My Honest Expat series continues today with an interview with Taryn who moved to the UK with her husband in 2013. However, her journey hasn’t been an easy one. She’s found that it’s not as easy as making the move when it comes to all the admin involved.
Today’s she’s sharing her story to help educate other’s contemplating emigration as the answer to their woes…..
Be Warned: It might just create a whole lot more!!
Inexperience told us it would be easy
Home Office proved us wrong!
The Bracey family consists of Ken (30), Taryn (36) and Isla (2.5). Hailing from Cape Town and Johannesburg, they took the decision about 1 year after getting married to emigrate to the United Kingdom as Ken held both nationalities. When they left South Africa 4 years ago it was just Ken and Taryn. Isla was born in the UK in September 2015.
Where are you originally from?
I grew up in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town. I moved to Johannesburg in 2006, met my husband there in 2010 and married October 2011.
Where did you emigrate to?
Zone 4, London, United Kingdom ☺
When did you emigrate?
What was the catalyst/s for your emigration decision?
It honestly was so multifaceted. Part of it was because Ken was an admitted attorney in SA and didn’t want to stay in that profession. It seemed that because that was what he had studied, it was going to be extremely difficult to diversify into something different.
Partly we wanted to travel and experience new things as a newly married couple. Our first year of marriage (2012) involved finishing studies, night law school and full time jobs so it was quite draining.
If our children had any hope of being British Citizens themselves, we would have to reside in UK as Ken received his passport through descent (his father is British) so it wouldn’t pass on another generation. Part of the thought process was that we wanted any future children to have options.
How long had you thought through the emigration process?
Ken had mentioned it before we got married, so it wasn’t a complete shock when we started talking about it seriously. I am a creature of habit and comfort and at first resisted the suggestion, but by talking more about it I got more excited. In total it took about 9 months of backwards and forwards discussions and planning until finally deciding on a solid, YES, let’s do this!
How easy/ complicated was the application process to emigrate and how long did it take? Did it require certain qualifications/ documentation/ finances etc?
Little did we know how complicated it would turn out to be when we made our decision in July 2012 to leave SA in 2013. We thought it would be relatively easy because Ken had a British passport. However, the Home Office in Britain has pretty much overhauled their rules making the process exceptionally difficult.
You may throw around the term “Spousal Visa” as it it’s an easy process, but very few people realise the significant changes that have happened since July 2012. There is now a massive financial burden placed on the sponsor (the person holding the British passport). See more of my explanation of the rules and how we had to go about it at the end of this interview!
What was your first year like after emigrating?
Due to the Visa situation, the pressure on Ken to find a permanent job for a certain amount of money and my limited Visitor Visa, it was extremely stressful.
We are blessed to have had Ken’s cousin, who had been living in the UK for about 20 years, offer us a room to rent. But to be honest, I found this difficult, not only from sharing a house point of view, but also because, after having been an independent working woman, I was now working out a bathroom schedule in a 2 bedroom bungalow with 2 blokes at the ripe old age of 32!
Coupled with interviews, rejection in the job market for Ken and living off our South African Rands (which didn’t go very far!), it was living in limbo, turmoil and chaos. The expense for additional Visa’s and flights back home and being separated for 3 months did take a toll on the both of us. We do look back now and realise the sovereignty and faithfulness of a God much bigger than us, even through our unfaithfulness in not believing in his control. 2013 was certainly a learning year.
I learned that my identity is not linked to my career or my status. It was a lonely period leaving everything, but we were reliant on each other, which did make us closer through the experience. And although not having our own space was a challenge it forced us to get out on the weekends and walk London flat, something that I absolutely love and cherish now!
What have you loved about your new home – for you and your children?
The UK has its’ own issues. It’s not greener, its’ just a different set of problems. I really love the fact that things work. We moan about trains being 15 minutes late but at least there is semi reliant public transport. We can go to the park, which in Johannesburg was never a consideration. I walk between 50 – 70kms per week. I love walking. You walk everywhere. To and from the train station, to and from work. I love the diversity of London. The different people. Although it was hard to change countries, there are so many other foreigners around so it almost feels you are in a completely neutral country!
What have you found hard about your new home – for you and your children?
We were naive to think that moving to an English speaking country was going to be an easy transition. We never accounted for the cultural differences. And, boy, are there many subtle ones! We found it difficult to engage in the English banter and I think our newfound English friends found our bluntness and directness hard to swallow.
