But I’m yet to meet a British citizen who has an Albanian spouse who hasn’t had a problem.
On 17 December last year, Paige Smith stood on a bridge above a road in north London. “I don’t remember too much, just standing there, looking over the edge, thinking ‘I’m just going to jump’, but then two police officers – I don’t know where they came from – managed to talk me down.”
Smith, 24, had been left suicidal by the Kafkaesque nightmare in which she and her Albanian fiance, Fatjon Ballmi, 23, had found themselves since becoming engaged.
Last September, having been together for nearly three years, they applied for a fiance visa for Ballmi but, two months later, the Home Office refused, stating, incorrectly, that Smith did not meet the £18,600 income threshold necessary to bring her partner into the country, a requirement introduced in 2012 by Theresa May, who was then home secretary.
“We never expected a refusal and I took it quite badly,” Smith said. “I was suffering mentally, having been away from my fiance for 11 weeks in total and I tried to commit suicide. I was sectioned, taken to hospital and stayed there for just under 24 hours before they let me go.”
The Home Office had lost a crucial payslip proving that Smith met the criteria. “The payslip was sent to them four times including from my solicitor and MP. The joke of it is they had my bank statements and access to HMRC to see how much I get paid.”
An appeal judge took less than 10 minutes in June to rule that the visa should be issued. The Home Office took another two months to confirm that it would not appeal.
“Everyone says ‘you’re a British citizen so you’ll have no problem’ when actually you do. But I’m yet to meet a British citizen who has an Albanian spouse who hasn’t had a problem. I think certain nationalities are extremely discriminated against when it comes to getting a visa. I guess it’s part of the hostile environment. I know mistakes happen and it’s a big government department but it seems to be happening far too often.”
Smith is one of about 1,000 members on the Reuniting Families Facebook page who can testify to the problems tens of thousands of British nationals are experiencing when trying to bring their non-EU spouses and dependants into the UK.