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Coronavirus: 'Virus ruined our wedding plans... but now my fiance might have to leave NI as we are not married'

Carrickfergus women on 'classic Catch 22 situation' the pandemic has created

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Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

Freddie Parkinson

Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

A distraught young woman has revealed that government red tape surrounding the coronavirus pandemic - which has already ruined her wedding - is now threatening to destroy her whole relationship.

Louise Murray (25), from Carrickfergus, was due to marry her American fiance Jason Charewicz (29), from Boston, in her Co Antrim hometown on Saturday, May 23.

But not only has the wedding been cancelled due to coronavirus, it has now emerged that her husband-to-be may be forced to leave Northern Ireland when his visa expires.

Ms Murray, whose new job has been put on hold because of Covid-19, said the situation was "beyond stressful" for the couple, who are currently living with Louise's parents.

"Jason's visa won't be renewed unless we get married, but we can't get married because of coronavirus... a classic Catch 22 situation," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We worked so hard and saved up all our money to be together and now this has happened and everything is up in the air."

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Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

Bride-to-be Louise said that the ceremony on her big day was due to take place "in the Catholic church at the bottom of my street in Carrickfergus".

"Our wedding has been planned for well over a year but it can't go ahead," she said.

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Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

Freddie Parkinson

Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

"The priest was happy to proceed with a service just for us and my parents because we live in the same household; it would have been a legal marriage for us to tick that box but he was prevented from doing that by the blanket ban on all gatherings."

She added: "All that we've worked for might be down the drain. We might not even be able to stay together in the same country, let alone get married."

The young couple, who have been together for over two years, met while teaching English in South Korea.

Jason revealed that he is here in Northern Ireland on a fiance visa which requires him to get legally married before August 23.

If the marriage does not take place, he cannot extend his stay or switch to a spousal visa and remain in the UK, meaning that their whole future will be thrown into question.

Furthermore, Louise has had no income since February, as the new job she was supposed to start as a support worker in Northern Ireland cannot train her due to Covid-19.

Although she is still technically employed, her employer cannot pay her, as she cannot start work.

Louise, an only child to support worker dad Hugh (62) and nurse Lorraine (60), who are both retired, said she is not entitled to Jobseeker's Allowance or to Universal Credit.

The pair said they have emailed the Home Office but, after almost three weeks, there has been no reply. They also said they cannot get through to officials by phone either.

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Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

Louise Murray from Carrickfergus and her fiancé Jason Charewicz from Massachusetts

Jason told the Belfast Telegraph that the two of them were now "in despair" over their future.

"The longer our marriage is delayed the more likely it is that we won't meet the financial requirement of the spousal visa if one month of no income becomes three through no fault of our own," he said.

"If the pandemic hadn't happened, we would be getting married in May, and Louise's income over the previous year would exceed the financial requirement that the Home Office stipulates.

"Louise cannot, however, make income due to the pandemic, and now it looks like this will bring us below the threshold, despite the fact that Louise made well over the required threshold in the past two years.

"The Home Office requires the partner of the foreign visa applicant to prove their previous year's income using the past 12 months.

"But what if three of those 12 months' earning potential were lost by an unforeseen virus?"

The decision to relocate from the Far East to Northern Ireland was the result of Louise's preference to come home.

"I didn't want to live in America," she explained.

That meant Jason was prepared to leave his parents Michael (65) and Deborah (64) and younger brother Brett (26) behind in the US to make a new life with his Northern Irish love.

Jason said they believe that couples in their situation "should be allowed to use the 12 months before the coronavirus pandemic in order to prove the sponsor's income".

He also pointed out that it has already cost them "at least £4,000 to get this far" in the legalisation process.

"When my visa comes to expire, and we have had no chance to get legally married due to the pandemic, will the Home Office require that we spend thousands of pounds again on a new application, despite the fact that this one was made null and void by a pandemic?" he said.

"Will they send me back to the States without my partner, where I haven't lived for years?"

Jason also hit out at the lack of advice from the UK Government on the issue.

"What does the government suggest we do?" he said.

"They won't release any advice about this specific situation.

"It's inconvenient that British couples must delay their marriage, but for couples where one partner's status rests on a legal marriage taking place, the lockdown is devastating."

He added: "We just want answers."

Louise said: "Not knowing is almost worse than having a bad answer because at least then you could make plans."

In response the Home Office said it has put in place a range of measures to support those affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

" We continue to monitor the situation closely and take these exceptional circumstances into account," a spokesman said.

"Under current family Immigration Rules, a fiance(e) or proposed civil partner can apply to extend their stay for a further six months where there is good reason why their ceremony could not take place during the currency of their visa.”

Belfast Telegraph