Ipswich family's visa nightmare leaves them fearing separation
- Credit: Paul Stewart
An Ipswich family have been left fearing they may be separated, after an "error" has left their wife and mother without a valid visa.
Paul Stewart, 58, and his wife, Bangon Thianchai, 46, live with their youngest daughter in Whitehouse in Ipswich.
The couple met in Bangon’s home country of Thailand in 2015.
As Paul remembers, “everything just clicked.”
“After about three or four months, he told me he wanted to marry me,” said Bangon, who goes by the family nickname of Aum. “We were married in November.”
“I went out to her village, and met her family and her two daughters,” said Paul. “We were married in a traditional Thai wedding, with seven monks.
“Soon after that, we applied for a visa in Bangkok, and eventually came to the UK in February, 2016.” Bangon’s children were able to join the couple in November of that year.
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Paul adopted Natthanichia, 21, and Ilada, 16, in 2019.
“I suddenly had these two beautiful girls to take care of and be responsible for,” said Paul, who also has a son from a previous relationship. “My life was complete. I’m very proud of them.”
However, difficulties arose in November last year when Bangon tried to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
The earliest you can apply to settle in the UK (called ‘indefinite leave to remain’) is after you have lived in the country for five years continuously on a family visa as a partner.
This time cannot be shared between different types of visas.
“When Aum first arrived, she was using a partner visa, which lasted for two-and-a-half-years,” said Paul. “When that ran out, she was using a family visa with the children for another-two-and-a-half-years.”
This, he said, was an error on the part of the Home Office, as Bangon’s visa should have been processed as a partner visa.
The Home Office has said it has been in contact with the family to advice on the correct route to settlement in the UK.
It had also become invalid when his adoption of their daughters was approved, because they automatically became British citizens and were removed from the application.
“So now, we don’t have five years under a continuous visa. We have two lots of two-and-a-half-years,” he said.
“We now have to submit another application for a two-and-a-half-year visa, and when that runs out, we need to do another indefinite leave to remain. That’s an awful lot of money – nearly £10,000 in fees.
“The crazy thing is, all the criteria are exactly the same – we are still married, she has still passed her 'Life in the UK' test and English qualification.
“The only thing that has changed is this error, when we took the children off the application.”
The situation has left Bangon feeling depressed, and afraid she will have to leave her daughters and Paul, who is also disabled following a brain haemorrhage and two strokes in 2009.
“I feel like this should be simple for the Home Office to sort out,” she said. “This is a big problem for me.”
The couple’s youngest daughter, said Paul, would be inconsolable if she had to be separated from her mother.
Bangon had wanted to attend her grandmother’s funeral in June and offer support to her own mother, but was worried that she would not be allowed to return to the UK.
The process is still ongoing, as they wait to hear from the Home Office.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are in touch with Ms Thianchai to advise her how to apply for the correct route to settlement in the UK.”
Bangon and Paul have also contacted their MP, Dr Poulter.
A spokesperson from his office said: “Although it is inappropriate to comment in detail on individual cases, I can confirm that Dr Poulter has been in touch with Ms Thianchai’s husband and that Dr Poulter is continuing to make representations on their behalf with the Home Office.”