(This is a continuation from my last blog post. As my pregnancy remains beautifully uneventful at 33 weeks, I'm sharing something a little different. This is the story of how my husband and I came to be together. If you read last week's post, you'll know it's already been quite the journey to bring us to this point. And, it only gets crazier from here!!)
This will be a long post. I will try and keep it as abbreviated as possible. But, there are so many parts to our tale!
You'll read about bad lawyers and tribunals and immigration law. There will be heartbreak and deportations and death... but, I'll clue you in, at the end of it all, there is a happy ending.
I'm proud of what my husband and I have endured to bring us where we are today. I think that we are stronger for it. And it makes for an incredible story!
After our sublet in Manchester, I returned home that winter.
We applied for the appropriate fiance visa and we booked train tickets to Niagara Falls. I signed a lease on an apartment for us. David booked his plane ticket. All of our ducks were in a row.
February 2012 finally came. I furnished our little apartment as best as I could. And, a few days before he arrived, my family helped me move in. It was a small one-bedroom on the top floor of an old building.. which only had stairs!
Finally, it was the day of David's arrival. I went to the grocery store to stock our fridge, taking an extra pleasure in buying all of his favorite foods.
As I shut the fridge door, I decided to check my phone. There should be a message saying that he had landed in Chicago safe and sound.
There was a message. But it was not the one that I wanted.
David had been turned back by customs in Dublin. It was because of his overstayed visa in 2010. Even worse, they banned him from the United States for THREE YEARS.
To say that this was devastating would be an understatement. It felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach.
Thankfully, I was able to get out of my apartment lease. I used what little money I had left to fly over to the UK immediately. My family, saints that they are, were the ones to move all of my belongings. For the second time in less than a week!
David and I tried to elope. We even researched getting married in other European countries. Unfortunately, we found that the system was not designed for spontaneity. I had no choice but to return to the States with the hope of saving money as quickly as possible to return for a visit. But, the uncertainty and the strain of long-distance became too much. We broke up for the second time.
Once again, I decided to heal my broken heart through travel and I met up with some friends who were in Sicily. After more European excursions, and to make a long story short, David and I once again rekindled our relationship.
This time, David and I were far more resolute in being back together. We had no idea how we would make it work, but we knew that we would, whatever the cost.
I decided to get a student visa to study in the UK. Universities were far too expensive, so I began exploring colleges. I expected it to be the difference between a community college and a university.
I arranged to have a school visit in January 2013. I told everyone I would be gone for just a month.
The college, as it turned out, was very different from an American community college. Like night versus day.
I learned that in England, a college is an intermediary point between high school and university. It is like a stepping stone.
To put it mildly, that college was awful. As committed as I was to staying with David, I simply could not envision myself going there.
I left the college, which wasn’t in the nicest part of Manchester, and met up with David in tears.
We were standing in an alleyway.
“I’m sorry,” I cried. “I want to do anything to be with you.. but I can’t go to that school. What are we going to do?”
I knew that if we didn't find a solution to our long-distance problem, that it would be the end for us.
“Well, we could do that other thing,” David said to me.
He meant get married.
That, ladies and gentlemen, was my proposal.
To get married in England as an American, the Home Office wants you to have their version of a fiance visa. It was pretty expensive, which we couldn't afford. And I would've had to leave the country and wait for another six months.
So, we planned to just get married anyway. There was nothing legally stopping us.
After, I would have to go back home to the States and get a spouse visa to return.
Our plan was in place.
As we learned from the previous year, you can't just elope in England. You have to “give notice” of your wedding at the Registrar’s office. We set the date for as early as possible, which was several weeks away. We booked my return ticket home for a couple of weeks after. By then, I’d have been away from home for just a little over two months.
We got married on March 25, 2013 when I was 22 years old at the registrar’s office in Manchester.
After, we spent a week at a hotel in the city center which was one of the best weeks of our lives.
Then, we met with a solicitor to discuss the paperwork and visas we would need to apply for.
That’s when our whole plan exploded.
“If you leave the UK now,” the solicitor told me. “You will never be let back.”
We didn’t understand. “But why?”
Turns out, to bring your spouse to the UK, you have to earn a certain amount per year. Specifically, 18,600 pounds. Which was double that in dollars at the time. Of course, that doesn’t sound like a lot. But, David was a waiter and most of his wages went undeclared.
We asked if we could borrow money from relatives or if my wages from my job back home factored into the equation at all. Neither were a possibility. There was no method of co-sponsorship, either. Even if I personally was sitting on a large inheritance, it would not have mattered.
“And because you have married a British citizen, the Home Office will never again give you a tourist visa. They know that you want to stay.
“Do not leave,” he advised us. “Whatever you do. They cannot deport you because it is the separation of a family unit.”
And this, folks, is where our real adventure began.
We sought out a second opinion. I called a few lawyers, most said there was nothing we could do.
