter into a relationship with whomever they choose, but if they want to establish their family life here, they must do so in a way that works in the best interests of our society.

“We have an income threshold to ensure that a person can support their spouse or partner independently .”

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