A Canadian woman hoping to spend her retirement years with her husband in England is on the verge of being kicked out of the country because officials are questioning the affection level in her 45-year marriage.
Maria Summers had her application for a visa formally declined in 2014 on the grounds that she and her husband David had not provided enough evidence to prove that their relationship was both ongoing and emotionally supportive.
The retired optician has appealed the unusual decision, but says the stakes are high if it's declined.
The couple faces the prospect of selling their home in Hereford, England, consigning David's cancer-stricken mother to long-term care and relinquishing their long-held retirement plans if the U.K. border agency doesn't reverse its decision.
"If I can't stay, then we will have to sell. We will have to move back to Canada," Maria Summers said in a telephone interview. "That's not horrible, either. We've been in Canada for a long time, but it wasn't the plan when we retired."
Summers' troubles with British authorities began in 2013 when she and her husband sold their Ottawa home and moved to Hereford to care for his mother. Customs officials informed her at the time that she was welcome to remain in the country for six months, but would then have to depart for at least 24 hours in order to open a new six-month window.
The couple took a one-week vacation in Malta in order to comply with this request, but found themselves under scrutiny when they returned.
Summers says customs officials detained her for five hours, during which time she was questioned, photographed and fingerprinted.
It was at this point that she decided to apply for an extended visa that would grant her the same travel permissions as David, who holds a British passport.
That application included a copy of her marriage license dated 1970 and a change of name deed from 1985. Summers said the entire family changed surnames at that time for personal reasons.
That second document caused problems for British authorities, who cited it as evidence that the Summers' marriage was not all they claimed.
"It is reasonable to expect that in a genuine subsisting, supportive and affectionate relationship, there would be evidence of regular contact, signs of companionship, emotional support, affection, and abiding interest in each other's welfare and well-being throughout the entire duration of your relationship," the rejection letter states.
"...I am therefore not satisfied that your relationship is genuine and subsisting or that you intend to live together permanently in the U.K."
The British Home Office, which oversees the border agency, declined to comment on the rationale behind the decision while an appeal was still pending.
The ruling left the couple in the unusual position of trying to prove the strength of their emotional bond, Summers said, adding the paperwork for her appeal includes numerous photographs chronicling their decades as both partners and parents to a now 42-year-old son.
But Summers wonders if images can capture the nuances of a long-term relationship, let alone communicate them.
"How am I going to show them that we have a loving relationship? We've been married for 45 years, we've known each other for 50 years," she said. "We've been together for a long time. It's not like I'm a young bride and wanted citizenship somewhere."
Summers reluctantly returned to Ottawa last April, leaving David behind to care for his mother.
"This Christmas was the first Christmas we've been apart in almost 50 years," she said. "That was tough."
Determined not to miss another big day, Summers returned to Hereford last month in order to join David in time for his 70th birthday.
She will remain there until the U.K. border agency hands down its ruling on her appeal, which is expected in late May.
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