A British stroke victim who uses a wheelchair, requires 24-hour supervision to keep him alive and cannot speak, write or reliably understand what is said to him, has been told by the Home Office that he must become the sole carer for his two young British children while his wife travels to the Philippines to apply for a visa to care for the family.
Simon Waterman was living with his Filipino wife, Leah, and their children Kimi and Bryce, aged 10 and seven, in the Philippines when he had a severe stroke in September 2015. The family moved back to Abergavenny in South Wales in December so Simon could be near his family. When they applied for a visa for Leah to remain in the country, however, they were told there were “no exceptional circumstances” preventing her following the conventional route of applying for her visa from outside the UK.
The decision was made despite unequivocal evidence from multiple medical sources detailing the extent of his disabilities, his repeated life-threatening seizures – some lasting as long as seven hours – the risk of sudden death and the impossibility of him looking after himself, let alone his children.
Leah said that the decision has had a huge impact on her family. “My children’s lives have already been ripped apart by their father’s stroke and by moving country,” she said. “They’re already struggling to cope. I am now both mother and father to them. They’ve become completely dependent on me: it’s natural after what they’ve gone through.
“Now the Home Office is saying they have to lose me too? Not only can Simon not live without me to provide 24/7 care for him but my children will lose their struggle to cope if I’m not here.”
Joanna Keen, the senior physiotherapist who cares for Waterman, said: “Simon is not medically fit to look after himself or his children. [A refusal to grant Leah Waterman a right to remain visa] would result in both the sad collapse of this family unit and a need for full-time nursing care for the rest of this 56-year-old ex-military police officer’s life, a huge and unjustified cost financially, emotionally and psychologically.”
Waterman, a former soldier for the British army, requires 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week care from Leah and medical experts. His stroke caused major brain injury, resulting in the paralysis of the right side of his body and significant weakness on his left. He struggles to walk outdoors. He is at risk of falling whenever he stands up and would be unable to get himself off the floor if he did fall. He cannot do even gentle exercise for more than three minutes without requiring a rest.
Waterman’s brain injury has also caused severe aphasia. “This means that he is unable to communicate his needs or the needs of his children verbally or non-verbally. He is unable to write. He would not be able to summon help in an emergency or respond to his children’s needs,” said Keen.
Waterman also has receptive dysphasia meaning that he is not able to follow commands or understand questions put to him on a number of occasions. “This disability alone would make him unsafe to be left responsible for his two children as well as putting himself at risk as a vulnerable adult,” Keen added.
Since his stroke, Waterman has suffered with regular post-stroke seizures, lasting between 30 minutes and seven hours. These happen during the night and the day, and have led to him being admitted to hospital on at least five occasions during the past 12 months.
The Waterman family provided the Guardian with a letter written in support of their case by Waterman’s GP, Dr Tom Close, to the Home Office. The letter said: “Simon cannot be left on his own and he can’t be left to look after the children who get upset and distressed when these things happen...The situation which the family find themselves in is very stressful and is having a profound effect on them all. One of the things that could cause Mr Waterman to have a seizure is stress.”
Despite the medical evidence, the Home Office rejected Leah’s application for leave to remain in the UK because she entered the country on a visitor’s visa. It says it will not even consider her request for a change of immigration status because she did not have the right clearance when she entered the country.
Leah, however, explained in her application that the family had arranged her visitor’s visa prior to Waterman’s stroke so they could visit Simon’s parents and sister for Christmas 2015. She sought legal advice after Waterman’s stroke and was told that she could not apply for a right to remain visa until her visitor’s visa expired in June 2016, by which time the family feared Simon might be dead.
Leah was told, however, that the change in her husband’s health would qualify her to claim exceptional circumstances and apply for the new visa from inside the UK, which she did in July 2016.
In its refusal letter of August 2017, the Home Office dismissed that advice: “We have considered … whether there are exceptional circumstances in your case [for example, whether you returning home to reapply for your visa] would result in unjustifiably harsh conditions for you, your partner [or] a relevant child,” the letter stated. “In so doing, we have taken into account the best interests of any relevant child as a primary consideration. Based on the information you have provided, we have decided that there are no such exceptional circumstances in your case.
“The option is available to you to return to the Philippines and apply for the correct entry clearance,” the letter continues. “During this time, your children can remain in the UK under the care of their father.”
Christopher Dias, the family’s lawyer, said the case was “absolutely crazy but, sadly, not entirely a surprise”. He said: “Over the last year and a half, the Home Office has used any discretion it has in cases to turn them down instead of allowing them. They have discretion in this case because they can define what the term ‘reasonable’ means when it comes to whether it’s reasonable to make Leah to go back to the Philippines to apply for a new visa.
“Two to three years ago, this case would have got through but not now. What I don’t know is whether the Home Office is overworked and so are not paying proper attention to applications or whether they’re deliberately letting the judges make hard decisions rather than themselves.”
The family has appealed against the refusal, at an additional cost of £1,500 on top of the £2,500 they have already spent on fees. It could take 48 weeks for their case to be heard in court. “We just have to hope that we get a nice judge,” said Dias. “If we don’t – if we get one who agrees with the Home Office’s definition of ‘reasonable’ – then Leah will have to leave the country.”
As things stand, Leah will have to leave in late July or early August next year. If she does not go voluntarily, the Home Office will send a representative to take her to an exit centre. The possibility of having to go terrifies her.
“This is a nightmare,” she said. “I sometimes can’t believe it’s really happening.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.
• This article was amended on 19 October 2017 to clarify that the letter written to the Home Office in support of the family’s case by Waterman’s GP, Dr Tom Close, had been provided to the Guardian by the Waterman family.
I have spoken to Simon and he is happy for this post to go out