Account of an interview in a British Embassy, by the spouse of a British citizen #mustread
'I received a phone call on <day> October 2013 and was told that I need to attend a face to face interview in the British Embassy in Beijing on <day> October 2013 at <time>. It was 4 months after we submitted my UK spouse visa application although we meet all the requirements.
'I wanted to confirm my appointment in person before the interview because it’s about the future happiness of my husband and I, I just could not afford to make any mistakes. So I left my hometown, arrived in Beijing two days before the interview. It took me 3 hours and 10 min on the plane, another 5 hours on buses, trains and tubes, so it was about 8 hours in total, the transport cost about £350 return, and the hotel £100 for 3 nights.
'I arrived in the Embassy in the early morning the day before the interview, and was told by the entrance guards that no advance information of any appointments can be given. It seemed like I would just have to wait at the door until my name was called on the electronic board (if there was one).
'The next day around 7:00am, I was already waiting outside the Embassy, the entrance guards appeared behind the glass door around 7:50am, but again, they still did not know whether I had appointment or not.
'A young man came around 8:00am, standing against the glass door whilst staring at the empty corridor which leads to the lifts. I could see an anxious expression in the stillness of his posture. He came from Guangzhou (which is about 2,200km away from BeiJing), had an interview a month ago for his student visa, but never heard a word ever since. The British university had informed him that the opportunity for his study would have to be closed within 10 days if he still had no visa. He thought he might be able to catch the ECOs in the corridor and to enquire about the outcome of his last interview.
'As I had seen the entrance guards appear behind the glass door without passing the corridor so I assumed that there might be another entrance nearby. But the young man waited until the corridor packed with the Chinese applicants. He could not accept that no ECOs would have entered the office via this crowd. It was sad to see that he finally left the corridor in abject disappointment.
'Fortunately nothing went wrong and my interview started at 8:50am. The interview room was the size of a small prison cell, a see-through glass wall cut in the middle, one side for the interviewer, another side which links to the back office, is for the ECO and an interpreter.
'The ECO was a youngish man, dressed in a gray-green jumper, his face was cold and expressionless, marked with the steel determination, wishing to detect as much false evidence from his prey. He must have been trained in this way for a decent length of time; I felt the coldness immediately, as if I was entering a freezer whilst being eyed by an experienced guard dog.
'The questions started with the dates: how long did you stay in the UK? When did you first arrive in the UK? What date is your ex-husband's birthday? When did you get married? When did you first meet? What date is your current husband's birthday...etc.
'His method of questioning had a very strong military style, there were no gaps between each question. Someone like me with a low pitch and a slow speed, perhaps extremely bad at numbers and dates would definitely have difficulties to adapt to this style.
'My story was not too complicated. In short, I came to the UK with my ex-husband on a dependant visa in 2010. He thought I was being unfaithful, then threw me out in the street 6 months after I arrived in the UK. I survived by myself and kept working as a freelance writer. In October 2011, I applied for leave to remain visa based on three reasons: 1, my fear of returning back to China as a writer and an independent film maker who had touched on some sensitive issues in my work during that period. 2, my former marriage broke down because of my ex-husband's domestic violent behaviour . 3, I was in a relationship with a British artist (at that time).
'So I sent off my leave to remain application to my solicitor at the end of October 2011. After 2 months, I was told that the payment for the visa fee did not go through, it was already January 2012. My solicitor said it should be successful if I retry. So I did. However, I did not hear anything from the Home Office afterwards (no ref, no tracking number, I wrote a few letters to them but received no answers) until April 2013.
'During the following nearly 15 months, I met my current husband David in June 2012. I moved in with him in November 2012. I heard nothing until was April 2013, when I got the refusal letter. David asked me to marry him immediately after reading my refusal. So we got married in China on 13th June 2013 and submitted my spouse visa application the next day.
Here is the summary of Q&As between the ECO and me:
For what reason did your former marriage break down? ----I explained the situation and the domestic violence incident.
