Briton and French wife face £11,000 Brexit visa bill to return home to UK

A British man with Parkinson’s disease and his wife living in France say they have been left stranded on the continent because of “insulting” post-Brexit immigration rules.

They worked and paid taxes for decades in the UK but say they have had the “door slammed in our faces” and have been told they must pay £11,000 if they want to return.

Stephen Kaye, 60, an IT specialist, spent his entire working career paying tax in the UK, and his French wife, Carmen Delaunay, 64, made substantial contributions working as an analyst and client retention specialist for multinationals, most recently Deloitte, over 25 years in Britain.

They decided to move to France to look after Delaunay’s elderly father in 2015, and all of her tax years in the UK were wiped away with new immigration rules that came in after 2021.

The new rules prohibited EU citizens from entering freely into the UK unless they had an unbroken five-year residency in Britain before the divorce from the EU.

Kaye said: “My first reaction upon discovering that Carmen did not have an automatic right to return to England was one of disbelief. It did not seem possible that a ‘civilised’ country (the UK) could invent such an outrageous rule.

“My view was that a British citizen should have the right to marry a person of any nationality and be able to live with that person indefinitely in the UK. It is as simple as that. I can understand that the UK would want to disallow ‘staged’ marriages, but that is clearly not the case for Carmen and me [married in the UK in 2012].”

The couple are sharing their story to highlight what they consider to be the injustice of Brexit and in the hope of persuading the government that peoplesuch as them should not be “landlocked” in the country the British spouse is in.

Delaunay is an only child and when her father became ill in 2015 the couple moved to France to look after him. He died in 2018.

After Kaye was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2021, the couple decided to look at returning to the UK as his ability to communicate in French was compromised by the condition.

Delaunay worried that as they had no children, he would be more vulnerable in France if anything happened to her. “It had become a little harder for him to understand French unless he really concentrated, so we started to look at going back to the UK,” she said.

They were told they would have to pay £11,000 for a visa for her, despite their shared history and decades of contributions to the UK tax and national insurance systems.

“The door is closed to us. We are being treated like newcomers that have never been in the country. It is insulting and unfair,” Delaunay said. “Stephen’s illness has made him more vulnerable and that is exactly when the door should be open. To find the door slammed in your face is really upsetting. The rules don’t take account of life. Things happen, things change.”

Campaigners at British in Europe, a coalition of ad hoc organisations that set up in countries across Europe to protect the rights of British people in the EU before Brexit, had warned the government for years of the risk of cases like Kaye and Delaunay’s.

Under the Brexit agreement, British citizens who had settled in an EU member state before Brexit had the right to remain in that country but did not have the right to return to the UK with an EU spouse without being routed through the visa system.

The Home Office declined to comment on the case but said EU citizens who had lived in the UK before Brexit but had been away for more than five years without any visits back even for a short period of time were not eligible for the EU citizens settlement scheme.

“Applicants who have been absent from the UK for an extended period may not be eligible to apply for EUSS but there are other visa options available for non-British citizens wanting to live in the UK with a British spouse,” a spokesperson said.