Love in a cold climate

A man and woman meet, fall in love and plan to marry. Then a month before the wedding, she’s arrested and threatened with deportation. Welcome to 21st century Britain

It’s one thing to have heard or read the phrase “hostile environment” in terms of immigration, another to be caught up in the reality of what it means ­– to see and experience Theresa May’s brainchild from when she was Home Secretary, up close and personal.

But for Shrewsbury town planner and UNISON member Grahame French and carer Pauline Taylor that is precisely what happened.

A year after Grahame’s first wife left him, a cousin recommended he use an online dating site. Pauline’s daughter had put her mother’s profile on the same site. And in August 2015 they found each other.

Grahame says that Pauline “really stood out and we couldn’t stop texting – though being quite shy, it took me over a month to ask her out!”

Pauline is a Jamaican national and has lived in the UK for over 17 years on a series of Home Office approvals. All of her family are here with settled status. She has British grandmothers and one grandfather saw active service with the Royal Navy in World War II.

From wedding notice to a detention cell

In their situation, a couple has to apply to the Home Office for permission to marry. On 21 August 2017, the day after a two-and-a-half-hour interview, the Home Office granted Grahame and Pauline that permission.

Once permission is granted, a couple is given a notice period after which the marriage can take place. For Grahame and Pauline, that notice period was scheduled to end on 16 September 2017. Grahame booked their wedding for 16 October.

On 15 September, the day before the notice period ended, Pauline was making one of her regular reporting visits to the Home Office in Solihull, when she was detained. She told staff that she still had a live application for a visa. Five minutes later, an immigration officer returned and handed her a refusal decision.

Grahame says they met all the criteria for Pauline to be granted an appropriate visa, including Grahame’s income and the fact they had been living as a couple for two years; yet the Home Office claimed they could not have been together for that time, in spite of Grahame having evidence.

Held in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre for 24 days, Pauline lost a stone and a half and was put on suicide watch.

The couple’s solicitor, immigration specialist Shiraz Peer, describes the case as a “serious miscarriage of justice,” with the Home Office “digging its heels in” in spite of all the evidence.

It is, he says, a perfect example of the hostile environment. A judicial review has been lodged, with a claim for aggravated damages.

Even if I could work in Jamaica, there are no equivalent jobs and we would be faced with a life of poverty

Grahame’s manager at Shropshire Council has written to the Home Office pointing out that his specialist skills – in areas including minerals and waste, large housing schemes, major engineering and agricultural schemes and renewable energy – “are in short supply” and would be difficult to replace. He was also supported by an additional letter from the council’s chief executive.

Pauline’s detention in Yarl’s Wood has also re-awakened the clinical depression that she had previously suffered as a result of the history of appalling abuse she and her daughters experienced before coming to this country.

Even with her family here, this is apparently the world that the Home Office now claims is perfectly safe for Pauline to go back to. The Home Office has also stopped Pauline working as a carer.

Unsurprisingly, all this has taken its toll on Grahame’s health too, with his GP advising that placing him in a position where he would have to accompany Pauline on a forced deportation could have serious and potentially fatal consequences for his own health.

Not only would he lose his job of 30 years, his home and his future pension entitlements, but he adds: “Even if I could work in Jamaica, there are no equivalent jobs and we would be faced with a life of poverty.”

Yet despite all the evidence, the Home Office declares that there’s no reason they cannot both go to Jamaica – or, as it suggested at one stage, Grahame could stay in the UK and maintain contact with Pauline by email or Skype.

UNISON on their side

“At that point, in desperation, I was looking for any support I could get,” says Grahame.

“It didn’t initially occur to me to contact UNISON, which I have been a member of for most of my 30 years in local government. However, I spoke to the charity Migrant Voice about Pauline’s case and they recommended it. It’s the best thing I did.”

Grahame first contacted his local branch, who referred him to the national office.

UNISON has since raised the case with the Labour Party, while general secretary Dave Prentis has written to home secretary Sajid Javid about the couple. The union is also trying to ensure that their plight does not simply drop out of the public eye.

An inflexible, rigid approach to human beings

“The details of Grahame and Pauline’s case have shocked me, given all the concerns that have been raised over the past year, and lead me to believe that the lessons of Windrush have still not been learned,” Mr Prentis says.

“A common thread in recent mistakes by the Home Office has been an inflexible, rigid approach to human beings – mistakes that have had a catastrophic impact on the lives of ordinary people in this country.

“This has included deportation, denial of lifesaving NHS treatment, loss of jobs and livelihoods by people who were legally entitled to live, work and access services in this country.”

And Mr Prentis concludes: “I am deeply troubled that this extends to telling British citizens to leave the country if they are married to a foreign national – even if they meet Home Office rules and conditions to live in this country as a family.”

A happy ending

In May, after this article first appeared in activist, the Home Office granted Pauline 30 months leave to remain.

“Undoubtedly a major factor in this about-turn will have been media pressure,” says Grahame, who cites the UNISON article, along with a petition that had been signed by more than 100,000 people and a video circulating on social media as contributing factors.

“So ‘people power’ really has worked in our case,” he adds. “The union’s help has been massively appreciated.”