Why did you not return to China after your relationship broke down?----Because there were a lot of negotiations, the divorce procedure often takes a long time. I received my divorce papers from the court in the May 2012. It was a year and an half after he threw me out in the street.
Did you report to the Home Office about your relationship breakdown?----No, I did not, but my ex-husband did.
Do you have a letter from the Home Office?----No, I don’t.
After your relationship broke down, you should return to China, you can negotiate via emails and phone calls, you can divorce in China! Why did you stay in the UK?!-----Yes, we could have divorced in China ( I forgot to say that I was in a homeless situation, I did not even think of where to divorce. Where to get a roof and a piece of bread certainly was more urgent...) I was afraid of returning to China because of the nature of my work, then I was told by my solicitor that I did not need to go back to China immediately, I could apply leave to remain under Article 8.
What Article 8? Do you know what's Article 8?!-----That's the category that my solicitor suggested. Can you explain to me what's Article 8 ?
Did you do any research before you submitted your application?----I did a bit afterward.
You did after you submitted your application!? So what was the reason you wanted to stay in the UK?----As I just said, the nature of my work, the domestic violence incident, and I was in a relationship, I think three of them might make a reason?
What would have happened if you had returned to China?----That was a difficult time for many Chinese artists and writers. You live in Beijing, you should understand. The artist Ai Weiwei disappeared for quite a while. The human rights lawyer XXX who I filmed in my documentary also disappeared during that time - soon we found out he was in jail for about 8 months. Another human rights lawyer XXX who I was investigating through my documentary had also disappeared for years.
When did you make this documentary?----From 2005 to 2010.
When did you start to make documentaries related to sensitive issues?----About 2004. I made a film about people made redundant and who asked for compensation...
Why did you not mention your work in your first application (2010)?-----because I was just a dependant on a dependant visa, it was nothing to do with my work.
Have you had any threats?----I think the most severe one was when I was about to screen my newly made documentary in February of 2010, the place and time was already set, I was on my way to the screening, then I was told that ‘I cannot screen my film, the security police are looking for me.’ so I had to shut my phone off and randomly pick up some of my stuff then flee to HK that evening.
What date was that day?----I cannot remember exactly...
You had to flee to HK you said you cannot remember?!!—(I have problems with numbers and dates, it was one of my learning difficulties) well, I remember that it was just a few days before I flew to the UK.
So you had got your visa by then? ----Yes.
What did you do when you were in the UK?----I wrote columns for Chinese magazines, I also had some commissions for my journalist work.
What did you write in your columns?----The great culture of Britain: art, galleries, exhibitions, fashion, artists...
Did you do anything else? ----I taught a bit of yoga occasionally, I was a qualified yoga teacher.
Was it like a part time job then?----yes.
How much do you earn every month? roughly?-----About £700 or £800 if I did not work hard.
If you did not work hard?!-----Yes, if I work hard I can earn much more than that. I was also doing a bit of volunteer work in xxxx centre, they have some helplines for domestic violence victims and refugees.
But you are not a psychologist or therapist, what did you do there?----I was just helping the case workers.
How ?----There are some helplines there, and I can speak Mandarin...
So you were just picking up the phone calls then?-----Not just like that, I was also doing some paperwork. i.e. help them to fill the forms etc.
Fill the forms to who?-----To the government.
So you were helping people claiming benefits then?!----Not quite. We...The centre gives the information about benefits to people. But mostly we just help those victims or refugees, as some of them are homeless, they need to seek a place to stay or a shelter to...
So you were helping people to claim benefits!?----Not directly...
Indirectly then, said the ECO. He was recording my answers by typing them into a computer in front of him, 'It's just a bit of charity work...'I replied, I was already angry at myself as I am not good at self-defense. He was not looking at me at all but just kept typing whilst spitting out a sentence firmly: I know this kind of charity!
So when did you meet your current husband?----You mean face to face? It was <day> of June 2012.