We have integrated into an amazing church family and have found that so important as I feel it would have been a different story had we not had our faith. Perseverance was hard in establishing new friendships. It’s hard work making the effort during a busy week, but it’s so worth it. I do often find myself comparing our friendships here to the ones I had back in SA, forgetting that those could have been spanning over 10 or more years – so it is an unfair comparison really. You need to constantly remind yourself that this is different and that’s ok.
What have you NOT missed about South Africa – for you and your children?
The constant fear alert. Living in Joburg, we were constantly on high alert for car jackings and possible armed robberies. Between us the violence that our families have experienced over the years had been extensive. On separate occasions, my husband has been stabbed and had a semi-automatic weapon held to his head in a garage shop during a robbery. Those things take their toll. It has taken us quite a while to relax fully while out and about. Although we now face a very real terrorism threat in London, it’s a different sort of fear factor entirely. I find I am still on high alert now though with Isla, as child snatching is a very real threat with Europe’s syndicates just on our doorstep.
What have you missed about South Africa – for you and your children?
“Definitely the weather!”, she mumbles as she trundles to the station in the misty rain and gale force winds! The beauty of Cape Town. The braai’s. The swimming pools in your backyard! Weird, but I find the whole public swimming pools creepy. I’ve only ever been once and that’s a shame because Isla loves the pool. So I have to consciously make an effort there! Friends, family – things that we know and love and miss dearly. Our friends are getting married and having their own families, and Facebook and WhatsApp is great to keep in touch, but there is something missing from a cup of coffee and a piece of cake!
Knowing what you know now – would you emigrate again? To the same place or to a different place?
The answer would be yes. As to a different place, I don’t think I could fully answer that only knowing what I know about London. London is so central to Europe and although I always have to get a Visa to travel (an admin pain), it’s still relatively cheap and easy to get across to Rome, Greece, Spain, anywhere really.
Being fully independent here and raising our child without outside family influencers is freeing. On the negative side, it means we are always the stop gap. There aren’t grandparents to help out when your child is sick and you are working 9-5 with a London commute and have to juggle all and sundry. Sometimes a lie in would be nice 😉 but that is the price you pay for moving abroad.
We felt the pros outweighed the cons when we thought it through. The opportunities we have here are endless – I’m currently working in a multinational and Ken has had great exposure to the corporate world. Our plan for the future is that I cut my working week down to 3 days, something that I feel I wouldn’t necessarily have had the opportunity to do in South Africa in my industry, especially from a financial point of view.
If you could, would you return to South Africa? What would make you consider returning to South Africa?
Never say never, as circumstances and situations change, but I would say it wouldn’t be our first choice. We feel too far down this road having invested loads of money and time and effort in Visa’s, houses and a new life. The family aspect and worries about our parents getting older is a hard fact to face, but that is something that we will have to take as it comes. We wouldn’t move back to Johannesburg, so we would have to ensure that we had the right jobs and salaries for Cape Town living in order to maintain our same standard of living here.
What makes it hard to return to South Africa – for you and your children?
We speak about this. We visited SA when Isla was 3 months old and although it was lovely seeing everybody and catching up with friends, you soon realised that the image and memories you had of them, isn’t the reality. They have rightly moved on and gotten on with life with their own changes.
When we made the move to London we decided that we couldn’t live limbo in two places so if we were going to give London a go, we had to give it a good proper go and commit fully. If we hadn’t done that for those first 2 years of being away and had gone home for a visit I think it would have been harder to realise that people had moved on. I think that aspect makes the thought of moving back hard. It would literally mean starting yet again. At this late stage in my life, I’m not sure I want to!
What were the unexpected (good and bad) aspects of emigrating that you’d wished you’d known about before going. Do you have any advice for those contemplating making this huge move for their families?
Do your research. It definitely helps to talk to people and get involved in forums. We used Breytenbachs Immigration services for our initial Visitor Visa and discussed the options of Spousal Visa. By the time we came to applying for Spousal, I had already consulted with loads of other people and professionals in the UK, so felt confident enough to go at it alone.
I would say double & triple check you application. Be methodical with the actual application. A small mistake can cost a huge amount of money.
Realise that when you make the decision to step on that plane – you need to give the new country a good go. It was hard and different and we didn’t understand how things worked, but giving it a good go and not trying to compare was key for us for our mind set.
