Case study: Berenice

Berenice is 23 years old. She came to the UK from Brazil when she was 18. She had just married and wanted to start a new life with her husband. A vicar encouraged them to try their luck abroad:

One of the vicars [from my home town] had been here with his daughters to preach. When he returned, he said [… ], ‘… look, both of you should try to go to Europe to try a better life’.

He also offered to arrange for them to be picked up at the airport. They borrowed the money for the tickets and the visa and they came straight to London. A travel agency had arranged the ticket for them and told them what to say to the border police. They got a tourist visa for six months as honeymooners. Their first accommodation was in the house of a presbytery. They were allowed to stay without paying rent until they had started to work. Through the church, Berenice also managed to get her first cleaning job. The first six months went quickly and they decided to overstay their visa. At the beginning it was very hard. Berenice didn’t speak any English and felt very isolated. After two years, she felt she couldn’t cope any longer with the life in the UK. She recalls how she used to, ‘… pack my suitcase about three times a month’.

Once they had saved enough money to repay the debt, the husband agreed to return to Brazil but he warned her, ‘If we go back, you are going to be crying’. He was right. After six months in Brazil, she felt like there was not much to do for them there. The journey back took them to another European country, and from there to London. This time though, the immigration officer didn’t let them in and refused them the visa. However, he allowed Berenice to sleep overnight in a hotel nearby the airport. The next morning they left the hotel and, instead of returning to the airport, they took a bus into town.

This was two years ago. Life has got easier and learning English has helped her to get better cleaning jobs and to build contacts, which help her to find more clients. Berenice’s husband was eventually caught by the immigration police a month ago. They had talked many times about what to do if this happened:

He gave his name straight away. That’s what we had always discussed, if we had ever been stopped, we wouldn’t lie because we, if something happens, we prefer to leave.

When it was arranged for him to talk to an immigration officer, Berenice advised him to, ‘Explain what is your life here nowadays’. So he did and the immigration officer didn’t know what to do:

He wanted to help but he didn’t know what to do. So he said, ‘I can’t. Nowadays we don’t give visas here anymore. You have to go to your country’.

The Home Office is currently arranging their tickets to Brazil. They have been waiting for months, but at least they haven’t been deported. She says:

It was a miracle of God that we were not deported, that we are not being sent home in handcuffs, not being humiliated, things like that.