Eight-month-old Alia will spend her first Christmas opening presents with her father watching through a mobile phone screen.
“We’ll video call him on Christmas morning, just me and Alia, opening presents over Skype,” says her mother, Becky Darmon. “It’s the best we can do to spend it together as a family.”
The family is not split out of their own choosing. British national Becky, 23, met Abderrahman Belafi, 25, while doing charity work in Morocco last summer. She fell pregnant and returned to her home in Norfolk in the belief that he would be able to join her.
But the Moroccan national had his visit visa application rejected when she was 33 weeks pregnant. The Home Office claimed he would not be able to afford the flight back home, even though the couple says they showed them a pre-bought ticket.
To make matters worse, Alia was born with low iron levels and has had to spend long periods of time in hospital.
Nearly a year on from the refusal, Abderrahman met his daughter for the first time in November when Becky was able to visit him in Casablanca for three days.
“It was very emotional when they saw each other. He is such a good dad. And it was even harder to say goodbye,” says Becky.
“Alia’s first word has been ‘dada’. She does get a sense of who she is when she sees him on video calls. But I’m worried she’s going to associate ‘dada’ with the phone.
“Will we ever be a normal family? Will he ever be able to pick her up from school? It’s putting our family life on hold in every single sense. It’s degrading and depressing.”
The family is one of many in Britain who will not be together over the festive period due to UK immigration rules.
Martin Horsford, 63, will be spending Christmas alone after his American wife of two years, Colleen Horsford, was refused a spouse visa. The Home Office said there were no “insurmountable obstacles” preventing them from living together in the US.
The British national, who owns his own business and lives in Somerset, says the couple has spent £7,000 this year on application fees alone.
“She had to leave for America on 8 December – two days before my birthday – to apply again, and she’s there until further notice. I’ve been in my home for eight days entirely on my own. I’ve got no neighbours within a mile,” he says.
“I can’t afford to go to the States for Christmas. I’ll be alone with my dogs. My wife and I will speak on the phone.
“Out of the four years I’ve known my wife, we’ve been apart for over a year. We won’t let it destroy our relationship, but it’s not helped by an extremely hostile policy from the Home Office.”
In a similar case, Julianna Colaianni, 30, is spending the festive period thousands of miles from her Scottish husband after her visa to join him in the UK was rejected twice because the Home Office said he did not earn enough money.
A US national, Julianna met Anthony Duffy, 30, in February 2016 while studying in the UK, and they married in January 2017. But she has been living with her mother in Pennsylvania since October 2018 in order to apply for another spouse visa.
Speaking through tears, Julianna says: “We’ve always planned our Christmases to have a movie marathon and I really love to cook so I cook a big meal just for us. We had all these plans and then we got the rejection, which threw everything out of the window.
“It’s really difficult, especially with a time difference. I’m currently living on a coach out of a suitcase. There’s no public transport here where my mum lives. It’s really hard to not be with the one person who can make everything feel better.
“Ideally I would have wanted to start a family. I would’ve had a nice home. It’s really tough, everything’s been put on hold for reasons that are out of our control.”
Nadine Gilbert, 52, is preparing to spend Christmas apart from her only child for the fifth consecutive year after the Home Office refused her daughter’s application to join her in the UK.
The NHS nurse moved to the Britain from Jamaica in 2002 and took up a course in health and social care, leaving her six-year-old daughter Trivianne, who she conceived through rape, in her home country in the care of close family friends.
She had planned that she would join her, but when they applied for Trivianne, who is now 22, to come to the UK in 2009, the Home Office claimed their bond was “not of the intensity one would normally expect between mother and child” because Ms Gilbert, “of her own election”, went to live in the UK in 2002.
Nadine, who is now too afraid to spend the money to re-apply because she she’s afraid it will be rejected again, says: “We speak on the phone every Christmas. It’s heartbreaking for both of us.
“We used to go Christmas shopping together, we used to go to the market and get cauliflower. She loves her cauliflower. We would bake. She would get her own baking tray.
“But now it’s so different. I don’t even do Christmas meal now. If I spend it with friends, all I can think is I wish my daughter was here. I’m just looking to the next one and hoping she will be here.”
Nadine added: “As a mother, oh my god, if I could I would just cry endlessly for days. I think I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown, because if I should try applying again and they tell me no, I think I would go mad.
“And thinking about all the people I’ve looked after in my work for the NHS. How the country has benefited from my service. I’ve served my country, I’ve got no criminal record.
“I’ve spent more than £5,000, been writing letters to MPs. Now I can see no ending. What am I supposed to do?”
Joost Voeten, 52, will be spending Christmas miles apart from his fiancé after her tourist visa was rejection for a second time because the Home Office claimed she may not return home to India after her stay.
Mr Voeten, a Dutch national who has lived and worked in Britain from 22 years, and currently lives in Farnborough, says it is “heartbreaking” not to be able to spend the festive period with his wife-to-be, Nira Shankar, 25.
The pair met in India two years ago and are preparing to get married in India in January, in order that they can then apply for a spouse visa in the hope of being able to settle in Britain together.
“We were hoping to spend Christmas here and have my mum and sister join from the Netherlands, but now I have no other option but to go there alone. It’s heartbreaking that we can’t be together during this special time,” says Joost.
“It’s always on my mind. It’s so stressful, especially when the application process is so slow, and you just don’t know what the outcome is going to be. The Home Office is putting our life together on hold.”
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which supports many families apart due to stringent Home Office rules, is calling for the government to repeal the minimum income requirement, which requires the UK spouse to earn a pre-tax annual salary of £18,600.
Satbir Singh, chief executive of the charity, said: “All of our families deserve the chance to be together. At this time of year it’s heartbreaking to see so many people who love one another torn apart by the government.
“Imagine being told by an official you’ve never met that your bond with your child doesn’t meet their test or that you don’t earn enough to marry who you want.
“The government have been doing this for over six years now and nobody can tell me how any of the real problems we face as a country have gone away as a result. It’s a spiteful policy that must be repealed.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All UK visa applications are considered on their individual merits, on the basis of the evidence available and in line with UK immigration rules.”
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