A FAMILY faces being torn apart after immigration officials rejected a Fylde mum’s desperate plea to stay in the country.
Sarah Wightman is being forced to return to her native New Zealand with her baby daughter – taking the pair away from heartbroken husband and dad Alex Koratjitis.
Despite the family setting up a happy home in Poulton, where Mr Koratjitis is from, the couple’s inability to prove they have been together two years has led to the Home Office throwing out Miss Wightman’s application to stay.
It means on Sunday Mr Koratjitis will be forced to say goodbye to his partner and 17-month-old daughter Chloe – with no idea when he will see them again.
The 36-year-old, who first met Miss Wightman in Australia back in 2007, said: “We both want to live here, all Sarah wants to do is remain here, work and contribute.
“My baby has just started to talk and by the time she comes back she might not recognise me.
“I don’t know when my family is going to be back. We’re a working class family living here with friends and we’re being persecuted.”
Little Chloe was just eight months old when Miss Wightman’s two year working holiday UK visa expired last December, and the whole family was forced to spend four months in New Zealand as they tried – and failed – to secure her a permanent visa.
Mr Koratjitis, who lives on Stanley Avenue and is a self-employed plumber, added: “You have to be able to prove you’ve been together two years (to get a permanent visa), but when you first get together you don’t open a joint bank account.
“We applied and thought what was more compelling evidence than the fact we had a year old baby? That’s more proof than anything.
“But they denied the visa. Because I’ve got properties and a business back here we had to risk her coming back on a holiday visa. They let her in, but now she’s due to go back.”
Miss Wightman’s return to the UK was made more difficult by the earthquake which struck Christchurch, close to her family home in Ashburton, and meant she couldn’t secure her tourist visa before boarding her flight back to the UK.
The 32-year-old said: “Coming back was risky – after 30 hours of flying I didn’t know if I was going to get turned away at Manchester Airport.
“Luckily they granted me a six-month tourist visa – but that expires on Monday.”
The couple are engaged and plan to marry, but said they don’t want to tie the knot simply to secure a visa.
They also hope to have a brother or sister for Chloe, but have put their lives on hold until the outcome of Miss Wightman’s appeal – to be heard next month – is known.
Miss Wightman, who is a trained beautician and previously worked at Poulton pub The Highcross, added: “I think they (the UK Border Agency) should take into consideration other factors apart from having two years evidence.
“I don’t want to be on benefits, I don’t want any money off the Government all I want to do is settle into normal family life. I worry about Chloe because she’s so young, if we’re away for months she may recognise Alex but not realise he’s her father and it will take time to get her back into a routine.”
Lee Cave, manager at the High Cross, Poulton, said: “Sarah is fantastic, she was very good but obviously because of employment legislation we’re not allowed to employ her, but once she’s sorted it out it will be no problem.
“I’m looking forward to Sarah coming back to work, she’s lovely and extremely good at her job.”
Even if the appeal is successful, it could be months before Miss Wightman is cleared to return to the UK.
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “All applications are considered carefully against the information provided.
Full details of the evidence required to support each type of application is available on the UK Border Agency website.”