Name-Shame Produces Results… Kind of.

I find it suspect that every time I’ve named and shamed my MP, within one week he dignifies us with a response. Leaving me to conclude that the fellow google-searches his own name (which, when you think about it, is probably a rather intelligent thing to do, as it lets you know who’s talking smack).

Yesterday, we received actually two letters. One for my husband and one for me (as I wrote to our MP about the Immigration Bill, which – surprise, surprise – the Tory MP actually supports and he basically told me that I should go eat worms… those would be my words, not his, but that’s the gists of it); neither of his letters were particularly impressive (then again, I’m biased), though it should be noted that he assumed – despite  my husband’s letter not even mentioning it – that the letter was about Asylum seekers; which really tells how you much he actually was paying attention to what we were telling him…

Anyway, in the name of “progress” if nothing else (there are quotation marks there, only because I’m bitingly sarcastic when I apply that word in this instance), I will put up the letter he forwarded to us from the “delightfully charming” Mr Mark Harper MP for your reading “pleasure”:

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In what way, I ask, is this not a repeat of every soundbite Mark Harper has given on Immigration to date? No, seriously; I gotta know. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him read this script before.

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Still with me? Because this is the end of the first page. It isn’t until we reach the second page that he stops monologuing and simply repeating his, tired out, overused rhetoric.

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Oh, isn’t that just the cutest! My husband’s income has been verified by not one, but TWO completely independent accountants, HMRC, backed up by bank statements, proof of National Health Insurance and tax payments. What else would you like us to give you, Mr Harper? You should know that, because, clearly, you’ve gone through the trouble of looking up the case number. My husband already gave signed permission for the ECO to access the information directly; no seriously – what more can we give you? We’ve checked all the boxes in the Financial guidance…(grumble, grumble).

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 10.20.44

The stupid thing is, with how their rules are written, self-employed/sole trader income is counted with my husband’s limited liability company’s earnings; whereas HMRC treats them as the separate entities that they are. It makes absolutely zero sense that they have done that. The only documentation we weren’t able to provide is “proof of registration as sole trader,” why? (and this is going into caps) BECAUSE IT DOESN’T EXIST! Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs does not distinguish between entity types (so regardless of how the business operates, it is noted the same way at Company House, there is no differentiation between them). 

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 10.20.59

Those changes to the rules he’s mentioning, how they’ve made things easier? Not exactly as he’s advertising. See December 2012’s,  April 2013’s and October 2013’s changes for yourself. Of course if that doesn’t drive it home for you, you can find in depth details of the changes here.

I can’t decide if I’m more offended that he’s brushed us off or because he is assuming we have somehow not been paying attention all this bloody time and are, of course, utterly stupid. You’re going to have to lug your load home, Mr Harper, because we’re not buying it. These rule changes have only made the whole process all the more fumbling and convoluted than ever before – and the number of cases that refused on the first go and then subsequently won on appeal reflect as much.

More irritating is now they want to put the fees up… it just gets better and better every day, I tell you…

You know what? I’ve made up my mind: What I am really the most insulted by is how this letter only covers 30% of the issues we raised in our e-mail. And I’m being generous in that percentage.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what we sent:

“Keith Simpson MP

House of Commons

London

SW1A 0AA

keith.simpson.mp@parliament.uk

4th September 2013

Dear Mr Simpson,

My name is <Redacted> and I am a resident of the Broadland constituency and I am writing to notify you of my concerns regarding immigration services and to ask you to speak on my behalf concerning the debate on ‘spousal visas.’

I would first like to highlight that I am a hardworking and contributing member to society that has never broken the law, always paid my taxes, never used public funds and have always paid my way. That said, after attempting to exert my right to establish a family life as a citizen of this wonderful nation, I find myself falling foul to the political and never ending administrative barriers that have been ungracefully placed by the present government to halt hardworking, law abiding and honest citizens from settling down with their loved ones from non European countries. In this case, my wife is an American and we have been trying to swim against the current of incompetency that has occurred within the immigration services.

Despite making the income requirement implemented last year (£18,600), we were initially denied the application for a Fiancé/Civil partner visa at the New York British Consulate on the grounds that we did not provide the required supporting information. Upon refusing an application, an immigration officer is required to provide details of why the application was refused and this was absent within our refusal notice. I suspect that the true reason boiled down to the simple fact that the information required is too overwhelming for officers to cope with when reviewing applications.

At the time that we sent our first application, it was known that the consulate was behind in processing applications. We suspect that this lead to rushed decisions that did not properly take into account all of the documentation that was provided; in our case, the reasons that were used to provide a denial of our application were indicative of the fact that they are over-stretched as they incorrectly denied the application due to missing documentation, an assertion that was false. Making costly errors, not just to applicants like us but I would presume the tax payer as well for applications to be reviewed during any appeal process.

After filing and winning an appeal after having to seek the aid of a legal representative to the personal cost of nearly £500.00 – ultimately we won our appeal and were legally married on the 30th of April 2013. We have since applied, under the same laws, for the FLR(M) visa. On the 12th of June of this year, still having met the income requirement, we booked a Public Enquiry Office appointment. To further the testament of the cumbersome nature of the new system, despite providing the same information that we used on the first visa that was accepted on appeal, we were told that the accredited accountant that prepared both our taxes as well as our statements of income did not have sufficient accreditation to be accepted, and that we would have 10 days to get an “approved” accountant review and verify our information.

