Red tape nightmare: Northern Ireland man's desperate plea to be allowed home with Filipina wife and son
When Gavin Lucas (30) lost his job in the Far East it was just the start of a nightmare. He decided to return to Northern Ireland with his Filipina wife and son, but found that red tape and unbending immigration rules threatened to tear his life asunder.
What would you say if I told you that in the year 2016 it is possible for an Ulsterman to be exiled by the British Government to a tiny island in The Philippines? You'd say I was taking the mick, wouldn't you?
Sadly, on this occasion, I am not.
My name is Gavin Lucas and I'm originally from Ballynahinch, Co Down. At the age of 21 I decided to do what everyone dreams of at some point and get out and see the world. I counted myself extremely fortunate to be among those who could do it, and I have no regrets about the decision.
Over the years I had the chance to explore Australia, snorkel in Thailand, teach English in Indonesia, and drill for oil and gas in the jungles of West Papua. It was an exciting, adventurous and thrilling ride, full of twists and turns, just like I had imagined it.
Like every great story, this one involves a girl. I met my wife Karla (30), a pre-school teacher from the Philippines, while working in oil and gas in Indonesia. We fell in love, got married, moved to her home in the Philippines, and our beautiful baby boy, Marcus, was born in September 2015. We had it made.
Yet fate can lay waste even the best-laid plans. A few weeks after my son was born oil prices crashed and touched lows not seen in decades. All the lads were laid off, myself included, and there's been no work since.
That's just the way it goes and you'll hear no complaints from me about it - sometimes you're on a roll and sometimes you run out of luck. That's just life.
Assessing my options, I decided that living in the Philippines is not the best course of action for my son's future since I can't work while oil prices remain depressed. It's full of beautiful islands and paradise beaches, but I suddenly found myself more concerned with education, healthcare, stability and opportunity than ever before.
As a dad, my perspective flipped 180 degrees, and I realised how much of a privilege it is to grow up in the UK. I want my son, who is eligible to become a British citizen by default, to have the same life and opportunities I did.
While making the decision was easy, when I actually went to put plans in place to return home I was stunned by what I discovered. It seems that under the Government of PM David Cameron and Home Secretary (I chuckle at the word Home in her title) Theresa May, restrictions on immigration have been implemented which are so draconian that it is nigh on impossible for us to return as a family.
I learned that while my son and I could return home immediately and without restriction, my wife would be eligible to visit but that she would have to leave and return home after 180 days.
I learned that I would be able to apply for a spouse visa for her, but that I would have to first return home alone, secure a job earning a minimum of £18,000 a year, and then wait to be able to show evidence of six months of pay cheques, and proof of address spanning the same time period, before we could even begin the legal process of applying to reunite our family.
In short, I would have to leave my wife and four-month-old son in the Philippines while I returned home to look for a job, and only after six months of securing one could I begin applying for them to join me in Northern Ireland. Yet it gets worse. I found that even if the visa were to be issued, the time of probation for my wife has increased from two years to five years.
That means that, despite being a qualified and experienced pre-school teacher, fluent in English and able to speak four languages, my wife would not be able to work for five years. We have no desire, whatsoever, to claim any form of benefits. We just want to work, pay our taxes, and bring our son up somewhere he can flourish.
To sum up, I found that it was now practically impossible for me to return home. Legally possible, but practically impossible. There's a big difference!
I can't conceive of leaving my family for up to a year, and I can't possibly support three of us on a single income even if we ever do get back.
All I want is the chance to come back to the place I was born and raised, to work, pay our taxes, and contribute to society.
As a qualified gas engineer myself, with a wife who is a practising Christian, and a teacher of children, and who speaks multiple languages, surely we are not a "security threat" or a "drain on the system".
Surely a British citizen has a right to family life, does he not? Surely an eligible British citizen (my son) has the right to claim his birthright of living in the UK, without being forced to live in the nation without the care and love of his mother, does he not?
So, a question to Theresa May: do you and your friends in Westminster ever consider the havoc your broad-sweeping solutions to immigration are wreaking on countless lives, how they are tearing families asunder?
For now it seems that I shall have to content myself eking our a living writing articles on the web, living like Robinson Crusoe on an island in the sun, dreaming of a home I once loved but am no longer welcome in, banished for the crime of having fallen in love with a woman with a passport the current Government deems undesirable, praying that no sudden emergency strikes my family and that one day we will be able to return home.
And there are countless others like me. We deserve a right to family life just like anyone else. After all, while we may speak different languages around the world, love for our families is the one language we all speak, no matter where we're from.
Surely even David Cameron and Theresa May can speak it...