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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Angela Eagle): I congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) on securing the Adjournment debate and setting out the issues that pertain to the case. I understand, sympathise and empathise with the distressing circumstances that he has outlined and the emotional effects on all those involved. I agree that no immigration case is a mere statistic; all have emotional and difficult aspects, and all involve human responses and circumstances. All those with whom we deal are human beings. I am conscious of that, as are the caseworkers who apply the rules, although sometimes that may not seem to be the case.
The hon. Gentleman set out the way in which Mrs. Sibthorp came to the United Kingdom in April 2000 with her husband, Andrew. The couple have known each other since 1992; they met while Mrs. Sibthorp was studying. They spent some time together in Japan before marrying there in 1995. In April last year, they returned to this country to settle and await the birth of their child. In accordance with the immigration rules, Mrs. Sibthorp was granted 12 months leave to enter the United Kingdom because of that marriage.
Upon his return to the UK, Mr. Sibthorp got a job in Scotland but, unfortunately, the firm that employed him went into liquidation. Following that, he and his wife lived with his parents for a short while. As the hon. Gentleman said, Mr. Sibthorp successfully obtained a job in London and the couple bought a flat in south London. Shortly after moving into their flat, Mrs. Sibthorp gave birth to their son, Nesta. As the hon. Gentleman explained, two weeks after Nesta's birth the marriage broke down.
In April, shortly before her leave to remain expired, Mrs. Sibthorp applied for indefinite leave to remain here. Her representatives asked for consideration to be given to the application outside the immigration rules on compassionate grounds, so that Mrs. Sibthorp can bring up her son in this country and maintain the undoubtedly close family ties that she has formed with Mr. Sibthorp's family.
The immigration rules provide that a person may be granted indefinite leave to remain here if he or she has completed 12 months leave to remain on the basis of marriage, provided that the marriage subsists and the couple intend to live together permanently. Unfortunately, in the case that we are considering, the marriage has not subsisted and indefinite leave to remain on the basis of marriage cannot be granted to Mrs. Sibthorp.
Mrs. Sibthorp's application for indefinite leave to remain was therefore refused on 31 October. She has exercised her right of appeal against the decision. The next step in the process is the preparation of an
I cannot intervene in cases when appeals are outstanding unless there are "exceptional compelling" reasons for doing so. That is the phrase in the rules. It does not appear to me that there are exceptional compassionate circumstances. We must take account of the word "exceptional". I am not saying that there are no compassionate circumstances or that there is not a great deal of emotion and anxiety about the case. However, there have to be exceptional circumstances for a Minister to intervene.
Mr. Bercow: I understand the Minister's vantage point, but can she tell me of another case of which she is aware whereby a couple have been married for more than five years, a child is born and one partner leaves the other less than three weeks afterwards?
I would like to take this opportunity to draw to the hon. Gentleman's attention that it is open to Mrs. Sibthorp's employers to apply for a work permit on her behalf. If the application were approved by Work Permits (UK), Mrs. Sibthorp would normally be granted five years' leave to remain in the United Kingdom, at the end of which she would be eligible for permanent settlement.
Under normal conditions, a person wishing to remain in the UK in approved employment must hold the necessary work permit before entering the country, but, in certain circumstances, Work Permits (UK) will issue a permit to a person already here if the criteria are satisfied. The immigration and nationality directorate would then consider whether to permit the person to remain here.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot speculate tonight on the outcome of any work permit application by Mrs. Sibthorp's employers in advance of it being made; nor, in the light of what I have said, can any guarantees be provided at the Dispatch Box tonight that Mrs. Sibthorp would be allowed to remain in the UK by the immigration and nationality directorate, even if a work permit were granted. However, that may be a course of action that she wishes to consider.
I am sorry not to be more helpful on this delicate issue at this stage but, with an appeal outstanding, it would be inappropriate for me to intervene. I am sorry that I have to give the hon. Gentleman this reply tonight. I am aware of the case, and I will keep an eye on it for him. I hope that he will understand that that is all that I can say at this juncture.