There has been a major update to this story. After promoting this article and the associated Go Fund Me campaign, Nick & Narine’s case came under review. The initial judgement is now being re-considered by the Home Office. This is not yet the end of the story as Narine’s further leave to remain has yet to be officially granted. However, a Home Office review is still a considerable development. We hope that the people in the Home Office, whose job it is to decide such things, will see sense and reverse their original decision. How long this may take is still up in the air. We hope to bring you further news in the coming weeks.
Regards, Nick & Narine.
A young Brighton couple has been left stunned and confused by an incomprehensible Home Office immigration ruling. Nicholas Shepherd a PR consultant, and his lovely wife Narine who is originally from Armenia, are in shock after the Home Office Immigration department ruled that Narine must leave the UK.
Nick who experienced financial difficulties due to Covid19, said “One minute the Government are saying we are all in this together and the next they are trying to deport your wife. It’s utter madness!”
Nick and Narine’s story is truly remarkable. A real old fashioned love story that captures the imagination. This strong couple has already overcome incredible odds just to get to where they are today. Yet, a ridiculous Home Office immigration ruling might be one obstacle too many.
Narine came to the UK legally, as Nick’s spouse 3 years ago. She was due to submit her further leave to remain (FLR) application in March. Exactly the time that the country went into a Covid-19 induced lockdown. When Nick lost his job, and the couple became temporarily homeless all at the same time, it seemed like things could not get any worse for this personable couple. Yet their run of bad luck was about to take a double-dip, thanks to the current inflexibility of Home Office Immigration regulations.
The couples attempt to make a perfectly normal, and usually simple, application for Further Leave to Remain has inexplicably turned into a human rights issue. Now, the only way to prevent Narine from being deported, after her application for a visa extension was refused, is to appeal a decision that should never have been made.
Read their full story…
Property search leads to love
Nick and Narine originally met due to a one in a million (or should that be one in a billion) chance meeting. Nick had travelled to Armenia to work for an internet company in the capital Yerevan. No stranger to Eastern Bloc countries, Nick already spoke a little Russian, learned during some time spent in Moscow and Siberia.
Narine was the owner of an estate agency. She made a living renting properties to visiting businessmen and tourists. As luck would have it, her business was located in the same building that Nick was due to work. They were introduced by Nick’s employer who wanted Narine to find somewhere for him to live.
“To be honest I was probably quite a difficult client. I was incredibly choosy about the type of place I wanted to live and Narine ended up showing me dozens of properties.” Said Nick.
Narine added, “that was what started it really. Having to follow me around Yerevan for a week, Nick couldn’t really keep his eyes off me.”
To say thank you, Nick asked Narine to have dinner, and fortunately, she said yes. “Yerevan has some of the most romantic restaurants that I have ever been to, and the food is magnificent.” Said Nick. “We had a wonderful evening.”
Eventually, Nick and Narine began to see more and more of each other and love blossomed.
2-year courtship culminates in decisive action
Sadly, after only 3 months, Nick’s contract ended. “I didn’t really know what to do, to be honest. I knew I had to go back to the UK, but I wasn’t sure where that would leave us. The day of my departure Narine helped me to hand the keys back to the owner of the flat and pay my internet bill. When we parted she walked off and never looked back. I guess I figured that was that.” Nick said, wistfully. As it turned out, that was not the end. Far from it.
The couple stayed in constant contact via Skype and WhatsApp. “We spoke nearly every day for over a year,” Nick explained. “Not really serious stuff just chit-chat really.” However, after 18 months the calls ended. Narine added, “it wasn’t a conscious effort to stop communicating, it just sort of petered out really.”
The following 12 months saw no contact between the couple and both figured the other had moved on.
It was a Sunday afternoon when the call came. Nick was sitting at home, “probably watching Columbo!” He joked. “Narine called me out of the blue on Facebook, just to say hello. We ended up talking for hours. After that, we pretty much picked up where we left off.”
The couple carried on conversing on Facebook Messenger and Skype for a couple more months when Nick made a life-changing decision.
“Enough was enough really. It was obvious we both had feelings for each other, so I saw no need to drag things out.”