I can’t comment on moving with kids, but knowing what I know now about schooling and childcare – research, research, research! It’s a complicated system and even being here for 4 years, I still don’t quite get the whole schooling thing.
In July 2012, Home Office introduced new laws for Spousal Visa’s and simply put – it places a lot of financial burden on the person holding the British Passport.
Not only is there additional genuine and subsisting relationship to prove (we had to submit cards, letters, letters from family members, letters from friends who know us separately and as a couple, photographs of our time together and the usual banking statements and proof that we share financial responsibility), there is also a financial bit that has to be met.
As Ken was the British spouse, he had to prove that he could earn at least £18,600 per year as he was looking to support a wife. If we were looking to bring over children that we already had had, it would have increased to £22,400 for 1 child, £24,800 for 2 children and £27,200 for 3 children (this is for dependant children). If you have more than 3 children, you need to make minimum £27,200 per year plus £2,400 per additional child.
Now, living in London, that amount of yearly salary might not be a problem. However, the added burden is that you have to be in a permanent job position and you had to have held that job position for at least 6 months ie. Have 6 months’ worth of payslips in order to prove that you are financially stable.
Of course, there is another way to do it, but that involves leaving a lump sum of equivalent £16,000 in a banking account for a minimum of 6 months prior to the date of applying and this cash has to be owned by yourself ie. You cannot get a relative to stick it into an account for 6 months as they will investigate how it came about.
Application Form for Spousal Visa – This is an extensive document. My application pack each time was 1.5 inches thick and took a substantial amount of time to put together.
Our Visa Timeline
Ken left for UK on the 10 February 2013. I stayed in Johannesburg and wrapped up our life – finishing my job (I had a 3-month notice period due to seniority and hand over). I sorted out the house – finished packing up and once I had finished work officially, I flew down to Cape Town to spend some time with my mom. I spent March 2013 with my mom, and started the application process for a Visitors Visa, as we knew we didn’t qualify as yet to apply for the entry Spousal Visa. The plan was that I would go over on a 6 month Visitor Visa and would then need to fly home and see where we were with the permanent job situation etc. We thought – at worse we would be separated again for about 1 month. As it turns out, this wasn’t the worst case scenario.
I left South Africa in April 2013 on a Visitors Visa to support him emotionally as he was facing some rejection in the job market. He had a good run with his temp work but nothing turned permanent. It got to June and we were running out of Rands, and our plan B was Thailand to teach English. We were all set to start packing, when Ken landed a role. out of nowhere. God was in control. A permanent role that was to begin on 18th August 2013. It was a good role and well exceeded the minimum financial requirement – we just needed 6 months worth of salary slips and considering he had a 3-month probation period, we would only be able to apply when he passed probation near the end of December 2013. My Visa would have run out by then (6th October 2013) and I would have had to wait it out in SA while he carried on with life in the UK.
We were fortunate enough to be put in touch with a Christian immigration judge, who gave us his time pro bono purely because he understood the strain on marriages that were just trying to make a go of a life in the UK. He spoke me through various options that were available to us, but all of them cost money.
We decided the following route, which suited us, as our main aim was to stay together, as long as possible:
I applied for a Spousal Visa from within the UK before my Visitor Visa ran out. I applied based on Article 8 – my right to family life and stated categorically that they were infringing upon my right to remain with my British husband, purely because I was South African.
We knew that this Visa would be denied and we were literally throwing money away, but what it meant was, because I was applying based on an infringement of a human right, it had to follow the appeal process and any person who was entitled to an appeal, irrespective of whether or not they had a valid Visa would be allowed to remain in the country until such time as their appeal was heard in court. The likelihood of me being granted an entry level clearance Spousal Visa was zero as I couldn’t convert a Visitor Visa to a Spousal Visa, and I eventually would have to leave the UK for South Africa – but it bought us time together and that was a cost we were willing to make financially. I had followed protocol and knew it could not be held against me at any other point of application. It was purely procedural.
My Visitor Visa ran out in October 2013 and I made the Spousal Visa application. The rejection letter came a couple of days later but with an appeal date set for the 17th March 2014. Home Office held possession of my passport and knew my whereabouts. We got to spend Christmas together and our wedding anniversary and that was well worth the extra £1,000 we paid.
In January, Ken met the minimum requirements as we used his temping wage to build towards his annual allowance and he passed probation so his position was definitely permanent.
