An Irish farmer is being forced to live apart from his Thai wife of four years because the British government says his earnings fall £4.65 short of what he legally requires to support her.
Eugene McElroy said his wife, Saowanit Hiranchat, has been refused a visa to return to their Co Tyrone home from Thailand because the British Home Office has stated that his weekly wage is inadequate to "maintain and accommodate her".
"I'm heartbroken and I can't make head nor tail of it," McElroy told the Sunday Tribune. "I've no money problems. I own my home, 50 acres of land, and a lot of cattle. I've no mortgage. But they won't take that into account. Their silly bureaucratic rule is preventing me being with the woman I love.
"We've lived together in Dungannon since we got married in 2006. We've been as happy as the day's long. She went back to Thailand for her mother's funeral in October and now they won't let her come home. She's on the phone crying every day."
McElroy (49) met Saowanit (40) when he visited Thailand for the wedding of an Irish friend to a local woman. "It was love at first sight. I went back two months later, married her, and brought her home.
"She nursed my mother until she died and she's a great help on the farm. She drives the tractor and cleans out after the cows. She's a lethal good girl too. She neither smokes nor drinks."
After marrying McElroy, Saowanit was granted a 30-month visa to live in the UK. In 2009, she applied for a European Economic Area permit but was refused on a temporary technicality.
She was appealing that decision when her mother died. The British Home Office knew she had left Northern Ireland to go to the funeral. "This is a horrendous situation for the couple," said their solicitor Padraigin Drinan. "Saowanit will be stranded in Thailand for at least six months until her appeal is heard."
McElroy said he was lost without his wife: "The cows are ready for calving and I need her home. I'm desperately lonely. The house is empty without her. All I've got now is the TV. I'm so frustrated, I feel like going out for a good feed of drink but I need to keep my wits about me to fight these Home Office boys."
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