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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Greg Russell

Scottish refugee activist fears his wife will never be allowed to join him in UK

A SCOTTISH refugee activist who married his Thai wife in her home country last year fears she will never be allowed to join him here, despite his MP and an immigration advice centre taking up her case with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

Ashby McGowan has already spent thousands of pounds after he and Thanaporn Sonkeaw were married in a Buddhist ceremony in December, and they hope to wed in a Glasgow registrar’s office when she is eventually allowed into the UK – but so far three attempts at securing a UK visa have been rejected, despite her having a job waiting for her in Glasgow.

Yesterday, McGowan told the Sunday National: “It just seems like a total block on her coming to the UK. I am really going round the twist with this.”

He has also tried to use three different agencies to bring his wife here, all of which were recommended to him.

He said: “The reason I had to use the agencies was that the UK Visa site was impossible to understand.

“The Agencies all said we had to get a Visitors Visa first before a Marriage Visa. Also, my friend brought his fiancee over using a Visitors Visa and then got married later.

“At no point in the three Visitors Visa failures did UKVI say that we were doing anything wrong.

“One application was rejected because I had not visited Thanaporn enough in Thailand, even though Thailand and the UK both banned travel because of Covid.

“When I queried this with the UKVI via my MP [Patrick Grady] I was told they could not tell me anything because of data protection. Another time she was refused because she did not have any children – and they saw this as a reason to not go back to Thailand.

“We have twice arranged to be married in Glasgow and had to cancel both weddings, because Thanaporn had no visa to travel.”

So far, the couple have spent more than £5000 on meeting UKVI requirements and legal fees, with further estimated costs of at least £4500.

However, should Sonkeaw fail any part of the UKVI tests to remain here, she can be sent back to Thailand.

This newspaper has seen some of the UKVI correspondence relating to this case, including Sonkeaw’s latest visa refusal, which was sent from a UKVI office in New Delhi.

The writer said she had applied to enter the Uk as a visitor, not a spouse, and they were not satisfied that she was a “genuine visitor”.

McGowan said UKVI should have notified applicants by email to keep them updated, which did not happen, but the Sunday National has heard complaints from lawyers and visa applicants that the system was not fit for purpose.

One said: “We have cases where people are told to contact UKVI online, or by phone or email, but the systems don’t work.

“If applicants do manage to get through at all and try to pay any fees, their payment cards are frequently rejected, adding to their frustration and fear.

“The system is not fit for purpose.”

McGowan sought help from his MP – Glasgow North member Patrick Grady – who has written to UKVI, seeking an update.

Grady told his constituent that he and his SNP colleagues would continue to push for Scotland to have its own immigration policy outwith Westminster’s hostile environment.

However, he added: “Unfortunately, it becomes ever clearer that that isn’t going to happen under this cruel and heartless Westminster government.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “All visa applications are carefully considered on their own merits and we endeavour to consider them as quickly as possible."

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