A specific prayer request:
If you have been following our journey living in Northern Ireland, than you know that we have recently jumped through some crazy hoops in regards to applying for new visas due to UK law changes.
Unfortunately, these hoops have not been enough at this point and our visas have been denied. We went through the administrative review process and the decision was upheld based on a lack of understanding of how studies at Queen’s University Belfast’s Institute of Theology work. Honestly, it’s a mistake that anyone who just looks at a piece of paper and doesn’t do copious amounts of fine tuned and delicate research would easily not understand. I am in the process of a PhD, and I still don’t quite understand the whole picture.
That being said, we have now moved onto a more formal review process with the home office in England in regards to our visas. We have been working with Belfast Bible College (the constituent college that I attend as part of QUB), the Institute of Theology at QUB, and our local Westminster MP, who is writing on our behalf to the minister of the home office for a thorough review of our case.
The evidence in the dispute for why our visas have been denied is based solely on the relationship of the colleges, (seen as independent private colleges with no public funding) and the Institute of Theology at QUB (which is four colleges embedded within QUB that teach on behalf of the university due to a historic charter that does not allow for QUB to employ religious faculty. For more history on that see the history of Protestantism and Catholicism in Northern Ireland…). We were granted our full 40 points to remain in the country but have been held up by a trivial technicality.
The home office sees our visa sponsor as a private institution (which it is) that receives no public funding (which is false). Because of the nature of the unique relationship with QUB, the private colleges do receive block public grant funding. This is not easy to explain and without a proper legal team pointing this out and providing the evidence, a standard inspection of a visa application would not find this. The home office would not take any “new” supporting evidence to show this in our administrative review, thus leading to an upheld decision. This is the beauty of a broken system that allows for England to make Northern Irish decisions, as everyone in the Belfast branch of the home office understands how this all works, but all decisions are made in England.
We are now submitting all of this evidence and support letters from QUB, Belfast Bible College and the other three constituent theological colleges that make up the Institute of Theology to show that the home office has made the wrong decision. If they do not overturn this there are serious implications not only for us, but also for all non-EU/UK international students who would try to come and study in the Institute of Theology, as they would not be granted visas.
What this means for us:
If the home office does not look at the evidence presented or upholds the decision, we will be forced to leave the country and return home to the US to re-apply for visas through a different visa sponsor (which may prove to be difficult as the current arrangement will not allow QUB to issue my CAS number to apply for a new visa due to the nature of religion and the QUB charter, although they are working on making those changes at an institutional level, how long that may take is yet to be known). The other possibility is that we may be able to go to another EU country and re-apply.
The problem is that we do not have the funding to do either of these things. If they uphold the decision we lose the £1,800 ($2,600) we spent applying and would have to spend the same to re-apply plus expedited fees of up to £500 per person. This doesn’t factor in travel expenses and the cost of having to pull Liam out of school, have Sarah quit her job, and explain to our landlord the situation and potentially lose our housing. I also have an amazing job working with John Brown University as the onsite director for their Irish Studies program and lecturer in Philosophy. We cannot afford to lose these posts and deal with the wake of such a poor decision by the home office. It means that potentially, I will have to step away from doing PhD studies because we cannot afford additional £5,000 we may have to fork over to find a way to stay. This would be pretty devastating for us.
We ask those of you who have been following our journey, supported us in financial or prayer support, or have continually been involved in reading our blogs, and enjoying our adventures here to continue to do all of these things. We need your prayers right now more than anything. My PhD studies are continuing on and I am making great progress with my studies and we absolutely love being here. We believe that God has called us here and his provision has always carried us. We continue to trust in God’s plan and provision for us knowing that most often his provision is through His church, our friends, and our family.
We will keep you informed as we collect more information in the coming days. Pray for common sense to prevail.
The Birds Abroad