For what purpose was this when all accountants must follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP)? With the exception of perhaps a name with one more degree attached to it, the new accountant, that agreed to do as asked, was even befuddled by what actual purpose there was in only accepting some accreditations over others that were equally qualified to perform the task. Further to this point, our immigration officer at the public enquiry office had stated that an accountant with an ICAEW after their name would know how to put a report together to satisfy an immigration officer. Upon asking out new accountant this he did not know how an immigration officer would want it and I doubt any accountant would as it is unlikely they have clients that have to deal with immigration on a daily basis. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that there is a specific format requested as there is no mention in the visa guidance.

Requiring immigration officers to understand accounting and the expectation that an accountant would intuitively know exactly how to prepare documentation for which there is no guidance available is ridiculous and a massive failure in basic common sense.

PEO applicants pay extra money for an expedited service. We were assured that, even though we were told we would have to provide “additional documentation” this would hold true. We mailed back our amended documents including the accountant statement on the 20th of June that included a prepaid return envelope (£15.00) at the request of the immigration officer as it seems they do not even pay to return documents. This is wasted money and effort on our parts as by providing a return envelope at an estimated amount – to get an exact rate is impossible as half of the documentation remained at the Public Enquiry Office while we were returned the bare minimum to fulfil the original request – there is no guarantee that the amount of postage is sufficient to cover the total cost of returning all documents once the decision is made.

We expected to hear back in a timely manner, as there should have been no other reasons to withhold the verdict of our application. But since then we have not heard anything beyond a letter from the Home Office dated the 18th of July that informed us that they had received our “outstanding” documentation and reminded us that, despite my wife’s original visa expiring on the 17th of July, it was still effective pending the decision of the application.

We received the letter mentioned above on the 20th of July. If we count from the date of the original PEO appointment, we have been waiting for a decision for almost three (3) months; even if we count from the date we received this letter, we have still waited two (2) months without any word. When the vast majority of PEO FLR(M) applications are decided within one (1) month, this is not just unacceptable, but unjustified since our income was above the requirement.

It does not make sense to overcomplicate the system of confirming income by not following the same rules dictated by HRMC for verifying income and calculating tax. Because the Home Office’s new rules do not accept deductions including capital allowances (for those that buy equipment needed for their self-employment or business) that are accepted and allowed under HMRC tax code, this forces many people like us to unjustly pay more tax (in my case £1,000.00) than others just to satisfy the criteria. The requirement that people “prove” self-employment beyond tax statements from HMRC and their own bank statements, of which such verification does not exist, is ludicrous and discriminatory against small businesses and entrepreneurs. In a very real sense, it tells those who are self-employed that their method of earning a living is not legitimate and frowned upon. The extra scrutiny that occurs and the hoop jumping that has to be performed to meet unfathomable standards in order to secure my right as a citizen of the United Kingdom to a family life is incomprehensible.

My letter to you is not about attacking the immigration officers. I am sure they are doing the best they can in a system that is broken and constrained by bureaucracy and political agendas; they can only function within the rules and policies imposed upon them. However, it is the fact that the overwhelming and inflexible nature of the new family-based immigration procedures as set out by the Home Office has caused visa application decisions to be either: rushed, delayed or unjustly denied without the immigration officers having any basic understanding of accounting principles.

Further, the mind-boggling nature of its application, the evidence needing to be supplied, is so vast that I can fully appreciate why there are great backlogs – many complicated applications that have multiple sources of income make this method of verifying income unwieldy – and the pile just gets higher.

A decision made wrong the first time causes much expense to be added to individuals that have already spent a lot of money (i.e. about £800 on fiancé visa, £1000 on settlement visa) on visas in the form of appeals, where permitted, or even the submission of new applications. Not only that, it causes much pressure, stress and uncertainty and I do not believe the modern day immigration officer can exercise their right to use discretion when they are so utterly ill-equipped to properly assess the information being presented to them.

I would also like it considered that the income requirement to be fixed at £18,600 is a shameful figure that does not reflect regional differences in the cost of living and prevents the common man from fulfilling his aspirations; especially as nearly 50% of the UK populous in employment do not earn this figure. This basically says that less than half of working citizens do not deserve the fundamental human right of being with their loved ones, for no other reason than because they do not have a job that pays enough to do so. It is classism, pure and simple.

It is hoped that by binging to your attention my experiences and opinions of the immigration system so far that you, as my elected representative for the Broadland Constituency, will provide a voice in government to express my concerns and to lend your voice to the debate concerning the family based immigration visa and the income requirement.

Yours Sincerely,

<Redacted>”

All this is disgusting and bad enough, but we’re still trying to decide what we even want to do about it. I suspect that, like most things, writing back to them will be a lot like fighting a pig in the mud – 10 minutes in and you realise the swine is enjoying it.

Our Solicitor advised us against filing a formal complaint, I think I’ve mentioned this before, but if not I’m saying it now; as I initially suspected, he has not known cases to go well for the client when they have taken that route. So take that as, despite them “welcoming” criticism, they don’t sincerely mean it.

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