An immigration conundrum – A Brit in Ukraine and the UKBA

September 2, 2012

Immigration is a very touchy subject in the UK.

Well it is everywhere, but as the subject of this entry is the UK, UKBA website, UK immigration rules et al, that seemed like a solid starting sentence.

On 9th July 2012, the immigration rules got much tougher.  Hurrah and huzzah cry the voting masses of the UK.  Keep those tax gobbling, social security eating foreigners out!

Well actually not all the voting masses cried hurrah and huzzah.  The UK voters living abroad in non-European Economic Area nations who are married or whom subsequently get married to foreigners from those nations (their new spouses, which may be with or without children from previous relationships) are likely to be less pleased.

The new rules, under which for example my wife would now fall under, stand as follows should we make the completely bizarre decision to live back in Blighty:

It now seems that regardless of how long a British citizen may have been married to a non-EEA national, be it 5 or 15 years, this now counts for naught as far as the UK is concerned.  If such a couple should manage to meet all the criteria (which I will soon come on to), then there is a qualification period of 5 years before British citizenship will be given to the foreign spouse to insure that the marriage is not one of “convenience” in order to allow said foreign spouse British Citizenship by way of dastardly scheming and trickery.

Thus, the many years I have been married and lived permanently with my Ukrainian wife in Odessa, are by inference, something of a sham as far as the UK bureaucracy goes.  They count for nothing if we were ever retarded enough to decide to return to the UK permanently.

Our marriage would only become one that is not of “convenience” 5 years after her application to become a British citizen having remained married during that application time. – And that is on the assumption that “British” will remain a citizenship and Scotland doesn’t leave Great Britain meaning that “Great Britain” isn’t “Great Britain” any more.

The thing is, my wife doesn’t want to become a British citizen.  She doesn’t want to live in the UK.  But is does piss her off greatly to have to dick around with Visas to enter her husband’s nation and to visit her in-laws when her nation granted me permanent residency/right to domicile after 2 years of marriage whether I live in Ukraine permanently or not.  No dicking around with Visas to come and go.

What is worse, every Visa she gets for the UK has to be applied for in person.  Despite the fact she has had 4 already.  And that application takes place in Kyiv only.  As she rightly states, her retinal scan and fingerprints won’t change, despite the fact they are taken for each and every Visa application.  Surely after being married so long and having so many UK Visa’s she could apply by post.  Neither her retina, fingerprints nor personal circumstances have ever changed in any application and thus a written oath to that effect upon further applications should suffice.

What is worse still, the applications used to be processed in Ukraine and all supporting documents and translations were returned.  Now, all applications are sent from Ukraine to Poland for processing and none of the supporting documents or translations are returned meaning additional expense to do all that copying and translating malarkey  every time.

Further, I’m fairly sure that Ukraine does not allow its national passports outside of Ukraine unless carried by those to which it is issued.  Thus the UK processing Ukrainian Visa applications in Poland would seem to breach this Ukrainian rule.

I, nor she, have any issue with a requirement to be able to speak enough English to survive when it comes to my wife if immigration to the UK was to occur.  The fact is she speaks better English than many native Brits.  Naturally anyone who lives legally in the UK should have some command of the language.

That said, Ukraine makes no such demands on me as far as Ukrainian or Russian languages are concerned as a requirement of my right to domicile.  I learned out of necessity and also good manners.

None of the above issues, whilst they may be annoying, are a major problem for a genuine marriage and a British citizen wanting to take their partner (and children if applicable) back to the UK to live.  A pain in the arse yes, relationship breaking, definitely not.

But there is a requirement that will create a problem for many.  In my case, this following point may or may not be  an issue, but for the majority of married British expats I know in Ukraine, this next requirement in effect is enough to either break a relationship or force said expat into permanent exile in Ukraine.

There is now a requirement for the immigrating couple to have an income of Sterling 18,600 (without children) and a requirement to have an income of Sterling 22,400 if they have a child – plus an additional Sterling 2400 per child if there is more than one.