Nick decided he would fly to Armenia and ask Narine to marry him. “It seemed like a plan,” recalled Nick. “What was the worst that could happen?” When Nick told Narine of his travel plans he neglected to disclose the real reason. “She just thought I was coming over for a vacation,” said Nick. “She never even considered I was coming just to see her!”
“I was reluctant to pick him up from the airport when he told me he would be in Yerevan,” said Narine. “He was arriving at 5 in the morning! I told him to take a taxi. Of course, eventually, I relented.”
All the time in the world
Once it became clear to Narine that Nick had travelled to Armenia just for her, her decision was an easy one. “It was incredibly romantic of him to take such a journey just to be with me. I didn’t have to think too long, to be honest.”
The now engaged couple elected to have the ceremony in Armenia. More interesting than a Register office in the UK, it was also cheaper and less of a strain for Narine.
Due to marriage laws in Armenia, it also meant the couple would be separated yet again. Armenia is a satellite country of the old Soviet Union so bureaucracy can still be challenging. Much like in present-day Britain it seems! In order to get married, you must first register your intent and gather all the necessary permissions. The quickest that this can be done is in 10 days. Nick was only in Armenia for seven.
The course of true love never runs smooth
Nick said, “I had to fly back to the UK and book a return flight two months later.” It would be November before the two lovers would again be reunited. “I booked for 14 days in November. Really we were hoping to get everything done super quick. There is an awful lot of documents to be signed and translations made and permission granted before you can marry an Armenian woman.”
” Everything was going really well until we visited the Armenian registrar. She noticed a discrepancy in the paperwork and informed us that there was no way she could sign off until it was fixed. The problem was, this was now Friday, the day we should have been married. My flight back to the UK was on Monday! It had to be today. Fortunately, nothing ever happens in CIS countries that are so bad that they can’t be fixed with a brown paper envelope.”
They missed their window of opportunity on Friday but were still able to get an appointment for late Saturday afternoon. “While we waiting in the registry office waiting for our turn I still thought something was going to go wrong,” recounted Nick. “I was so nervous.”
Fortunately for them both, nothing more was to go wrong and by the end of the day, they were married.
Covid-19 puts future in doubt
Fast forward three and a half years and Armenian bureaucracy is a distant memory. Now they have a much more sinister opponent to overcome, British bureaucracy. That and a little matter of an international pandemic.
“Things were tough at this particular moment in time. Nobody saw this pandemic coming. We just thought it was a Chinese thing. Once everywhere closed down though and work dried up, it became clear that paying for the visa extension would be difficult.” Said Nick.
Nick and Narine knew they had to make an application for Narine’s visa extension. What they didn’t know was how to pay for it. A bank loan was out, as Nick had maxed out his credit cards and his rating was low.
“It was crazy,” she said. “They say that bad things come in 3’s. Nick lost his job just before Christmas and fell into depression. He did manage to get himself a part-time job at a local casino, but the money wasn’t great. He was working as many hours as he could to try and pay for the visa extension then this bloody virus hits the UK. As if that wasn’t bad enough we should have moved into a new apartment at the same time, and that too was put on hold. We ended up having to stay in a hotel all during the lockdown.”
Due to Covid-19 both Nick and Narine were put on furlough by their employers. Now, stuck in a hotel in the centre of Brighton, with no work and a reduced salary the couple no longer had the funds to cover the exorbitant visa costs.
“Visa fees for a family member to come to the UK legally are in the region of £3000 now, and they are due to go up again in October! Exclaimed Nick. In an impassioned outburst, he continued “They’ve already gone up by £1000 over the last 12 months! I lost my job and our home because of a pandemic, and now the Home Office Immigration wants to take my wife too. It is a little bit too much to bear, to be honest. I have no idea what to do next.”
Home Office Immigration Decision
Salvation was to come in the form of a fee waiver. As Nick was filling out the FLR application he noticed a link to a fee waiver for those unable to pay the (ridiculously high) visa charges.
“This seemed like a good option. I didn’t recall this option being available when we made our original application, but then again I didn’t need it then. Now, however, it seemed like the Government had given me an out, and a low-cost way of extending Narine’s Residence Permit.” Nick continued.