I phoned Home Office in early January after booking my flight home to apply for my proper Spousal Visa and requested to withdraw my appeal and get my documents back in order to leave the country. Little did I know that I had to be escorted to the plane – that was a new experience!!
They didn’t post my passport back to me. Instead, I had to attend an interview at Home Office in East Croydon and receive a “voluntary deportation letter” that I had to present at check in at the airport. I then had to proceed through airport security, not knowing when I would see my husband again as the wait time for processing Spousal Visas in South Africa was estimated at 3 months. Saying goodbye outside the gates was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I could cope with knowing a set end date, but to have it open ended, was torture.
I proceeded through the gates and found I couldn’t advance any further. I was stuck between duty free and the security gates, as I had to wait for passport control to bring me my passport and marriage certificate. That was a long wait and I feared I would miss my flight. Being in no man’s land, being treated as a criminal (a letter with the words deportation speaks volumes, irrespective of the circumstances) is no fun at all.
I boarded my flight and landed in South Africa. Upon arrival in Johannesburg I set about sorting out admin stuff so that I could make my Spousal application. D-Day arrived and I trundled off to the VFS processing centre in Centurion by the Brooklyn Mall. As I handed in what could be classified as a thesis on our life, the gentleman kindly reminded me that the processing time is… “yes, yes, I know…. Up to 3 months”
I flew down to Cape Town to wait the 3 months out there. I set about sorting out admin stuff for my mother and about a week later I was Skyping with Ken as he had flexible working and so had Work from Home days. These were great from the aspect that we could have a Skype lunch together and catch up without the hassle of me having my mother home and he having the other housemates. It was a form of privacy for a free chat without ears, a catch up, a lunch date.
I received a SMS whilst on that Skype call with him. It was day 8 after submitting my Visa and the message was from FedEx to say that my passport was on its way to me. It was a Friday – I had to wait for delivery on Monday – I immediately burst into tears. The processing couldn’t have taken that quick! I must have forgotten something in my pack, they must have denied me.
I phoned the FedEx number and was told that I could come through and pick up my parcel at CT Airport Industria the next day if I couldn’t wait till Monday. Well, Saturday morning I woke up, still crying (I honestly thought that my application was initially rejected and if that happens, you have to pay again for another application and at this point, we didn’t have the money), got dressed and composed myself for the drive to Airport Industria.
I arrived at the depot and handed the details to the receptionist. She came back with a flybag. I ripped it open, only to have my passport fall out. Nothing else. Just my passport. No letter, nothing. I rummaged through it and to my absolute amazement, found, stuck in one of the pages, my entry-level clearance Spousal Visa I couldn’t believe it. I just burst into tears making the poor, unsuspecting receptionist uncomfortable. Prayer is the only answer to the fact that my Visa took a whole 8 days to process. We had our entire community praying for a swift decision and that we wouldn’t be separated for too long.
I returned to the UK on the 19th February 2014 and started working in a temp job on the 20th March after sorting out my paperwork and applying for NI numbers etc.
The Visa situation has not been without headache. We have been incredibly blessed to have had good jobs that matched the income threshold – Home Office now takes my salary into account as it isn’t entry level clearance anymore and I am a professional with a degree.
In November 2017, I applied for my second 2.5 year Visa – you have to do 5 years in Visa’s before being allowed to apply for indefinite leave to remain. It was granted and this Visa expires in June 2019, where, subject to the financial terms (which we pray don’t change again) I will be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain and my citizenship at the same time. That is the only perk of Spousal, I don’t have to wait a year before applying for citizenship – although, with the application costs rising and currently sitting at £4,000 for the next step, it’s quite a lot of money to fork out at once. We will have to see what happens at that point. Worse case scenario is that I am denied Indefinite Leave to Remain, at which point I would be detained to be deported back to South Africa. We would obviously appeal this fervently, but it is a reality that could happen. It all depends on how the next couple of years go politically and when the next clamp down is.
People ask if I would do it again. I would. We’ve learned a lot, our faith has grown enormously and through it all we’ve grown closer as a couple.
WOW what a journey – a roller coaster journey!
Thank you for sharing all your ups and downs with my readers Taryn. I’m sure many of them will find it really helpful, especially those looking to apply for a Spousal Visa in the UK. If you’re moving to London (alone or with your family) be sure to bookmark this post about tips on how to save money in London!
If you enjoyed this interview with a South African expat be sure to read the other interviews with South African expats in The Honest Expat series.