A NURSE helping to save lives in Sunderland has won her long-running legal fight to be reunited with her children left stranded in her homeland.
Sheila Fortuna came to the UK to start a new life for herself and her family and escape the economic turmoil in the Philippines.
Forced to leave behind her five children in the care of her frail parents, the 39-year-old vowed to send for them once she found work and arranged their dependants’ visas with the Home Office.
Now, more than seven years after arriving in the country, the Operating Room Nurse at Sunderland Royal Hospital has gained the necessary paperwork for the youngsters, aged eight to 16.
Anthony Julius, 16, Sean Arnold, 15, and Gie-Anne, 14, are already starting a new life on Wearside, with Arnold Joseph, 13, and Arnold Allen, eight, expected to arrive in the coming months.
“It was such a relief when I won my appeal,” she said. “This has dragged on for so long, for years and years. I still find it hard to believe it’s finally over and we’ve won.”
Sheila, who was only able to visit her children once a year because of expensive airfares, said her mum and dad were finding it difficult to cope with caring for the children.
“It was difficult for everyone,” said Sheila. “I’ve spent so much time and money fighting this. We’ve all been through so much and it felt like a race against time towards the end. If my son had turned 17 before we had won, then it would have been much harder for us to get the paperwork through.
“The children are really settling in to life in Sunderland.
“They are all going to school and college.
“It’s fantastic to have them here.”
Sheila is currently carrying out building work at her home at the Ford Estate to provide room for her family.
Under Home Office rules, youngsters are refused dependants’ visas if their parents do not have ample accommodation where they can live without help from public funds.
“The terms of the appeal stated that there must be room at my house so everyone can stay here,” she said. “Three of my children arrived earlier this year.
“I’ve been told that my two other children can live with me, but it’s just a case of waiting for the work to be completed. It’s a struggle on our finances, but we’ll get there.
“I’m counting down the days until we’re all together again.”
The Philippines is saddled with a large national debt and tens of millions of people live in poverty.
The economy is heavily dependent on the billions of dollars sent home each year by the country’s huge overseas workforce.
“I love it in Sunderland, this is my home, and I really enjoy my job,” said Sheila. “I’ve been here years and I’ve never asked for any funds from the Government.
“I’ve never received any benefits and I’m paying my tax and National Insurance religiously.”
A Home Office spokesman said it did not comment on individual cases.