English teacher refused UK visa because her English isn't up to 'standard'

Exclusive: Alejandra Santiago barred from joining British fiance in UK after five month wait despite having 'very high level' of English

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Friday 07 September 2018 10:00 BST
Sajid Javid opposes 'hostile environment' approach to UK immigration opting instead for a 'compliant environment'

An English teacher has been refused the right to join her fiance in the UK after the Home Office claimed her English does not meet the required standard.

Alejandra Santiago, a Mexican national, applied for a settlement in March and was due to marry her British partner Pete O’Hare this month.

The 36-year-old, who had to return to Mexico to submit the visa application, has now been informed that she does not qualify to come to Britain because the English language test she completed was not "approved for settlement".

The couple’s lawyer said Ms Santiago’s test, which granted her an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) certificate dated 28 October 2017, did meet the legal requirements and that there was “no real legal basis for the refusal”.

Ms Santiago, who studied in Dublin, where she met her fiance, for a year before going on to teach English in China has been unable to see Mr O'Hare since April.

The couple had already waited for five months to get a decision on her application – three months longer than the Home Office’s own time limit on such claims.

Mr O'Hare told The Independent his fiance's English was "perfect".

"It’s ridiculous," he said, "My lawyer says this is a very straightforward application. There seems to be a lot of incompetence with whoever is processing this visa. It’s not efficient. It’s been really stressful. And applying for a visa isn’t cheap. The fee is $2,300 (£1,777), plus paying for a lawyer.”

The delay has forced the couple to postpone their wedding, he said.

“When we submitted the application in March, we booked a venue – we paid a deposit for August 25," he added. "We were told the application would take three months, so that would leave two months to plan the wedding. "But months passed and we heard nothing. We would call them and it was the usual: ‘It’s awaiting assessment’. They’d give a phone line to call and it would ask for your credit card number so it could charge you.

“We had invited people to the wedding. Alejandra’s family and friends had booked their flights so they came to the UK then anyway, but she wasn’t able to come because the Home Office is holding her passport.”

The Home Office refusal letter states that while Ms Santiago meets the relationship and financial requirements, she does not meet the English language eligibility.

"In support of your application you have provided an IELTS Academic certificate issued on 07/11/2017; however this which is not an English language test which is approved by the Secretary of State for the purposes of settlement," it states.

"Every English language test taken on or after 6 April 2015 by a partner or parent applicant must meet the new requirements in respect of the approved tests, providers and secure test centres offered by Trinity College London or the IELTS SELT Consortium."

Jordana Adams, the immigration solicitor at OTS Solicitors who represent the couple, told The Independent that having looked at the case in detail, she was "not able to see the foundation" behind the decision.

“IELTS are recognised by the Home Office. They take your ID; her photo was on there; it’s done with the British Council. She passed it at a very high level. I really cannot see there can be any doubt she that she meets the minimum language requirement," she said.

“It doesn’t really make any sense to me. I’ve not seen something like this before. I’ve seen cases where the Home Office hasn’t looked at documents properly and wrongly rejected visitor visa applications, but not on a fiance marriage visa.”

She explained that submitting an appeal would take around eight months, adding: “For what can only be a technical policy reason, they are saying the application has been refused and that’s that.”

A Home Office spokesperson said Ms Santiago was refused because she submitted an English language certificate which did not meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules.

“All UK visa applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with UK immigration rules and guidance. The onus is on the applicant to demonstrate that they satisfy the Immigration Rules," they added.

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