A WEARSIDE dad has told of his fight to keep his family together as a visa wrangle threatens to tear them apart.
John Dennis has found a home alongside his Panamanian wife, Ana Maria Paz Ramos de Dennis, and their four-year-old daughter, Victoria.
But the family could be torn apart after Mrs Dennis was refused a visa on the grounds that her husband does not earn enough – despite him sending bank statements to prove he earns above the threshold.
Now, she is only allowed to stay in the country until April. If the family can’t have the decision turned around, it means they will either have to separate or return to Panama, in Central America, together.
Mr Dennis, 50, said: “Our family is going to be broken up for an indefinite period of time because of a load of faceless bureaucrats.
“Victoria is the one who is going to suffer the most. She will either have to leave the school she loves, and leave her dad to go back to Panama or stay here with me, and be without her mother.”
Mrs Dennis added: “I can’t sleep. I lie awake every night thinking about it and worrying.”
Mr Dennis, who runs his own company Lean Six Sigma Training, which helps businesses run more efficiently, met his wife, 41, while he was working in Panama as a consultant in 2009.
Their daughter Victoria was born in Panama in 2010, and they married in the country in 2012.
Mr Dennis, originally from Fulwell, Sunderland, and his new wife, decided they would have a better family life in England, and decided to move to South Shields.
The move also meant that Mr Dennis could be closer to his 80-year-old mother, Audrey, whose husband, Norman, a respected sociologist, had passed away four years earlier.
After moving in April last year, Victoria, who also has a British passport, and mum Ana, who was an airline worker in Panama, began the process of applying for a visa.
Mr Dennis said: “The relationship requirements and everything like that were met, but they refused the visa saying that I don’t meet the financial requirements.
“You have to earn £18,600 a year as a minimum. I’m self-employed but I do earn that, I earn about £3,000 a month and I sent bank statements and everything I could think of to prove it.
“But they refused the visa saying that I don’t meet the financial requirements. They said I didn’t send the necessary evidence but didn’t say what I had to send.
“We had 28 days to appeal it but you have to be in your home country to do that so she would have had to go straight back to Panama so we could appeal it.”
He added: “If we can’t get this decision turned around, I will have to go back to Panama with my wife and Victoria, and start the process of applying again.
“When we handed in the forms and evidence, I went to Panama ready to be there for any questions they wanted to ask, but they didn’t ask me anything.
“I think the refusal isn’t so much unfair, but it shows a broken system.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard and make a contribution. Our family rules are designed to make sure that those coming to the UK to join their spouse or partner will not become a burden on the taxpayer, and will be well enough supported to integrate effectively.
“Ms Ramos’ application was refused because she did not submit the necessary evidence to support her application.”
Home Office rules and regulations
TO ensure family migrants can stand on their own feet financially, the Home Office introduced a minimum income threshold, in July 2012, of £18,600 for sponsoring the settlement of a non-EEA spouse or partner.
This rises to £22,400 for the addition of one non-EEA dependent child and by a further £2,400, for each additional child.
The amount of £18,600 is the level of gross annual income at which the independent Migration Advisory Committee advised that a couple, once settled here, generally cease to be able to access income-related benefits. The Home Office says it is a level at which it can be reasonably assured that the sponsor has sufficient means to support themselves and their partner independently and to enable the latter to integrate.
The policy has since been tested and upheld by the courts.