But one, Malik, told me about a loophole.
Because the UK was still a part of the European Union, EU law actually took precedence over UK immigration law. And, under EU law, they had what was called "freedom of travel." With this law, it was much easier to bring your spouse and children with you from country to country.
In fact, there had already been a precedent case. An English native, Surinder Singh, had been living in Denmark and then travelled back to the UK and used this "freedom of travel" to bring his wife with him because he was now considered a European instead of just an Englishman.
Confused? So is everyone.
But, at the time, we thought it was excellent news.
David had grown up in Italy as a child. This meant that he could be considered a European citizen!
So we spent 600 pounds to hire this lawyer, Malik, and have him file the necessary paperwork to grant my permission for residence. (This, by the way, was virtually all of our money.)
Even better news was that, after three months, I was going to be given the right to work! That would be a big game changer for us because we had been living in David’s family’s crowded house surviving solely off of his wages.
Three months came and I received a letter in the mail.
I was not granted permission to work.
This was beyond disappointing. But, no matter, we only had three months left to wait for the final determination.
Three more months passed and we received another letter.
Our application for residence had been denied.
We met with Malik and he said, "This is not a problem." Now, all we would have to do was go live somewhere in Europe. “Just for three months,” he said. “Open a bank account. Live and work for just three months, then come back and you will be considered a European citizen. They cannot turn your wife away.”
Our obvious destination was to go somewhere in Italy. But, finding work before arrival was virtually impossible. So, I began looking into WWOOF farms. It was, unfortunately, January and therefore off-season. But, we found a hotel in Dorgali, Sardinia that needed help over the winter until their farm was ready for the season.
There was one more hurdle, however, and that was the matter of my passport. The Home Office still had it.
We called Malik. He reassured us that the passport would be returned in, “No more than a week.”
So we booked our ticket for a little over a week away.
Well, as you may have guessed... my passport did not arrive within the week.
The morning of our flight (which left from London late that afternoon) we went to the Home Office in Liverpool and were told that they "couldn't find it!"
Hours passed while we waited for them to look. By the time they finally found my passport, it was too late to make our flights.
I demanded that the Home Office pay for our plane tickets. They suggested that I demand the same of our solicitor.
Needless to say, Malik was anything but accommodating when I explained our situation. “How about I charge you for all the things that I haven’t charged you for…” and he rattled off a list of supposed discounts he’d given us over the past months.
Disheartened, we finally conceded and rebooked the flights ourselves.
Not ONE HOUR later, we received a phone call from the Home Office. They had booked flights for us.
I tried asking for a refund for the flights we had just purchased and they said they could not.
So, we arrived in Cagliari just before my birthday. This marked a year of being gone from home. Despite all the doubt and uncertainty, David and I had finally made it to Italy together. We felt giddy with optimism. It felt so nice to get out of England!
There are many adventures and stories to share from our three months spent in Sardinia, but once again I'm going to have to fast forward.
We booked our ticket home for early May. In late April, David’s grandmother passed away very suddenly. We were heartbroken that we had not been able to say goodbye and, even worse, attend her funeral. But, we were scared that if we left Sardinia too early that our entire plan would have been for nothing.
When we returned to England, via London, we knew that customs would want to speak to us. That's why we booked the latest train back to Manchester, which gave us a six hour time window.
I came to the border control armed with a printed version of a BBC article about the Surinder Singh case, which I felt gave our entire operation legitimacy. When I approached the customs agent and explained our situation, she said, “That doesn’t make any sense. You’re not a European national.”
I showed her the article. “They even wrote about it on the BBC. Look.”
She didn’t even glance at the pages. Instead, she scoffed and said, “You trust the BBC?!” and laughed derisively.
I was sent to a backroom for further discussion.
There, I watched the clock tick away as they left me waiting for long intervals.
Five hours until our train left. Then four...
I asked that they please not make us late.
After five and a half hours of interrogation...
They told me they were going to deport me. Back to Sardinia!
I cried, begging them. “I have no money. I have nowhere to stay in Italy. If you send me back there, I will be on the street.”
Thankfully, they gave me one week’s grace period “to visit my in-laws."
But, it had taken six hours to make this determination.
We missed our train, which was the last for the day.
And, to make it all worse, we had absolutely no money.
David used the last of his spare change to call home using a phone-booth (yes, they still exist!) They wired us enough money for a bus-ride back.
I had sent Malik an email, but unsurprisingly received no reply. So instead, after many inquiries, I found us another solicitor, Gurpreet.
Gurpreet was confident that we could use the Surinder Singh law to appeal my deportation and allow for me stay in the UK. Of course, it would cost more money—and it needed to happen fast, in order to appeal my letter of deportation. It cost us another 500 pounds, which we had to borrow. But, once the appeal had been filed, the Home Office was unable to deport me. Though, this didn't stop them from sending me angry letters every week with plane tickets for my departure.
So, I remained in the country. Still unable to work.