Where did you meet ?----Cambridge.
How was that?----It was quite sweet, we just keep talking endlessly.
How did you meet each other?----Through a poetry website.
What was the website called?----spinewriter...as I remember. He was doing an online reading along with other English poets. His work contains a lot of oriental elements, also the way he spaces his poems reminds me of the Chinese ancient paintings. So I left him a msg...
You left him a msg?!-----Yes. Just to let him know how I feel about his work and to ask him whether he could introduce me to more English contemporary poems...
When did you start your relationship?----After the first date...
You called it a date?-----Yes, what's wrong with it? so after the first date we kept seeing each other, back and forth between London and Cambridge. Then he attended my talk.
When was that?----The end of June 2012.
How was that?----He told me he really liked my work and gave me a lot of compliments, and he told me how brave I was.
So when did you start your relationship?----- I think we started our relationship after that day.
Why was that?-----Because that was the first time he showed his affection to me.
Did you move in with him?----Yes, I did.
When was that?----Nov. 2012.
Does he have a car?----He had a car, it was broken, so he threw it away. we have decided to get a new one soon.
What colour was the car?---I don't know.
You don't know the colour of his car?!----How do I know?! I have not seen the car. he rides a bike.
So does he have a car? Do you understand my question?!----Yes, he does not have a car.
That's it, that's what I was asking. so how long does it take him from his work to his place by bike?-----30 min.
Where did he live before?----In Cambridge.
What street?-----I don’t know, I’ve never been to his old flat.
Where does he live now?----He lives in XXXX.
How to spell it?------X X X X.
What's the address?-----1-0-2 XXXX
Can you not look at your notes! Try to remember by yourself ok?-----Yes, yes, I have put the notes down.
Repeat the address again!-----1-0-2 XXXX
How long has he been living in this address?-----About 4 years. He bought it 4 years ago.
So he owns the flat?----Yes. but as soon as I moved in with him, I started to pay half of the mortgage.
Where did you get money to pay half of the mortgage?!-----I work...I always have commissions. I have been working for 20 years! Half of the mortgage is just £300!
Does your husband have a university degree?----Yes.
Where did he study?----London University.
Which London university?----He did tell me the name of the university, but I cannot remember, somewhere close to West Ham...
(Then more questions about my husband. Such as: How many people in his family? What's his job title at work? What does he do for his work? Where was he born? etc.)
When did you decide to get married?----On the date I received my refusal. It was my husband’s birthday. I told him I can no longer stay here. He said: Don't go! I don't want you to go ! Would you marry me?
So when you received your refusal, you decided to marry him?-----He decided to marry me!! I did not ask him to marry me!
Have you talked about living in China before?----Yes, but please imagine that one of the best universities has spent 10 years to train him as a professional xxx, if he has to teach English somewhere which is thousands of miles away just for three meals, don’t you think it's a bit of a waste? And what about his elderly parents?
Is your husband willing to sacrifice all these for you?----Yes. I think no matter what, we will be together.
Why do you think so?-----Because we are married, and we are committed to each other.
How long do you want to stay in the UK?-----...Until the end of the day?
What do you mean ‘the end of the day’?!------Until we get old, until we die...
Are you satisfied with the interview that I have conducted with you?----Yes. But please understand that we really miss each other...(no comment from the ECO)
David has a flying phobia! I cried out.
What?! he just needs to fly once! Said the ECO ----Yes, but what about the job he loves?! What about his elderly parents?!
There wer no more comments from the ECO, that's the end of the interview. I was told on the phone that I can bring as much evidence as I need in this interview, as I have just sold my flat, I wanted to provide proof of the money I have received recently, which shows in my current bank statements, but it was refused. The ECO told me that because I have already submitted my bank statement in the first place, so the same evidence won’t be accepted again.
So I submitted a few more family photos, some Christmas cards that I drew for our common friends, a Mother's Day card I drew for David's mother's day, and the email records between us during this separation
Then I left the Embassy in tears.