A British woman recounted how she had to separate her six-year-old son from his French father because post-Brexit rules prohibited her spouse from returning with her to the UK for a new job without prior approval from the Department of the Interior.

After 11 years in France, the couple, who have highly skilled jobs in the defense industry, decided to return to the UK and figured it would be as easy as getting on a Eurostar train.

However, the Home Office no longer recognizes the European family permit her husband used before Brexit and is now taking months to respond to requests for a UK version.

Delays are dividing countless families, where a British parent can return to the UK and the non-Briton – whether a citizen of the EU or elsewhere – cannot.

The woman explained that she had no choice but to make the trip with her son as her new job started on September 6 and, although she was waiting for a family permit for her husband within 15 days, two months after her request, she is still waiting for a response from the Home Office.

She was so anxious that her binational son was refused entry because he had not yet obtained his UK passport that she went so far as to have him say he was going on vacation if he was questioned by immigration officers. She sent her luggage separately to give the impression that she was not moving. “I was so scared they would say, ‘Looks like you’re moving out – no, sorry, your son can’t come.’ My husband stayed in the car around the Gare du Nord [station in Paris] just in case, she said.

“I became so paranoid that I sent my luggage in advance on a service run by Eurostar and bought a return ticket because I had read that border officials were refusing people if they suspected that your intention was to stay in Britain. It was so stressful, so horrible, because we were afraid that my son would be turned away, ”she said.

She added, “To be honest, it’s very hard on my son. We tried to make fun of it, just saying we were going on vacation, but he misses his dad. Now he says, ‘I miss daddy – when can we see daddy, when can we see the dog?’ “

She also feels bad for her husband, who has also quit his job in anticipation of returning to London. Responsible for aviation operations in the defense industry, he is now unemployed and may not be able to accept a new job in the UK while his family permit application is pending.

There are reports from the Home Office in some cases taking six months to issue permits that are supposed to take just 15 days. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA

Non-EU and now non-UK spouses must build on a 1992 EU legal precedent known as the ‘Surinder Singh Road’ to live in the UK. The government has pledged that anyone returning to the UK from the EU and exercising their right of free movement can return with a foreign spouse under this precedent.

However, before a spouse or lasting partner can apply to stay in the country, they must first be issued with a family permit.

Alexander Finch, director of immigration law firm Fragomen, said: “Overall, the EUSS [European Union settlement scheme] worked well for many Europeans. But it’s a shame it’s taking a long time for Surinder Singh’s candidates. The Withdrawal Agreement obliges the UK to process family permit applications “on a fast-track basis”, which is not the case. “

He added that the UK is also going beyond previous requirements to prove that the place of residence is genuinely the EU. “It doesn’t help that the Home Office chose to go beyond the requirements of EU law and ended up with a confusing definition of ‘true residence’.”

With Home Office reports sometimes taking six months to issue permits that should only take 15 days, according to government information, Smith and her husband have joined a growing number of parents facing potential breakups.

A young Briton in Portugal, married to a Brazilian, said she feared delays in finding a family permit would force her to temporarily leave her two-month-old baby with her father while she returned home to Bristol to get their four years in school and start a new life.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Applications for EUSS family permits are reviewed in strict order of application date, and we continue to review staff levels and deploy resources in the areas most needed. most needy. Each file is examined as quickly as possible and on its individual merits, but processing times may vary depending on the volume and complexity of the requests.

The 15-day service standard does not apply to all entry clearance requests.

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