That must surely create some serious issues for those who want to return to the UK but won’t be able to look for work until they get there.  It maybe they have accommodation with family sorted, even some savings (but not to that amount) and yet they will fail at this hurdle.

It will create problems for those that work but earn less than that figure, and to be quite honest, those here working for Ukrainian firms and then deciding to return home are not likely to be in a role that the Ukrainian firm can transfer to the UK and thus would be returning unemployed.

In times of high unemployment, if the UK citizen were to go on ahead of foreign spouse (and children), what are the chances of getting a job paying a suitable salary in a reasonably swift time to decrease time spent in enforced separation in order to meet the requirement?

How long would that position have to be held before it would be deemed an adequately long time to support the immigration of the foreign spouse (and children if applicable)?

Now to return to the UK voters who cry hurrah and huzzah to the new rules, of which my entire UK family would be amongst.  When presented with the fact that these rules would prevent my wife, their daugher-in-law/sister-in-law (whatever relationship) coming to live in the UK because I don’t have a job paying Sterling 18,600 per annum, (in fact I don’t have a job at all and have a massive hole in my curriculum vitae that covers the many years I have lived in Ukraine making me almost unemployable in the UK I would suspect), then somehow those rules are then “wrong”.

She should of course be allowed to live in the UK as we have been married for a very long time and I retired early because I made enough money to do so during my rather short working life, they would state.  Of course my savings and investments should be counted instead of having a job they say.  In fact they moan about the fact she even needs a Visa to enter the UK having been married to a UK citizen for so long.

So the rules are good for everybody else except “me and mine” as far as they are concerned.  The problem is, everybody has a “me and mine” that should be exempted but applied to everyone else, and rules there certainly must be.

Now I have written all this and you are asking why?  Considering I have absolutely no intention of returning to the UK and my wife likes the UK for a few weeks a year for nothing more than shopping, it is a good question.

The reason is, I know a UK chap married to a Ukrainian woman with a 16 year old daughter of Ukrainian citizenship,  who wants to return to the UK.  They have been married for many years, which count for naught as far as the UK is concerned.  Both his wife and the daughter would pass the English speaking, reading and writing test with ease – that is not a concern.

They have a place to live in the UK if they can actually get in, that puts no financial burden on the UK tax payer.  His mother has a house they can live in for free.

The issue is, he doesn’t have a job that pays Sterling 22,400 as he has lived in Ukraine for the past 5 or 6 years  and not many jobs here pay that much.  He doesn’t have a UK based job naturally as he isn’t in the UK to get one.  As far as I can tell, there is little in the way of savings, but given free accommodation awaits in the UK, that is not necessarily that much of an issue.

In short, as he said to me, he is faced with a choice of enforced separation for an unknown length of time whilst trying to find a job that meets the immigration requirement – and there is no guarantee that such a job will be found – or he remains in what is in effect, exile in Ukraine, as dictated by the new immigration rules should he want to keep his marriage and family life alive and well.

Now of course, my family back in Blighty would say, “this is madness, the rules weren’t designed to keep people like him and his family out”, but indeed the rules are so designed.  The armchair legals will spout Article 8 of the European Human Rights Act, proclaiming “Right to family life free of State interference – enforced separation is wrong”.  Well, yes, maybe so, but that doesn’t really help very much.

The rules may even be designed to keep my wife out unless there is some form of discretion that states having more than Sterling 18,600 in savings would count as being a Sterling 18,600 per annum job, in which case she would be OK and meet all criteria.  Fortunately neither she nor I has any wish to live permanently in the UK, so this will never have to be put to the test.

It seems a very sad situation for this chap, and no doubt there is very little wiggle room in the system he could explore.  Even if there was, we are talking about the UKBA, which in the pecking order of recruiting intelligent civil servants and employees is certainly not at the dizzy heights of the FCO and others.

I’m not even sure most UKBA employees could spell discretion, and even if there are a few who could spell it, I doubt they could find any wiggle room in the rules without being led their by the hand in order to use it.

