UK immigration laws could force Littlehampton mother and son to leave the country during pandemic

A mother from Littlehampton has said she faced being forced to leave the UK with her young son after falling through the cracks of immigration rules.

For more than three years, Canadian Heather Ducharme has worked at The Body Shop’s headquarters as an international sustainable sourcing manager, travelling the world to do business with small communities from Mexico to Rwanda.

In September, the 45-year-old, from Windward Close, applied to remain in the country indefinitely because she has been living in the UK continuously for a decade.

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But the Home Office rejected her application because it included the travel she had to make for work, pushing her over the threshold to be eligible. Heather said: “The cracks are quite wide in this system, and it is not hard to fall in between them by doing absolutely nothing wrong.”

Heather Ducharme, from Littlehampton, with her son Will

With her current visa expiring on June 3, Heather faced travelling back to Canada with her son Will, six, during the lockdown. She added: “Every single response from the Home Office has been ‘sorry, you’ve broken the rules’. It is ‘computer says no’ the whole time.”

To stay in the country past June 3, when her current visa expires, Heather may be forced to spend more than £5,000 on lawyers and a new visa application on the grounds of being with her partner Wendy Lewis – a UK citizen – for ten years.

But because of the lockdown, the Home Office is taking longer to process applications and Heather may have to wait six months or more for a decision – during which time she will not be able to travel for work.

And there is still no guarantee Heather will get accepted, as rules state you must have lived with your partner continuously for two years before making the application. Wendy lives in the East Midlands where her two older children have been in school, and the pair have made their relationship work long-distance.

Heather Ducharme, from Littlehampton, with her son Will and partner Wendy Lewis

Heather’s only other option was reapplying as the mother of a UK citizen – but it meant she would have to declare her relationship with Wendy was over. Wendy said the situation made her ‘ashamed of my country’.

She added: “It seems to me that my rights and my three children’s rights to live in health and happiness in our country are being denied.”

Despite her case being picked up by her MP Nick Gibb and Wendy’s MP Alicia Kearns, Heather has heard no more from the Home Office.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Ms Ducharme does not face removal as she still has valid immigration leave and is able to make an application for further leave, which will be considered accordingly.”

Heather Ducharme, from Littlehampton, with her son Will and partner Wendy Lewis on the Littlehampton Miniature Railway for Heather's birthday last year

Nick Gibb and Alicia Kearns did not respond to requests for comment.