A German biophysicist and his neurophysicist wife have told how they were separated from their newborn baby amid Home Office delays processing a post-Brexit residency application for their little girl.
Darius, an associate professor at a Russell Group university in England, and his Indian wife, Sunaina, arrived in the UK before Brexit and had settled status – entitling them and their direct family members to reside in the country.
But the couple decided to have their baby, Anouk, in India in July, to allow Sunaina’s parents to support her as it was her first child.
After waiting 12 weeks for the baby’s permit to come through, they were faced with the difficult choice of returning to London to resume work and leaving Anouk with her grandmother.
Sunaina and Darius knew the baby was in safe and loving hands but said it was a traumatic experience no new mother should face because of Brexit.
“Being separated from your four-month-old baby was hard. I don’t think I can even describe it in words what it felt like. I felt very anxious about, wondering will she forget me and how hard it will be to bond when she’s back with me,” said Sunaina, who is now back in London.
Knowing they had to get a family permit to return to the UK under the rules of the EU settlement scheme, the couple applied for a passport for Anouk from the German embassy as soon as they got her birth certificate and made an application for the baby’s permit on 4 August.
“We thought there are not many background checks they can do on a newborn so within a few months at the latest we should be fine,” said Darius.
It had taken them just two weeks to get the child’s birth certificate from the German consulate in Kolkata, with a passport a few days later.
They then took Anouk to the VFS visa application offices for the biometrics required by the Home Office and made their application for a family permit under the EU settlement scheme.
Hopes were briefly raised by UK visa and immigration in London in mid-September after it responded to an inquiry, telling the couple their application was “in the decision process and it should not take much longer”.
But they were quickly dashed when in October the couple made a follow-up inquiry having heard nothing and was told the case was being prepared but not yet in front of a decision-maker.
“They give no timelines on the website so you are just left with uncertainty on when to book flights, when we could bring the baby home,” said Darius.
“We were very confused because it contradicted what we had been told before and we began to think we could not rely on this,” he added.
Darius returned to London on his own in September to resume work while Sunaina was under pressure to come back after her maternity leave to fulfil a post-doctoral contract deadline. “They were all bad options. It was not easy at all,” he said.
The couple then took the “incredibly hard” decision for Sunaina to come home and leave Anouk with the child’s grandmother and extended family in India.
“It has been one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. I was in double minds until the time I boarded the flight as to whether I wanted to come back or whether I should stay with the baby,” said Sunaina.
Back in London for just one week in early November, she decided she would just get on a plane and return if Anouk did not settle.
The German embassy confirmed to the couple this week that a visa had now been approved for Anouk and was being issued in the coming days.
A Home Office spokesperson said it could not discuss individual cases but added: “Family permits are allocated for consideration in date order of receipt. Cases are concluded as quickly as possible but waiting times can vary depending on volumes received and complexity of cases.”
Sunaina said she was relieved to know a visa was now on the way but wanted to speak out to make sure other EU citizens or their spouses with post-Brexit residency rights in the UK did not have to go through the stressful experience.
“The system should be improved. I understand that the Home Office is under pressure and they face a lot of immigration-related issues but just knowing some kind of timeline about when you could bring your baby home would be a major step in the right direction,” said Sunaina.