18th Mar 2013 12:33pm | By Carol Driver
An Australian living in London almost lost her job and missed out on a trip home to visit her unwell elderly grandparents due to UKBA incompetence.
Courtney Sherwell had been living and working in London on an ancestry visa since 2007 and was forced to wait more than eight months to extend her visa.
She got in touch with TNT after hearing about our campaign, demanding the UK Border Agency improve its services.
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“I spent a great five years living over here, making a home, and was gainfully employed, working in the NHS since January 2008, contributing NI and tax payments,” she said.
“All the time I’ve been aware that on my visa is stamped ‘no recourse to public funds’ – which is why it has been so important for me to work to stay here.
“I am also studying British Sign Language, which is a highly sought after skill in the UK, which I hope to use in the future when qualified.”
In July 2012, Sherwell applied to extend her visa, paying £561.
“The money was taken from my account, and on the same day my HR department requested an update as I was nearing the end of my visa,” she said.
“I happily emailed to say that my application had been submitted, and that money had been taken from my account.
”Two months later, HR was in touch again – but Sherwell hadn’t received any news from the Border Agency.
“But as per the UKBA guidelines, while a visa application is in process, I could continue to act on the current conditions of my old passport, so I wasn’t too worried,” she said.
Fast-forward to December: Sherwell had to cancel a planned trip to Australia to see her family. And the 28-year-old had to tell HR she still hadn’t heard from UKBA.
“I was told as I had not heard anything further, and had not enrolled biometric data, it ‘was not good news’,” she explains. “They were doing their job and the right thing by the rules
."But I was really worried so I called UKBA – they couldn’t find me on their system, saying my reference number was invalid.
“The woman told me it was odd but said as it hadn’t been six months, she couldn’t take it further.” Sherwell was called to a meeting with her manager.
“She told me based on UKBA advice, it was recommended my contract be terminated immediately. My face was a picture.”
Luckily, Sherwell managed to keep her job – she had enough evidence to show her application was in the system.
“I called the UKBA again. I wrote and faxed them a letter. After speaking to an immigration lawyer I requested all the data UKBA held on me under the Data Protection Act.
“It was all five years old and suggested I’d never entered the UK!“Six months to the day after submitting my application, I called UKBA and I was told they couldn’t find my file and suggested I write to them.
“Out of desperation, I contacted my MP. In January UKBA finally requested my biometric data.
“I wasn’t given any indication of how long it would take from then. I felt like I was in the middle of a nightmare. I needed to move house in April, but had no idea if I could without my documents.
“I couldn’t plan to go back to Oz or go on holiday. I couldn’t even get a new phone contract. My life was put on hold for eight months.”
In March 2013, Sherwell’s visa was approved.
“It took four weeks after receiving my biometrics. If it can be turned around so quickly, why the eight-month wait?”
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