Red tape stops Belfast resident's family, all UK citizens, moving to city
A Belfast resident says he's been left to live life on his own as his family are being denied the right to move to Northern Ireland due to UK immigration laws - and any chance they have of being together in the Republic could be ended by Brexit.
Talga Bendie has been living in the city for the past six months and plans to stay.
Although he was born in South Africa, the 29-year-old is a UK citizen and has a UK passport.
His mother, brother and sister are also UK citizens, but legislation is keeping the family apart, he says.
Talga's London-born mum Awaalif (57) and her South African husband have been denied the right to live in Belfast with her income, now she is retired, not meeting an £18,600 threshold to allow her husband to move to the UK with her.
It's a similar situation for his sister Haadia, whose salary in HR does not meet regulations - her two children mean she needs to be earning £24,800 before being eligible to apply to move here and be with her family where they all want to live.
"I felt I had to say something about the situation," delivery rider Talga told the Belfast Telegraph.
"We are all British, we feel British and we want to live here.
"But my sister and my mum would have to leave their husbands behind if they want to join me here.
"It's frustrating and unnecessary regulations that have torn my family apart. We just want to be together.
"My mum was born in London and has been a UK citizen all her life.
"Yes, she has lived in South Africa, but she has always said that when she reached retirement age she wanted to come back and settle in the UK.
"With me now living in Belfast, she came here for the Christmas holidays and loved it. That was the first Christmas we have managed to spend together in over 10 years and it really showed us all how much we want to live in the same country and be there for each other. My brother Khalil made it over from Hong Kong and it was special for us all.
"She wants to come and live here to be near me, and I would love her to come here, too, but we've been left in an impossible situation by immigration laws that were brought in in 2012.
"It should be easy to come to live in the UK if you're a UK citizen, but it's people like me, my mum and my sister who are left as the casualties of the Government's immigration rules. I see them as denying a mother's right to be with her son, with her family.
"My sister would also love to come here, but as her employment isn't earning her enough, and she has two children, which puts the threshold on income up even higher, there's no chance under current legislation that she can come to live here, again despite being a UK citizen and holding a UK passport. The world is a smaller place than it was, but I seem to be further away from my family than ever."
Since July 2012, when current Prime Minister Theresa May was Home Secretary, the UK's immigration rules have required non-EEA (European Economic Area) nationals to satisfy a financial 'minimum income' requirement in order to secure a visa to join a British/settled spouse or partner in the UK.
Available maintenance funds equivalent to a minimum gross annual income of £18,600 are required. A higher amount is required when visas are sought for non‑EEA national children. The Children's Commissioner for England has estimated that up to 15,000 British children are growing up in 'Skype families' because their parents cannot live together in the UK due to these immigration rules.
"The whole process has left my family in limbo," said Talga.
"My mother and her husband are in the UK at the minute on six-month visas, which took a long, long time to secure. But they will run out at the end of March and she doesn't know what to so when that time comes.
"They could have had the option of moving to the Republic of Ireland, but with the Brexit deadline approaching, there's no time left to try to organise that, and once Britain leaves the EU, that option might not be available, either. We simply don't know.
"We just want to be together. We're UK citizens, but we can't live in the country of our citizenship."
The Home Office said it could not comment considering there had been no application received for a permanent visa in this case.
"My mother has been advised by agencies in South Africa that a six-month holiday visa was the best we could hope to get to allow all of the family to be together. There was no guarantee of that, but we did eventually manage to get that arranged, though it runs out in a couple of months' time," he added.
"My mum obviously doesn't want to leave her husband and will have to return to South Africa with him but that's the way these regulations treat a family like mine.
"They're basically saying my mum can't return to live in the UK, where she was born, unless she leaves her husband behind, and that's ridiculous."