Chiswick Newly Weds Torn Apart by Bureaucratic Sloth

Gavin and Gretchen McWilliam face indifference from the UK Border Agency

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A Chiswick couple have found themselves in a Kafkaesque nightmare after a family tragedy and an administrative cock-up combined to force them to spend the first months of their married life on opposite sides of the planet.

Local landscape architect Gavin and Gretchen McWilliam got married on the 22nd March in New Zealand. Earlier in the year Gretchen's father had been diagnosed with bowel cancer so they arranged the wedding in her home country so that he could attend.

Gretchen had lived and worked in this country for the last nine years and has been working as a theatre sister at St John and Elizabeth’s Hospital where she was responsible for managing 5 theatres and 50 members of staff. In January of this year her application for renewal of her working visa was refused due to an administrative error by the hospital's HR department.

The couple applied for a spousal visa at the start of April engaging the services of an immigration lawyer to ensure that the forms were completed correctly and all requested documentation was provided. They received an e-mail from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) confirming receipt of their documents but informing them they were not to contact them again otherwise their application could be delayed. Two months on they are still waiting with no indication given as to how long the process will take. Gavin has had to return to the UK while his wife cannot leave New Zealand.

The couple say that they meet all the criteria laid down for the visa. Gretchen’s job is on the government's list of occupations for which there are a shortage, she is highly skilled, has a BA in nursing and is a registered nurse, and she is also financially independent. The celebrant who married them is the Mayoress of the City of Waitakere, and her husband the Mayor has written to Richard Barnes, the deputy Mayor of London who has been assisting them, to testify the legitimacy of the marriage.

Gavin said, "Gretchen has now not been able to work for 6 months which has put a huge financial strain on us and the UKBA currently hold her passport so she is not even allowed to travel, she is being treated like a second class citizen which is a disgrace."

To try and raise the profile of his case and draw attention to what he describes as the 'appalling state' of the UKBA he has organised a petition to the Minister responsible. At the time of writing he had already received over 250 signatures of support

We have so far been unable to contact the UKBA for a comment.

June 12, 2010