A FAMILY have spoken of their fight to stay together as a visa wrangle threatens to tear them apart.
John Dennis has found a home in South Tyneside with his Panamanian-born wife, Ana Maria Paz Ramos de Dennis, and their four-year-old daughter, Victoria.
But the family, who live in Ferry Approach, South Shields, could be torn apart after Mrs Dennis was refused a permanent visa on the grounds that her husband does not earn enough – despite him sending bank statements to prove he earns above the Government-set threshold.
She is now only allowed to stay in the country until April and, if the family can’t get the decision changed, it means they will either have to separate or all return to Central America, together.
Mr Dennis, 50, said: “Our family is going to be broken up for an indefinite period of time because 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 runs his own company, Lean Six Sigma Training, which helps businesses run more efficiently, and 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 2012.
Mr Dennis, who is 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, settled in happily at Marine Park Primary School, in South Shields, and Mrs Dennis, who was an airline worker in Panama, began the processing of applying for a permanent visa.
The couple had to travel to Panama to hand over the documents.
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 and earn about £3,000 a month and I gave them 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 give the necessary evidence, but didn’t say what that was supposed to be.”
He added: “She had 28 days to appeal but you have to be in your home country to do that, so she would have had to go back to Panama so we could appeal it.”
He added: “If we can’t get this decision turned around, we will all have to go back to Panama and start the process of applying again.”
He added: “When we went to Panama to hand in the forms and evidence, I was there to answer any questions they wanted to ask, but they didn’t ask me anything.
“It’s not the refusal that I think is unfair, but it does indicate incompetence and 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.”
Visa rule started in 2012
THE Home Office says the case is covered by legislation brought in more than a year ago.
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.
It says the policy has since been tested and upheld by the courts.