If any of you dear readers have managed to return to Blighty with non-EEA wives (and kids if applicable) in tow in similar circumstances, do drop me a line and I will pass on any experience and help you maybe able to offer.


  1. 16K savings is in addition to any shortfall x2.5. So if you don’t have a job offer and are a returning ex-pat then you need 16K + (18600 x2.5) =62500. GREAT, huh?

    • Rather grim to be quite frank.

      • to put it mildly!

  2. In the Netherlands similar rules apply, where you need to have a contract of at least 12 months with roughly a similar income. As I was curious about the UK rules on this boring mondaymorning, I looked up the mentioned ‘Statement of Changes to the Immigration rules (HC 194)’ where it says on page 23:
    (a) a specified gross annual income of at least-
    (i) £18,600;
    (ii) an additional £3,800 for the first child; and
    (iii) an additional £2,400 for each additional child; alone or in combination
    (b) specified savings of-
    (i) £16,000; and
    (ii) additional savings of an amount equivalent to 2.5 times the amount
    which is the difference between the gross annual income from the
    sources listed in paragraph E-ECP.3.2.(a)-(d) and the total amount
    required under paragraph E-ECP.3.1.(a); or
    If I interpret this correctly, it means that savings actually can be used in case no or not sufficient income is available (or am I wrong, because you didnt mention this)? This would at least solve the problem for your hypothetical immigration case.
    Regarding the other chap, ofcourse it sucks but for an educated and work experienced person it should be managable to find a job in two months or so or with a few times flying back and forth?

    • Well that would indeed solve my hypothetical situation as Sterling 16,000 would cause me no problem at all.

      However, I expect I am amongst the minority of the UK citizenry to have in excess of that amount of cash sat doing very little in the bank.

      If the popular press is to be believed, I will be one of the very few that owes nothing by way of mortgage, loans, credit cards or any other form of debt in the UK.

      Which in actual fact, I am told, is bad for my credit rating should I ever want credit in the future – which thankfully, I won’t.

      For the majority of UK citizens married to non-EEA spouses, to be honest, I would anticipate that when returning to the UK, or at least trying to with their partners, very few will already have a Sterling 18,600 job or Sterling 16,000 in hard cash.

      I have since been informed since writing this post that the new government rules are being challenged in the courts with the hearing due mid-October.

      Needless to say, whatever the outcome it will be appealed, probably several times, so a permanent (in so far as this policy could be overturned by any new government) legal ruling has yet to be established.

      For now though, it is as it is.

  3. Well done Nick. This is causing problems already. One British man left Kyiv a few weeks ago to return to the UK. He had lived in Ukraine for 19 years and married to a Russian woman for 16 years. They have a daughter of 9 years old. The man and his daughter have British passports. His wife is till waiting to hear what will happen about their future. She is still in Kyiv.

    • It does seem that unless you come here working for a large multinational and are then transfered to Blighty, thus keeping you 18,400 per annum job, that there is no way your Ukrainian wife could come with you regardless of how many years married.

      Getting married to a Ukrainian woman, if you wish to stay married, implies self-imposed exile with the added insult that the UK doesn’t even consider however many years married as far as “convenience” is concerned.

      And yet of course, somebody from Spain as an example, married or not, speaking English or not, can set up life in Blighty with no problem.

      As I wrote, there seems to be very little wiggle room in the rules either, although to be fair, with the standard of UKBA employee, even if it existed and discretion could be used, you’d have to hit them over the head with it for them to consider using it.

  4. YEOW!! (This is the same as saying “Holy Crap!” )
    This seems so very very unfair.

    • Indeed. Prima facie, it would appear to marry and live in Ukraine and earn less than 18,400 (minimum) would eventually lead to a choice of self-imposed exile to remain with your spouse (and kids), or to leave them in the possible forlorn hope of getting a job that would meet the requirements.

      Well, that is until Ukraine either joins the EU or the EEA in which case it seems all criteria become null and void.

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