A husband and father from Whitby is in the middle of a legal battle to try to get his wife and daughter to move to the UK.
Richard Bagshaw lives in Staithes with his five-year-old son, William.
His daughter Lilly, 3, and his wife Maria currently live in Novosibirsk, Russia.
The family has been split for nearly a year as strict immigration rules are preventing Richard’s wife from settling in the UK.
Richard said: “I lived in Russia for 10 years, I met my wife there and my children were born there.
“In the summer of last year we decided to move back to the UK but in November Maria had to go back to Russia to apply for a visa and has not been able to return since.
“We had to wait three months for a response and when the response eventually came, it was a refusal.”
Since July 2012 non-European Economic Area nationals that wish to move to Britain to join their spouses or partners have to satisfy a minimum income requirement.
Applicants must demonstrate a gross annual income of £18,600, which would show the Home Office that they would be able to live in the country without being a burden on the taxpayer.
However, in Maria’s case, the income taken into account is Richard’s and the difficulties of satisfying the requirement is what is hindering the family.
He explained: “In my wife’s case, she’s the applicant and I’m the sponsor.
“As a sponsor I need to prove that when I lived in Russia I earned more than £18,600, which I did.
“However, I’m struggling to prove it because I worked as an English teacher in a private school and I was paid cash in hand. It’s very common in Russia to be paid cash in hand, especially in businesses that are cash only.
“The evidence I provided included pay slips and a Russian P60 but the Home Office also asks for bank statements showing the salary entering my account, which I don’t have.”
As well as meeting the funding requirement, British people moving back to the UK need to prove they have a verifiable job offer for work starting within three months of their return.
Richard added: “I was supposed to start a job in November but because I’m being forced to live as a single parent I have to look after my son so I couldn’t accept it. The situation I’m in now only allows me to work part-time or do seasonal jobs, which don’t allow me to earn enough.”
Affecting Richard and his family is not only the bureaucratic struggle but the emotional challenge of having to live apart.
“I miss my wife, my son misses his mum and I just think it’s cruel that he has to live without her. Until a few weeks ago, he was fine, he was quite strong and everything was sort of okay but recently he started crying, itching and scratching and I’m having to take him to a doctor. I just feel sorry for him. He doesn’t even want to speak to his mum on Facetime because he wants to see her for real. All he knows is that mum is waiting for some documents and that there are some difficulties but will get sorted soon.
“I just want my family to be together, that’s all I want. If I could move to Russia I would but unfortunately because of a criminal record from 2004 I can’t. My daughter needs a father and because I can’t be there she now plays with the fathers of other children. It’s heartbreaking. We can only visit them for a week when it’s half-term but it’s a hell of a journey for just a week, we’re talking about two or three flights and to be honest, when we had to leave last time it broke my heart. In a way it’s easier to just stay here and wait.”
The Children’s Commissioner for England has estimated that up to 15,000 British children are growing up in “Skype families” because their parents cannot live together in the UK due to strict immigration rules.
“I understand that immigration is a really hot topic at the moment and that we have to control our borders but even the most anti-immigrant person would think that this is cruel and shouldn’t be happening.
“I wish the process was more fair and honest. The thing is, if there’s anything missing from your application they don’t tell you, they don’t contact you to say ‘look there’s this thing missing, would you like to update your application?’, it’s an instant refusal. I wish they wouldn’t try to punish people who are trying to do things the right way.”
Richard is now looking at other options, however, meeting the minimum income requirement – which can only be avoided in “exceptional circumstances” – remains his main obstacle.
Due to work commitments he is not able to say when he will see his family next.
A spokesperson from the Home Office said: “To ensure families can support themselves financially, we ask for evidence that applicants looking to sponsor a non-EEA spouse or partner meet a minimum income threshold of £18,600.
“The Supreme Court has endorsed our approach in setting an income requirement for family migration that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and promotes integration. The best interests of any children are taken into account, as a primary consideration, in decision making and, in cases involving exceptional circumstances, we assess the further financial support available to a family.
"All cases are carefully considered on their individual merits, in line with the immigration rules and our policy on exceptional circumstances, and are based on evidence provided by the applicant.”