London: An Australian actress has been refused permission to live in the UK with her British husband after immigration officials ruled that he was too poor to support her.
Ebony Buckle, who appeared in BBC1’s Inspector George Gently last year, says the enforced separation is taking a toll on her health.
Her visa was rejected because her rock singer spouse Nick Burns earned just £7,221 (Dh39,577) last year — well below the £18,600 threshold required by new immigration laws.
She earned more than that, but Border Agency officials considered only her husband’s earnings.
Last night, Labour MP Steve McCabe criticised the “discriminatory” rules, saying they “put a price on love”, and he pointed out that EU citizens can now bring non-EU spouses to the UK more easily than British nationals can.
Ebony’s lawyer has already appealed the decision, citing controversial human rights legislation that protects the right to family life.
The 26-year-old actress said: “It was devastating when I received the rejection. We only got married a few months ago and all we want to do is share our lives together. I felt like the acting was just taking off, but now it’s all had to be put on hold.”
Nick, 27, added: “The decision has taken its toll on my personal and mental health. A lot of it’s down to not being able to sleep. It’s extremely frustrating but, more than that, I’ve lost faith in the way I live my life as a UK citizen. I feel at my wits’ end.”
Their treatment by the UK Border Agency contrasts with that of other EU citizens living here, who can apply for an European Economic Area family permit for non-EU spouses to join them — which has no minimum income requirement. British citizens living elsewhere in the EU can also apply for the EEA family permit, then use that visa to settle back in the UK.
But because Nick already lives in Britain, his wife must apply for a settlement visa, which has the financial requirement.
McCabe, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “This is a discriminatory policy because it means a British national cannot bring a wife or husband to Britain from outside the EU unless they have certain level of wealth.
“It is also strange that the government should introduce stricter rules for British citizens than those in force for non-British citizens.”
Ebony’s lawyer Mohammed Abdul Muid Khan said: “Nick and Ebony will fight this unfair decision on the principle of fairness. Their private and family life is being destroyed by the harsh application of the new immigration rules.”
The couple wed last September in Hampshire’s New Forest, as Ebony was establishing herself as an actress and singer. But two months later she was forced to return to Australia after her Youth Mobility visa expired. She applied for a UK settlement visa, but this was rejected based on her husband’s earnings.
She had been offered a £26,500-a-year job as an estate agent in London, but the Border Agency did not allow that to be taken into account when considering the income threshold, introduced last July.
Ebony even has some high-level backing for her case. Senior civil servant Sir Alex Allan, former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and a long-standing family friend, said: “Ebony is an asset to the UK, fully able to support herself and happily married to a British national. It is tragic that unthinking application of the new rules is keeping them apart.”
The Home Office said: “Under the free movement directive, European nationals are able to bring family members to the UK. However, they do not have unrestricted access to the UK — they must be working, studying or be self-sufficient.”