A recent arresting headline in The Independent online said:
“Man refused UK visa to visit newborn grandson because he did not send photo of 1975 wedding”.
It all sounds quite extraordinary. What happened – as far as we can work out from the published details – was this. Stepan Polyakov, a Russian citizen living in Syktyvkar, Komi Republic, and his wife Anna (who is a German citizen) wanted to visit their newborn grandson in the UK. Their grandson’s mother, their daughter Natalja, lives in the UK. Presumably both Natalja and grandson hold German citizenship.
A person in Mr Polyakov’s position has a choice: they can either apply for a visitor visa under the UK immigration rules or they can apply for an EEA Family Permit under European free movement law. The latter is the case because under free movement principles direct relatives in the “ascending line” (ie parents, grandparents, great-grandparents etc) can – if relevant requirements are met – apply to join their EEA family members who are in the UK.
There is a feeling amongst the immigration community that in a general way European visa applications are “easier” than visitor visa applications, because the requirements are less detailed and less onerous. (There is also the additional advantage that, unlike visitor visa applications, EEA Family Permit applications are free.)
UK visitor visas and EEA Family Permits are to an extent similar in their effect: they both confer leave for a short limited period, although the two legal landscapes are very different. In any event, Mr Polyakov made the apparently wise decision to apply for an EEA Family Permit; his wife, being an EEA national, did not need to make any visa application.
But it went wrong. The British immigration authorities refused Mr Polyakov’s application apparently for the specific reason that they were not convinced about the genuineness of the marriage between the non-EEA Mr Polyakov and the EEA Mrs Polyakov. If the marriage was deemed to be a “marriage of convenience” (ie a fake one) then Mr Polyakov would not be able to succeed in his application, because the family link between him and his daughter and grandson would not be properly established.
Mr Polyakov was rather annoyed about this. If it was a fake marriage it was evidently a longstanding fake marriage: he has, so he says, been married to his wife for 43 years. The problem seems to have been that the only evidence of the marriage he submitted was the marriage certificate. The UKVI (UK Visas & Immigration) apparently said that he should have submitted more evidence about the marriage, including for example (and hence the dramatic and disturbing headline) photographs of the wedding.
You might perhaps want to argue that the fact that they have a daughter and now a grandson might in itself be good evidence of something, but evidently this was not enough. It may be that the decision-maker did not quite grasp all the facts: it was reported that the refusal decision incorrectly stated that Mr Polyakov lived with his wife in Germany. This we find difficult to understand; the applications were surely submitted to the British immigration authorities in Russia, not Germany.
Anyway, this rather confusing situation has prompted Chai Patel, Legal & Policy Director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants to ask (rhetorically, we imagine):
“Why on earth should people have to send photographs of their happiest day to our most hapless and incompetent governmental department…?”
But this story may yet have a happy ending. The UKVI says “We are in touch with Mr Polyakov to request extra documentation which will allow us to review his application.”
This is unusual. Visitor visa refusals do not have the right of appeal to the First-Tier Immigration Tribunal, and it does not appear that Mr Polyakov has launched a Judicial Review application with the Upper Immigration Tribunal. But experience indicates that, when a story like this gets into the media, it concentrates the minds at the UKVI in a way that other things do not.
And this serves to remind us that, although EEA visa applications are sometimes considered to be easier, nonetheless UKVI decision-makers are still very capable of making harsh decisions, and it may be sensible to instruct a good lawyer in your application.