Moving back. It is not so easy anymore.

We departed London in February 2009 for an adventure, living and working in Switzerland and subsequently in The Netherlands where we still live today. The locations were determined by my work.

My wife was born in The Netherlands to a Dutch father and English mother. She moved with her family to live in the UK at the age of 8 and grew up in Essex. Nobody would know, unless they asked, that she was anything other than British.

She lived in the UK for 31 years before we moved abroad. She worked in the city for many years and paid tax and NI throughout that time.

I am a British Citizen.

We met in 1996 while working together in London and in 2001 we were married in Gloucestershire.

Today I am self-employed and can work from anywhere.

Our son has a place in a British school and we wanted to return to the UK so that he could begin there in September.

The first indication that things may not be smooth sailing came at the UK border. We have made this trip countless times before. This time, despite the fact I was driving a Dutch car, the chap on passport control thought we were returning from abroad and started to question my wife about her right to remain in the UK. He said that if she is not in the system then she has no right to remain in the UK. This was solved because I told him we were just visiting family. It did leave us feeling rather concerned and rightly so as it turned out.

The housing market is very difficult currently and we decided to find a place to rent before buying in order to assess the area where we intend to move. Initially we lost two possible properties due to others paying big premiums.  Fortunately we eventually met a very nice agent that helped us find somewhere suitable. I received a tenancy agreement and it was then that I realised we may have a problem. My wife, as I heard at the border, had no right to remain and this agreement asked for proof of right to remain….I spoke to the agent explaining the situation and she said she would check with her legal department. Could I apply individually and then my wife just be a resident in the property until she had a right to be there? Apparently this is not workable. At this point we realised that renting a property was not going to be an option until the right to remain was sorted out.

We spent hours trawling through Gov.uk and other websites and called the useless helpline and citizens advice but nobody was able to advise us about what we needed to apply for. Eventually we found the relevant Visa and also found out that it needed to be applied for in the country of residence and it was not possible to apply from the UK.

The outlook was pretty bleak. With no possibility to rent somewhere to live and the school term approaching we decided to call the whole thing off.

I contacted the school the following morning and told them circumstances made my sons attendance impossible and so we would need to withdraw him.

I contacted the selling agent of our Dutch home to tell them that we needed to let our buyers know that the sale was off. We had received a video from them the previous week celebrating with Champagne that they had been successful in buying the place. It was not an easy call.

I contacted my son’s Dutch school to say that we now needed to re-enroll him.

It all seemed like a lot of stress and wasted time.

My wife was also very disillusioned about what she considered her home.

A few days later, my son’s new school came back. They offered to take him on as a boarder rather than a day student to give us more time to sort things out without so much time pressure.

That allowed us to believe we may be able to sort this out. As rental was not possible we immediately started looking for somewhere to buy. Although the UK market is difficult we did find a place and after being gazumped once, the gazumper flaked and it now looks like we may end up with a house.

My wife had to apply here in the Netherlands for a visa. Now her passport has disappeared into the home office mechanism and we are not sure when it will be back and certainly not sure if they will grant her a visa or not. We uploaded a host of documentation but as they are not very clear exactly what is necessary all we can do is hope it was sufficient.

If my wife does not get the visa then she cannot de-register as a Dutch citizen as she would have no way to register in the UK. So we just have to wait now.

I am dropping my son at his new school in the UK  at the beginning of September and my wife has to stay in The Netherlands as she does not have her passport.

We are progressing with the house purchase on the UK side and delaying the sale in NL.

Everything is on hold until the home office provide clarity.

My wife had an English mother and that should entitle her to a British passport but the lead time for that was too long which is why we have initially gone down the visa route.

Although my situation is better than many others I have read about it is none-the-less a very uncomfortable and stressful situation to be in and makes us both rather resentful of those that brought this about. The positive motivation comes from knowing there are many others that see things for what they are today and strive to do something about it.

TonyW, 53, British, living in the Netherlands

First published August 2021

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