REAL LIVES: the long, slow route to Britain

John Rainor had such a hard time getting his Filipina wife into the UK that he has written a book about the experience, titled Who Wants to be British Anyway?

Mr Rainor, a 50-year-old computer software writer, has yet to find a publisher for his book, which should become a useful handbook for bona fide immigrants looking for a way around this country's arbitrary and unforgiving immigration laws. He succeeded by temporarily relocating to another EU country last year. Mr Rainor's experience and the difficulties faced by tens of thousands of would-be immigrants to the UK suggests that Charles Wardle's vision of EU law opening the floodgates of immigration is wide of the mark.

British law does not automatically give right to the foreign husbands or wives of British citizens to reside here; they must prove to often hostile immigration officials the validity of their marriage. After a humiliating interview behind a security screen in the British embassy in Manila, Mr Rainor's wife, Alice, was refused permission to come to the UK on the grounds that her marriage was bogus.

After he returned to the UK, Mr Rainor then faced the prospect of an indefinite wait while appealing to the Home Office. With the help of the Aire Centre, a human rights organisation based in Brixton, London, he discovered that by relocating to the Netherlands (or any other EU country) for about six months, he could bring his wife to the UK.

In moving country as a self-employed person, Mr Rainor and his wife were covered under the freedom of movement aspects of EU law rather than the narrow requirements of British immigration law. EU law allows employees, students and the self-employed to move country at will, with their spouses of whatever nationality.

Six months later, the Home Office had no option but to accept the rights they had gained under EU law. It approved their return. They now live in Sale, near Manchester, and have just had a baby. Mr Rainor was fortunate because he was self-employed and could move his computer software company to the Netherlands for a short period.

"I know of lots of other people who are still waiting to be united with their foreign-born wife or husband, three years after they married," he says.

Lawyers at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants increasingly turn to the rights established by the Single European Act to get permission for non-EU nationals living on the Continent to come to the UK. There are more than 8 million non-EU nationals living in Europe, but they must still apply for visas to travel between countries, a costly and time- consuming process.

In one case under review, a Tunisian businessman who is resident in France has discovered a lucrative market for the ceramics he imports in the UK but is having to obtain visas to do business here.

Leonard Doyle