English test requirement leaves eight-year-old ‘without parents’

People flee the violence in Darfur

Guest post by Emily Churchill. Emily successfully fought for her husband to be allowed to join her in the UK. She now fights for others through her work with I Love Migrants.

This afternoon I met a man who hasn’t seen his daughter for seven years. No longer the baby girl he used to hold, she is now a strapping eight year old who demands to know when her dad’s coming home, because she wants to play with him.

There is a long pause after Mohammed* tells me this, and I try to digest quite how horrible it must be to hear your daughter ask that and not have an answer.

Mohammed and his family are being kept apart because his wife does not yet speak enough English to qualify for a UK spouse visa. What’s more, his wife is forced to live apart from their young daughter while she studies English nearly 200km away from their home. Her accommodation, travel, English course and test fees cost money that Mohammed simply doesn’t have. The family are near breaking point.

Refused asylum

Mohammed fled to England from his home in Darfur, Sudan in 2004, fearing for his life. He left behind his wife and daughter, who had been born just 14 months before. What followed were six years of what Mohammed modestly terms “things I never thought that I was going to go through”: his asylum claim repeatedly refused, he was separated from his family, unable to work and forced to live off Home Office food vouchers which left him unable even to use the bus.

However, Mohammed saw light at the end of the tunnel when, in January 2010, he was granted Indefinite Leave to Remain as a ‘legacy case’. This meant that his family did not have the automatic right to reunion which they would have had if he’d been granted refugee status. After six years of waiting, it felt like he’d been given a “magic key for a new life”. Now that he had won the right to live and work in the UK, Mohammed was sure his wife and daughter would finally be able to join him in England.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. In December 2010, Mohammed carefully gathered the reams of necessary documents and prepared to pay an astounding £1620 in (non-returnable) visa application fees for his wife and daughter to come to the UK. All this for his wife to be simply informed that if she didn’t ‘go away and get an English certificate’, her application would not be accepted.

Enormous cost

In the Sudanese town of Medani, where Mohammed’s wife and daughter live, there are no English language colleges. The nearest English college is in Khartoum, nearly 200km from their home. Left with no other option, his wife now rents accommodation and attends college in Khartoum on weekdays, leaving her daughter with her grandmother in Medani. On top of college fees of £150 a month, Mohammed’s wife has to pay almost £5 a day to take the three buses each way to and from college, as renting any nearer her college in central Khartoum would be too expensive.

But the direct costs of the English test don’t stop there. Mohammed is also paying his wife’s rent in Khartoum and her weekly travel costs between Khartoum and Medani. When the time comes, the English test itself will also cost him around £129.

Inevitably, the stress is taking its toll on Mohammed.

“I am finding it difficult to concentrate at work because of my problems”, he tells me. “I don’t get enough sleep at night; sometimes I find myself just thinking about my family, my life, during work.”

Family torn apart

Before the pre-entry English test for spouse visas became law on 29 November 2010, JCWI warned that it would punish families who, for reasons of geography or financial capacity, would find it difficult to access English lessons. Six months later, this prediction is being mercilessly played out in the lives of Mohammed and his family. Not only has the English test requirement separated Mohammed from his wife and daughter, it has also separated his wife from their child, leaving the eight-year-old feeling ‘orphaned’.

“Her grandmother always tells me that [my daughter] cries, she says that everybody has got his parents except me”, says Mohammed.

“I would like to say to the people who created the English language requirement, how would you feel if you were kept away from your family for one week? Just think of how we feel when we are kept apart for more than seven years, away from our wives, kids and loved ones. We fled our countries seeking a safe refuge for ourselves and families. We want to feel safe and have our human rights respected.”

‘My family should learn English’

The ironic thing about all of this is that Mohammed agrees wholeheartedly that his family should learn English if they are to live here. But he believes that the best place to improve your English is here in England.

“When you come here the words, the expressions that you learn, you practice them in the street, you use them in your daily life,” he says, “But [in Sudan] you have to leave what you learnt in the class, because you are not going to practice it outside.”

Mohammed’s impressively fluent English is testimony to his theory. It is clear that Mohammed is not contesting that his wife and daughter should learn English, but rather the idea than his wife’s current level of English should be a reason to prolong the family’s painful separation.

“For me personally it is good that my family speaks the language of the country they live in. But how can they keep my family there when they’ve been away from me more than seven years, and say that unless you speak English you don’t have the right to go [to England]? I don’t understand…”

With these last three words Mohammed trails off, sounding genuinely bewildered. And having heard his story, I am also left finding the English test requirement, enforced by a government that claims to value family life, truly difficult to comprehend.

