Citizenship and a Samsung tablet – Robert’s story
There’s a wee boy in Chandler, Arizona, USA. He’s 15 months old and his name is Robert. He has some baby toys but his favourite thing in the entire world isn’t a toy. Robert loves his mum’s Samsung tablet. He calls it ‘Da da’ and carries it around the house all the time.
Robert hasn’t seen his father since he was 6 months old. The tablet is all he knows of him. They talk on Skype when they can, but there isn’t always a good connection; he doesn’t understand why his dad is sometimes sad when they talk and play.
His dad isn’t in the army; he isn’t working overseas; he’s not in prison; he’s not in hospital. Robert’s dad is in the UK, working desperately to get his wee boy back. Robert is a UK citizen, born in Scotland. His dad is a UK citizen and his eight year-old sister has a permanent visa to live in the UK. But they can’t because Robert’s mum, Jodie, is American.
In March of 2012, Jodie was torn. Her dad, her only parent, had been ill with a serious heart condition for some time when her stepmum called to say that he had been taken to the hospital again. Jodie was terrified that he would die without having seen his grandson. She also wanted a chance to say goodbye. She was living in Scotland with her husband, Gavin, but her dad was in California. At the time, Jodie was working hard to support her husband through University in Scotland. Gavin worked a few hours as a youth worker but Jodie was the financial mainstay of the family. She was coming up on the end of her second two-year settlement visa and would have been eligible to apply for permanent status. She knew that they didn’t have enough money saved for that application and for tickets to fly to California. She chose the latter.
In early April, Jodie boarded a flight to California with her young daughter and baby Robert, leaving Gavin to finish his degree in Scotland. Before she left, Jodie rang the Home Office and was told that, when necessary, she would be able to apply for a visa to come home from the US ‘no problem’. She lived and worked in the US, spending as much time as possible with her dad who, despite his illness, was overjoyed to see his grandchildren. Jodie and Gavin talked about perhaps moving back to the US for a while so that she could be with her dad more, allowing him to get to know the kids. They didn’t get that chance; Jodie’s dad died in September.
After the funeral, in November, Jodie applied for a new visa to come home to Scotland – the one that would be ‘no problem’. She discovered that while she had been helping to care for her dad, the UK Government had quietly instituted new ’family’ immigration rules. The time she had spent working and paying taxes in the UK didn’t count; since Gavin was the UK citizen, she couldn’t apply for a new visa without 6 months proof of his income. Gavin had been a full-time student, entering his final year. He didn’t have 6 months’ proof of income. Jodie and the children couldn’t come home.
Gavin immediately quit university, without graduating, but didn’t land a job right away. It took time to put together the necessary documents, bank statements, proof they would have a place to live, and proof that Robert was a citizen. In the meantime, Jodie and the children became nomads. They roamed through several states, staying with various relatives, moving Robert’s sister from school to school – all while Gavin worked 70 hours per week to put together proof of the necessary income level. Without his degree, Gavin had to take low-paying jobs, which required him to work a punishing schedule of 12-hour night shifts to make the money. But, he was absolutely determined to do it. They kept in touch via late night phone calls and Skype. Christmas was hard.
The situation this family found itself in was not of their making. They are not ‘scroungers’ or ‘benefit tourists’ with a nefarious plan to come back home so they can ‘sponge’ off the UK system. They just want to work and have a good life like anyone else. Before Jodie’s dad was taken ill they were well on their way to doing it. Jodie had worked hard in Scotland, supporting her husband and keeping the family going. Gavin was just a few months away from graduating. Two out of the four members of their family are UK born yet they have been kept apart and punished by a law that picks on UK citizens whose only ‘crime’ is falling in love and marrying someone from outside the EU.
These families are the most vulnerable because they are the only group of immigrants over whom the UK government has complete control; it represents a tiny portion of immigration statistics but one the government has selected. Gavin has missed the first year of his son’s life solely because his wife wanted to see her dying father. His family have been forced to be nomads, wandering from relative to relative and state to state. Their home is in Scotland but they can’t get back.
Robert’s big sister kept telling her dad she wanted a hug and she wanted to see her friends. She wonders if, perhaps, her dad didn’t love her any more. She doesn’t understand why she can’t just come home.
This policy is hardest on the children. How does one explain that daddy and mummy love you, but the government says you can’t see them? There are no adequate words. And a Samsung tablet is no substitute.