Things were bad, but had it not been for Covid-19 they would not have been nearly as bad as they were. Not only were the couple locked up in a hotel, which is never ideal, but with every business in town locked down Nick was unable to even look for work, let alone find a full-time job which could offer him the qualifying salary.
Each visa application has requirements attached. For a spousal visa (family visa) a couple needs to prove that they meet the financial threshold, which currently stands at £18,600 per year, per couple. As it happens, with Nick’s part-time job and the money that Narine earns working in a hotel in Brighton they do just manage to meet this threshold.
The problem is that this is Brighton. Rents are high, and because of Nick’s problems with depression fueled by being out of work, the family finances were depleted. This meant no savings to pay the Home Office Immigration visa application fees. Catch 22. Nick decided to apply for the fee waiver and wait for a decision. They had no idea how long a wait that might be. The Home Office Immigration Department, like every other business up and down the country, was also locked down.
Three months later Nick & Narine received the result, and It was a positive one. Their application for a Fee Waiver had been accepted! Nick could now complete Narine’s FLR application, Narine would get a new Residence Permit and things would begin to get back to normal for this long-suffering pair.
But there was to be one more sting in the tail for our heroes. As well as the email stating that Narine’s fee waiver had been accepted, another arrived the same day, with a weblink attached.
Nick continues the story, “obviously I followed the link and was taken to yet another form to (as I believed) complete the FLR extension application. This form asked some odd questions, that if I am honest, I did not really want to answer. Some of the questions were on the subject of human rights, which did not really apply to our case at all. In the end, I did answer the questions, as the Home Office Immigration had sent it to me. There seemed little point in querying it.”
Then, a month later, this…
“I was shocked,” said Nick. “We had not even made a human rights application. at least not knowingly. I didn’t know what to do. We simply never saw this coming. The process does allow for an appeal, but appeal what? How can we make an appeal on human rights grounds when we never knowingly made a human rights application in the first place?”
If you want to stay married you should leave too!
As if the decision to refuse Narine’s visa renewal application was not bad enough, the Home Office Immigration caseworker had more to add…
“I’m honestly not sure what he was thinking here, but the refusal letter went on to say that because I had already been to Armenia and because I spoke some Russian and was familiar with the culture, that it would not be a hardship for me to leave the UK and settle in Armenia. Basically he was saying if I wanted to remain married to Narine that I should leave too!” This was not what Nick wanted to hear.
“I seriously never thought that things had gotten so bad in the UK that the Government was now telling its own to citizens to leave! I just wanted to cry at this point.”
What is the Solution?
This couple now faces a terrible dilemma. Appealing a Home Office Immigration decision could take up to a year to get a resolution. As Nick says, how do you appeal a decision you never wanted or asked for? There is another alternative. They could resubmit the FLR application. The trouble with this is that they still have no money, and now they have one strike against their names as Narine has had an extension application refused. It doesn’t matter to Home Office Immigration that this was an error. They will only see the words ‘Application Refused’ against Narine’s name meaning further FLR applications also have the potential to be refused.
Nick summed up the situation thus: “Covid-19 has effectively nullified my chances of getting employment. We have little or no savings. If we pay for another FLR application it will cost us everything and we may not be able to pay the rent, so we will be homeless. If we don’t pay, there is a high probability I will lose my wife. What’s a man to do under such circumstances?”
Can You Help?
Are you compassionate to this couple’s plight? Would you be prepared to help? The owner of this blog (Nicholas himself) has set up a Go Fund Me page. The amount that they are looking for is £2939. The breakdown of costs is as follows…
- Resubmit FLR application £1033
- Expedite the application process £800
- National Health surcharge £1000
- English language (life in Britain) test £50
- Biometric Residence Permit £56
The expedition of the application process is so that Nick & Narine can have their case prioritised. This is mostly to ensure that the Home Office cannot drag the process out for 12 months. A lengthy application process increases the likelihood of Narine also losing her zero hours role in a Brighton hotel.
Any donation, no matter how small will be recognised. Business donations will be rewarded with free publicity in the form of a blog post, highly targeted social media campaign and a feature in a newsletter submission. To make a Go Fund Me contribution click here.
Can You share This Post?
Time is running out. It would really help our cause if you would share this post in your social network.
Thank you, Nick & Narine.