*Mohammed is not his real name.

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

5 responses to “English test requirement leaves eight-year-old ‘without parents’

  • M A Khan

    Its sounds quite similar to my own situation, we married in 2009 when I was in Britain on an official visa. On finishing my assignment, we consulted with the UKBA through a solicitor, as the UKBA people don’t listen to ordinary people’s enquiry, the solicitor on receiving the reply told us that there is no provision in the law that I can switch to spouse visa in country. So it was decided that I will go back and apply for the spouse entry clearance. Before coming back I did sit for the newly promulgated English Language requirement for the spouse visa. After sitting the test I returned to my country of origin/birth, with all the paper-work prepared for the spouse entry clearance. When I joined my duties here, I faced the authorities with number of harsh question that why I have married and this and that. With lots of difficulty I manage to tell them that this is my indigenous right to marry who ever I want to. I can’t tell you the agony I have gone through and still going through.
    Later that month when I received the English test Certificate I sent it to the solicitor, who told me that this wrong test you have taken, I rather we were really shocked to hear this, all our efforts were jeopardized. You can’t imagine the situation we were at that time.
    So I was again on the run to find the proper institute and an acceptable test for the UKBA. Luckily I found a test centre the only one in the country which is providing the test which is acceptable to the UKBA as far as I know at that time. So I got there and registered myself, but I was told that next test is available after a month. Yet another setback to my eagerness to join my wife. The date came I sat the test and on the test day I was told I have to wait for another month to get the test result and another month to get the certificate, so in total I had to wait three months for the test certificate. Luckily enough I passed the test (though bit higher level test, I am fortunate that I was able to pass the test as all my schooling and studies was in English).
    So at the moment I am waiting for the test certificate to submit my application to Visa Centre here. God knows how long they are going to decide my application.
    I don’t know why these sort of restriction they are imposing on the genuine people whom just want to live together and who love each other. And I also don’t understand the logic behind the thing that “we have to spend lots and lots of money, just to show that we have enough money to live together”, does anybody know whats the logic behind this? I don’t think anyone has anything to say about this ill-perceived rules and regulations.
    All I can say its a total rip off. Up until now we have spent about four thousands quids for nothing and God knows how much we have to spend to go through this stupid visa process.

    I wish someone in the UKBA go through all this agony then they would understand how the people feel and what is the impact of their blanket policies.

  • Language requirement creates yet more anguish « Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

    […] far from unique. JCWI will continue to campaign for an end to this rule which, like in the case of Mohammed and his wife and daughter, splits families up. We have also formally intervened in the Chapti test case which was recently […]

  • mr zeddy

    i think that this is unnecsesary requirement for genuine marriges this will make people apart from their love ones

  • Heather

    I am a native British citizen from birth,my partner is Dominican. We communicate in spanish. We have a daughter of 16 months, whom he has seen for only 13 weeks in total out of her young life. He has to work to live, so on visitors visa has stayed short periods and we have been there. I worked in Dom for British company on work placements and have been with my partner since 2008. I had my daughter in the Uk and developed medical problems that have kept me here. However our family is now torn apart. It is incredibly distressing to be apart, and even more so that my daughter does not know her own father, as when we get to see him, she has to relearn who he is each time as she is so young. And completely heartbreaking for him!! He does not speak english to pass the test, and I feel he would be better learning in the country itself. He currently works incredibly long shifts and how he is meant to find the time or get access to a course there I just don’t know. It is incredibly discriminating purely based on nationality. You may be an american who speaks no english, but that’s ok, because they assume you do. In the mean time ripping families apart, making families one parent families as they have no alternative!! And then the Prime Minister has the nerve to call society ‘Broken’ and calls apon single parent and absent father families. Well Mr Cameron – you have made it that way for me! I imagine if it were him taken away from his children it would be another matter. I just do not know what to do, as even attempting to apply with the current language test, would at the moment be pointless. It’s so hard not to lose hope. I found the following link…
    http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/having-a-european-child-gives-non-eu-parents-right-residence

    This states that member staes of the European Union MUST give residence to the parents of an underage EU citizen child. But how do we get them to follow the rules??

    Help!!!

  • Chapti & Ors v SSHD – pre-entry language test judgment « Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

    […] are a  number of very sad cases in which applicants meet all of the relevant criteria, and cannot return home because of threats to […]

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