An Australian couple who came to the UK legally under a scheme designed to attract people to the Scottish Highlands have been threatened with deportation as the government has now scrapped the scheme. The couple say they could be left homeless and bankrupt if deported.
Gregg and Kathryn Brain moved to the UK in 2011 with their young son Lachlan, now seven years old and fluent in Gaelic having been schooled exclusively in the language.
They were drawn to Dingwall In the Scottish Highlands by the government’s Highland Homecoming Plan, investing their life savings in the round the world move. Gregg found a full time job in a legal office, while Kathryn worked at an estate agency, the Daily Mail has reported.
But the plan, designed to boost the economy of the remote area which has been suffering from depopulation over the last few decades, was withdrawn shortly after their arrival, forcing the couple to apply to stay under the terms of a Tier 2 system which requires applicants to reach a specific financial threshold. From the 6th April of this year, that threshold was a daunting £35,000 a year.
The Brains were originally told that they would have to vacate the country on Tuesday, but thanks to a public outcry, including a petition, they have been granted a two month extension by Home Office minister James Brokenshire. However, their passports have been seized, they may have their bank accounts frozen, and they have been banned from working during those two months.
Gregg Brain told the Guardian: “We’re grateful to James Brokenshire for extending our leave to remain for another 60 days, but that gratitude is tempered by the fact that we are still homeless and unemployed at his behest.”
He added that the restrictions and visa requirements, which include demands that the family show they have £945 per family member in maintenance funds, gave the impression that the family was “being set up to fail.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who met with the family last week, said: “The government changed the rules before these people had a chance to benefit.
“The wee boy is a Gaelic speaker and is, to all intents and purposes, Scottish.”
Their constituency MP Ian Blackford called their predicament “utterly ridiculous,” adding: “It demonstrates all the shortcomings in the UK immigration policy that people who are here and are making a contribution to our economy, and who want to stay and live here, are being forced out.”
But the Home Office is resolute, insisting that evidence of a relevant job within visa requirement rules had not been forthcoming. It said it would consider the family’s application if such evidence could be produced within the two month grace period, but that all applicants must comply with requirements if they wished to stay.
Earlier today Leave campaigners, Members of Parliament Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, and Gisela Stuart pledged to introduce an Australian points-based immigration system “by the next general election” if Britain votes to leave the European Union later this month. At the moment, Britain has no control over the number of people it accepts from within the EU, often to the detriment of applicants outside the EU.
“Those seeking entry for work or study should be admitted on the basis of their skills without discrimination on the ground of nationality,” the MPs said in a statement.
Last week Mr Brain said: “If we are not a poster family for successful immigration, I’m not sure who is.
“Theresa May has said that she is happy to welcome immigrants who can linguistically and culturally assimilate, and pay their own way.
“We are also willing to live and work in a sparsely populated and economically depressed area of the country.”