It's love, but try telling the Home Office: A year after their marriage, Linda Sewell's husband waits in Jamaica as she battles against red tape that keeps them apart. Chris Arnot reports

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Indy Lifestyle Online
All around Linda Sewell's spick-and-span flat in Birmingham are photographs of her husband, Dexter. Dexter leaning on a car, grinning broadly. Dexter and Linda embracing in the kitchen of her mother's house. Dexter and Linda sharing a large cane chair on their wedding day in Jamaica.

But almost one year after their marriage, Dexter is still in Jamaica, separated from his bride by 4,000 miles and many yards of red tape. After a brief honeymoon, Linda sobbed for the entire eight-hour journey home. Her new husband was also in tears because he had to stay at the airport. 'We'd had this wonderful wedding and time together and now we had to say goodbye. It was awful. We had no idea when we'd see each other again.'

Their story illustrates the impact of Britain's immigration laws on the lives of some couples who fall in love, marry and want to share a home in the UK.

Linda Sewell was born here 27 years ago to West Indian parents. She has seven O-levels, a BTec qualification in business and finance, and a job as deputy team leader in Birmingham City Council's education finance department. Plans to take a further course in accountancy have been put on hold, however: Mrs Sewell says she has trouble concentrating on anything but her enforced separation from her husband.

'It's on my mind 24 hours a day,' she says. 'I can't sleep. I had to have two weeks off work because I was so depressed.'

Mrs Sewell says her employers have been 'very understanding'. So has her union, Unison, which passed a motion of support at its annual conference. Sanjay Vedi, a union officer, says the immigration service tends to assume that all weddings involving non-whites have been arranged. 'There seems to be an assumption that black people can't have love marriages.'

The Home Office denies this. 'We get all races and colours applying,' a spokeswoman said. 'The rules are definitely not applied on the basis of colour. Each case is treated on its merits. You can't just get married and expect to get into the UK automatically.'

Officials have to be convinced that the primary purpose of the marriage is not the acquisition of a British passport. Mr Vedi says that husbands frequently fall foul of a catch-22 question about their employment prospects. 'If he says he has a job to go to, he's refused entry on the grounds that he's taking work from a citizen of the European Union. If he says he hasn't, then it is assumed the partner's income will not be high enough to support him.'

Mrs Sewell's annual salary is pounds 12,300. Hairdressing work in the evenings brings in another pounds 200 a month. Most of her savings have gone on air fares for brief holidays in Jamaica and weekly phone calls to her husband. Her last quarterly phone bill was almost pounds 500. Earlier this month her appeal to a Home Office tribunal in Birmingham cost more than pounds 1,500 in solicitor's and barrister's fees alone.

'The tribunal went through all our correspondence,' she says. 'It was humiliating. They were personal letters between me and my husband.'

After the appeal she was told to expect a verdict in 'between four and twelve weeks'. Meanwhile, she has put down the deposit for a trip to be with her husband for their first wedding anniversary next month.

Linda and Dexter met in 1991 when she and her mother went to Jamaica to spend Christmas with relatives. Glances and fleeting smiles during a lengthy coach trip led to a conversation on the beach. 'I was attracted to him straight away,' she recalls. 'He was so kind and gentle.' They spent the next three weeks together in what could have been dismissed as just another holiday romance. But they kept in touch by letter and phone. 'I knew he was the one,' she says, 'but I wanted to be absolutely sure.'

Dexter abandoned his job as an upholsterer for six months and came to Britain on a visitor's passport. They could have married here and fought his case for a full passport together. But they wanted a wedding where they had met, in Jamaica.

Unfortunately, when they presented themselves at the British High Commission in Kingston after their marriage, their hopes of having Dexter admitted to the UK as the spouse of a British citizen were briskly dismissed.

'It was devastating,' Mrs Sewell recalls. 'It was raining that day and we just stood outside holding on to each other and sobbing until a security guard told us we'd have to move on.'

Since her tearful return from her honeymoon, she has been back to Jamaica only twice to see her husband. She is working an extra two hours every day to extend the few remaining days of her holiday allowance. In the meantime, she waits anxiously for news of her appeal: 'All I know is, I can't go on like this.'

(Photograph omitted)