Carol and Lahsen Karmoud have been in relationship since 2016, and married in 2019, but have faced two years of issues to be able to live in the UK – and fear time may be running out
A married couple who have been buried in post-Brexit paperwork for two years say they fear being barred from the UK altogether – despite one of them being born in the UK.
Carol Karmoud, from Barnstaple, and her husband Lahsen Karmoud, from Morocco, say they are “in limbo” and have been struggling to navigate paperwork required by British and French governments.
Despite having been in a relationship since 2016 and having a marriage certificate, the pair have been told they must document a “genuine relationship” – something which Carol says is difficult as since living together they have been through two lockdowns and haven’t been able to do normal things.
Carol was recently diagnosed with cancer and has other autoimmune issues, meaning she has felt unable to get a Covid vaccine, further complicating matters as the French government requires people to be fully vaccinated to gain access to cafes, restaurants, public transport and entertainment venues without a negative test.
She told Devon Live : “They’ve got our marriage certificate, they’ve got a certificate of cohabitation, rental agreements, all of that – but they want evidence of us on a family holiday or doing activities together in our home country.”
“What they are not taking into account is that we’ve lived through two lockdowns and all the ongoing restrictions of COVID. It’s been very difficult to have what we would class as a normal life to integrate.”
Lahsen said: “In the refusal, they referenced our marriage certificate and I was described as not being a family member of a British citizen. It made me ask myself: how can I be legally married but also not a family member? What am I then?”
Since Brexit, non-British family members, including spouses, need to apply for pre-settled status before 29 March 2022 – only becoming eligible after receiving a EUSS family permit from the Home Office.
The EUSS Family Permit allows family members of a “qualifying British citizen” to circumvent usual immigration law and return with them to the UK after a period of residence in an EU Member State.
After the deadline, family members will have to apply for a family visa, setting them back thousands of pounds.
Carol has lived in Brittany for almost 20 years, and started a relationship in 2016, with three of those years being long distance while Lahsen worked as a teacher in Morocco.
Lahsen entered France legally to live with Carol in 2019, marrying her in 2020, but has struggled to get his residency permit processed by the French government.
Following surgery for her cancer last year, Carol decided to return to the UK with her husband and reunite with her two sons in Barnstaple. She also plans to help care for her mother, who suffered a stroke in 2019.
But she said the process has meant they’ve “aged about 10 years” as it’s “all their life has been revolving around” – adding there’s “no joy in life anymore”.
“I haven’t been able to go and see my mum since 2019, when she had a stroke. She’s not got the ability to really speak anymore so we can’t even talk on the telephone. I’ve got two sons in Barnstaple who I’ve not seen for two years. It’s not something that logically anybody with a little bit of common sense would look at and conclude that we’re trying to circumvent the system.”
“We’re trying to get back to the UK, but everything we try is just a brick wall. There’s no joy in life anymore. I think we’ve had more stress in the last two years than most people will have in their entire lives.”
Despite living in France for 19 years, Carol also had to apply for a withdrawal agreement residency permit as a result of Brexit – a process taking 11 months to complete.
Carol and Lahsen first applied to the UK Home Office for the EUSS Family Permit in July 2021 , but this was rejected in October 2020.
To apply again, Lahsen must receive his withdrawal agreement residence permits to renew his passport, which expires at the end of the year. Without his passport, or the necessary assistance from the Home Office, he will be unable to travel to the UK to apply for pre-settlement status.
Even if Carol and Lahsen successfully have the family permit approved and passport renewed before the deadline, the married couple fear they will not have enough time remaining to arrive in the UK and apply for pre-settlement status.
Carol said they are having to navigate the bureaucratic system alone and have been unable to find an organisation or government department to help guide them through the process.
She said: “The process is so, so, complicated. By handling part of a paperwork in one way, you end up creating trouble for yourself further down the line. You shouldn’t need to be a lawyer to work out how to return to your home country, but that seems to be the case.”
“Once you’re in the UK, it seems there are organisations that want to help you, but there is nobody who wants to offer us support in France. We even emailed the British Embassy in Paris and were told they couldn’t provide advice to non-UK nationals. It feels like we aren’t wanted anywhere.”
She added: “We’re trying to go down the legal route and it seems we are being punished for it. The Home Office are telling us on their website that it’s my right as a British National to return with a family member, but it seems they are deliberately making the process too difficult.”
The couple’s experience with the EUSS Family Permit is part of a national issue, with many more UK-Nationals struggling to meet the demands set by the Home Office in the attempt to return home with a family member.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Applications for EUSS Family Permits are considered in strict date of application order and we continue to review staffing levels and deploy resource to areas of greatest need. Each case is considered as quickly as possible and on its individual merits, but processing times can vary depending on the volume and complexity of applications.
“We have provided scope for UK nationals and their family members returning to the UK from the EEA or Switzerland to do so after the 29 March 2022 deadline, and for the family members to make a late application here to the EUSS, where there are reasonable grounds – which may include COVID-19 related reasons – why they missed that deadline.
“We will take a pragmatic and flexible approach to considering the required evidence of the joint family life in the EEA or Switzerland, including in light of COVID-19 related impacts.”