South East Wales

Visa refusal leaves mother and toddler 4,000 miles apart

Umair and his grandmother on Skype
Image caption There are up to 15,000 British children growing up in 'Skype families'

A two-and-a-half-year-old in Newport is living 4,000 miles (6,440km) from his mother after she was refused a visa to join him in the UK.

Umair's mother, Pakistani national Riza, and his father, Newport-born Suhail, planned to live in Wales together after their marriage in 2014 but her visa application has been refused twice.

Umair has seen his mother for just six weeks since he was 10 months old.

Riza plans to make a third application.

To bring a non-European spouse into Britain you must have a minimum income of £18,600 and they must have a good knowledge of English.

Image caption Umair has seen his mother for two three-week holidays in Pakistan

The rules were introduced by the former coalition government to stop foreign spouses becoming reliant on taxpayers.

Riza's first visa was refused because she failed the English test. On the second occasion Riza passed, but her family believe the visa was refused because Suhail had changed jobs and could not prove his income.

The family say they have the resources to support Riza.

Riza and her child speak on Skype but Suhail worries Umair no longer recognises his mother.

He said: "He thinks it's just a video. She [Riza] cries then because obviously she's not seeing the baby. And the baby's not taking attention of her because he doesn't know who she is."

While Suhail is at work his mother Irena cares for Umair.

Image caption Suhail and Riza met on a holiday in Pakistan

Irena said: "As he's growing up he's forgetting her so we have to remind him all the time on Skype or on email or WhatsApp - 'that is your mother'. He doesn't realise that at all."

The family had to mark Umair's first birthday without his mother: "I cried my eyes out. I really, really cried because she wasn't there to have a look at his first birthday," said Irena.

The family want Umair, who has the right to live in the UK, to remain in Newport because he attends an English speaking nursery and they want him to attend a local school where they think he will get a good education.

In 2015, the children's commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said up to 15,000 British children were growing up in "Skype families" because of immigration rules that were causing children significant stress and anxiety.

Image caption Umair and his cousin playing at home

Suhail said he's determined to get his "beautiful" wife to Newport: "I didn't think it'd be this hard but it's come to a stage where you just struggle so much and there's only so much you can do.

"I keep thinking of what's happening and keep crying."

The family feature in BBC Wales documentary Strangers in a strange land.

The programme also tells the story of 25-year-old Bashar, who fled Syria three years ago.

Image caption Bashar has got a job working in a restaurant

He paid a people smuggler to take him on a boat to Italy before travelling to Calais where he boarded a ferry by clinging to the underneath of a lorry.

Once he reached the UK he faced a harrowing motorway journey under the vehicle: "The lorry was driving for 50 to 60 minutes. I was holding on with all my strength because if I let go I die."

Eventually the lorry pulled into a service station and Bashar handed himself over to the authorities and made his claim for asylum.

He was sent to Cardiff and four months later given leave to remain in the UK.

He has found work in a Middle Eastern restaurant in Cardiff.

He said: "I want to support myself. I don't want anyone to support me."

Image caption Bashar was almost killed when he was hit by a sniper’s bullet in Syria
  • Strangers in a strange land, BBC One Wales, 22:40 BST, Monday 26 June

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