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

Wedding joy for couple in Scotland after UK visa obstacles cleared

A REFUGEE activist has thanked this newspaper for helping him get a visa to bring his Thai fiancee to Scotland so they can marry in Glasgow later this month.

Ashby McGowan, whose Buddhist wedding to Thanaporn Sonkew last December was not recognised by the Home Office, told the Sunday National they were reunited at Glasgow Airport last month, but only found out days ago that they would be able to tie the knot in Glasgow Registry Office on December 28.

After their Buddhist ceremony, the couple made three attempts to secure a visa to enable Sonkew to come to Scotland that would allow them to wed in Scotland, navigating Byzantine regulations which cost them more than £10,000 on agencies and other fees.

In October McGowan, 66, told us he feared his fiancee might never be allowed to join him in Glasgow.

McGowan, a performance poet, writer and activist, said then: “To apply for a visa has always been very difficult. Now it is impossible.

“I believe that the UK Government, having failed to stop the influx of needy refugees, have just put a blanket ban on those seeking to stay here from other countries.

“That is one area of immigration they have total control over, but this is I believe every wrong.

“It just seems like a total block on her coming to the UK.

“I am really going round the twist with this.”

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

After the couple received confirmation that their wedding would be able to go ahead in Glasgow, McGowan told us he was delighted they would be able to wed in Scotland: “I thank my MP, my Agency in Thailand, the Ethnic Minorities Law Centre, the Sunday National newspaper, and its campaigning reporter Greg Russell.

“I needed the help of every one!”

Nothing with UKVI is ever simple, as we have reported on many occasions, and obstacles may yet remain.

Fitting their wedding within the six-month validity of a single person certificate proved difficult and time-consuming, and was only achieved on the last day of the deadline.

Sonkew will also have to sit two increasingly difficult language tests to extend her stay with her husband in Scotland.

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