After a few months, we got a letter from the Home Office.
There would be a tribunal to determine whether I had the right to stay. It was set for August 15th, 2014.
This was the best news we'd had in ages—finally, a chance to stand in front of a live person and plead our case! Human to human.
Gurpreet prepared our official statements. These stated that, on the advice of a previous solicitor and in accordance with the Surinder Singh precedent, we had travelled to Italy with the sole purpose of living there for three months so that could return to the UK as European nationals.
On the day of the tribunal, Gurpreet passed us on to a barrister, whom we had never met. She would be the person who would represent us to the judge. She arrived many hours late.
After reading our official statements, she said that everything looked good. “Though... you might not want to say that you went to Italy for this reason.”
Except we had said that. In a signed affidavit.
“You might want to say something more along the lines of how you tried to live there and it didn’t work, so you came back.”
I'm paraphrasing—and very generously—for this woman. She wasn’t even half as clear as that.
I went before the judge first. David had to wait in the hall.
The judge detailed the proceedings of what would be discussed on that day. He said something to the effect of, “and we will discuss the abuse of the European Law, etc. etc.”
Listening to this, what our barrister had said clicked for me in a new way and I suddenly understood that everything we had done was considered an “abuse of the system.”
So, I spun a beautiful story. I explained how ever since David and I first met, we'd wanted to live in Italy together. That's why we decided to move there permanently.
“If I’m to believe that,” the judge said, “then you didn’t really give it very long, did you? Three months isn’t a long time.”
“Honestly, you can chock it up to the folly of youth.”
Yes, I did actually say that. Those exact words.
“I genuinely thought it would be easier. But, the language barrier was harder for me than I’d predicted. And, the longer we were there, the more I realized that England was where we felt most at home.”
Given how little time I’d had to figure things out, I think I did about as well as anyone could.
David, however, did not have the benefit of hearing the order of proceedings. He pretty much said exactly why we had gone.
To be fair, there was no use lying anyway. We had spelled it all out in plain English on our signed affidavits!
Afterwards, our barrister met with us and had a grim look on her face. “You,” she said directly to me, “you were brilliant. Perfect! You,” she turned to David, “not so much.”
“Is there any hope?” we asked.
“Maybe. You got a nice judge, so there’s still a chance.”
We went home feeling very downtrodden. If this effort were to fail, which seemed inevitable, our only hope would be to move to somewhere else in Europe and actually live there. For a year, or a length of time that could not be disputed. The idea, once somewhat romanticized in our heads, no longer felt exotic or adventurous. We were becoming exhausted.
The next day, I received a message from my brother back home.
My mom was in a coma and on life support and no one knew if she would wake up again.
I needed to come back. Immediately.
I don't particularly care to write about everything that came next. The only thing I will say is that I couldn't just fly home because, once again, the Home Office had my passport. So, I had to drive through the night to the embassy in London to get an emergency passport.
My mother had passed by the time I made it back home.
Being back in the States presented another set of problems for David and I.
His three year ban had passed, thankfully, but David would never again be eligible for the VISTA waiver program that exists between our two countries. He had to physically apply for a visa at the embassy.
When we parted ways, we had no idea for how long it would be.
One thing was for certain, though, I was never going to live in the UK.
That ship had officially sailed.
It only took David a month and a half to get his visa to join me in Iowa. Getting him a green-card was an easier process than getting a residence card in the UK, but it still was not as straightforward as it should have been. I'll spare you the details as I know this post is becoming tediously long.
The important things is that he ge got his green card August 2015. It marked the first time in our entire relationship, since the kibbutz, where we could both live and work legally in the same country!
Fast forward now several years…
We have travelled the world together. Now that David has a green card, I can visit the UK whenever I want. Though, I will forever get stopped for a “little chat” by customs and sent to the glass timeout box. Just as he will forever get stopped on his way back into America for the same “little chat.” There are worse inconveniences.
We have adopted three cats and now, very recently, a puppy, too.
We bought our first house in the summer of 2019.
Also, as you already know if you are reading this blog, we are expecting our first child.
Like any couple, we have worked long and hard to get to this point in our relationship. Our story just came with a few different twists and turns.
In these trying times that we are living in, I try to remind myself of all that I’m grateful for.
By far and away, the thing I am most grateful for is him.
After all these years, after all those hours with no one but each other to talk to or lean on, I can still be cooped up with David for months on end and think that he's the bee's knees.
There’s no one else in the world I’d rather be quarantined with.
I’m so excited that we are finally starting a family!
Okay, so I know this was a dreadfully long post! If you read this all the way, thank you for taking the time. I hope you enjoyed!
I promise to get back to pregnancy things for my next. Stay tuned for quacky chiropracters and talk about preterm labor...
And, as always, I'd love to hear from you!
I'm Kelsey! Proud Iowan native, world traveler, writer, wife to the most incredible husband, and now soon to be mother