And if there’s icing, it obviously has to be on a wedding cake. Despite their troubles, Grahame and Pauline, now Pauline Taylor-French, did marry – for nothing was going to stop this particular love story.

UNISON provides free immigration telephone advice to members who have come to work in the UK.

If you have been a member of UNISON for more than four weeks and need immigration advice and information, please call UNISON Direct at 0800 0 857 857. Please be ready to give your full name, contact phone numbers and your UNISON membership number.

Your contact details will be passed on to an adviser from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), who will call you on a Tuesday, between 10am and 4pm.

12 thoughts on “Love in a cold climate

  1. Janice Hill says:

    Please forward my sincere congratulations to Grahame and Pauline in their marriage. As a British Citizen I can only offer profuse apologies to them for suffering due to policy that has not been undertaken in my name. I deplore the actions of the Home Office in this matter and would support immediate changes to legislation to put a stop to such lunacy. I regret that my taxes are used to continue this work. Pauline, as a carer you are a vital person in this society and your worth outweighs a hundred home office detention officers.
    I wish you both a happy outcome.

  2. Yellowbird says:

    As british working citizen all my life, I would like to say that I have been in this situation, where my children have lived without their father all their lives due to home office discrimination. No matter which way we tried visit visa, settlement visa there was always something against us. My children are now aged 18 and 15. Families are separated and no-one understands the trauma and how isolated you feel, without finances to support solicitor representation you are screwed. I carried on to raise my children as a single parent and after many years of saving to travel yearly back and forth for my children to maintain a relationship with their father, 2014 was our last trip. I had to keep telling myself it could be worse to justify the situation as the home office doesn’t care suffering in silence. What the home office do not care to appreciate is that when they finish work they go home to their families every night, we didn’t have that opportunity. Their policies are designed to keep families separated not together. I am representation of this. Their father still remains where he is.

  3. Edward Vaughan says:

    Do you remember MP John Reid? . . . . he stated that the Home Office was not fit for purpose . . . . so he was right !!
    What is missing in this Report is the name of the person making these ridiculous decisions.
    It is even more surprising that it was a Conservative Govt behind the matter. I have never heard of this case before, but it cannot end here just with the ‘change of heart’. The new Home Secretary is Pretti ? Patel. She should (must) be made to answer questions on this.

  4. C Loftus says:

    Another disgraceful story of cruelty and disrespect from this hideous government. Well done Unison and congratulations to the happy couple

  5. Michael Spencer says:

    I wish Grahame and Pauline all the very best for the future. I do hope that once the 30 month visa ends, Pauline will be granted indefinite leave to remain. My wife and I understand the difficulties (not to mention the cost) of the visa application process; my wife had to stay in her home country for a year after our marriage, due to a mistake by an immigration officer in South Africa. After a costly consultation with a barrister, she was able to come over on “compassionate grounds”, due to circumstances at home. It could so easily have been different and we may still have been separated.
    Let’s hope that the Home Office don’t harden their stance with Grahame and Pauline; perhaps media interest would help, and/or Unison and the Labour Party can petition on their behalf further on down the line if Pauline is not allowed to stay.

  6. Tina Field says:

    This is a disgraceful, to hear what Pauline & Grahame who have had to battle through this situation due to the Home Office and our government this law needs to changed to protect people in this situation to avoid this occurring again.
    Thankfully Unison stepped in to help many congratulations to Unison and Grahame, Pauline also nice to hear a happy ending to the happy couple

  7. Helen McCann says:

    Look at what is happening in America with parents being rounded up unable to pick up their kids from school after being years in the country. Policies affect lives.
    What people say and do makes a difference. I am glad that your union was able to intervene to get a better outcome for you than deportation. Please God you will get leave to remain and can live happily ever after.

  8. David Amos says:

    This is just the tip of the iceberg, my partners colleague has been told he must go to Brazil to live with his wife, whom he met online and married in the UK in 2018, she went home of her own accord the day before her leave to remain expired as she was told she would have to apply to live in the UK from Brazil, since then obstacle after obstacle has been placed in her way, this is despite her husband proving he has the means to support her , he is 63 and she is 55 so she is not a gold digger looking for a sugar daddy, she also owns her own property in Brazil. Unfortunately he is not a union member.

  9. Alison Meaden says:

    Congratulations Graeme and Pauline. I have my fingers crossed that Pauline will be granted indefinite leave to remail

  10. Sam Casey says:

    This is disgraceful. No government officer has the right to tell a British Citizen to go and live in another country. Any citizen has a right to marry the person of their own choosing and to live in UK with them. It used to be so very different. I met my husband in 1990 and he had a student visa; he applied for indeifinite leave to remain (I think it was free to apply then) and was granted that before we even got married. Easy as anything; he had support from his family and proof of that and that was all he needed. When we got married he applied for British citizenship (on advice of my father who is Irish and said do it asap!) and again that was cheap and easy. Now things have changed so radically it is appalling to hear of people detained as if they are criminals. Yarlswood needs to be closed without delay, it is a torture ground. well done Unison for helping.

  11. Pat I says:

    This situation is disgraceful and we must put pressure on the government to end this hostile barbaric racist system. We must petition our MP’s together with the union leaders to do more to raise the profile of the suffering and despair families are facing each day. We should not emulate the behaviour of the American hard right.

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