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Couple's visa veto despair as fairytale wedding put on hold
DREAMS of a fairytale wedding for a Kendal teenager and her Californian fiancé are hanging in the balance after an American visa veto.
They are now pinning their hopes on him getting permission to come to the UK to marry.
Student Sophie Renwick, 19, of Aynam Road, and her partner Anthony Arvizu, 25, met at a ‘little people’s’ convention in Nashville in July 2010.
But for the couple who both have achondroplasia – a common cause of dwarfism – the course of true love has run anything but smoothly.
After meeting at the Little People of America event in Nashville, it only took a week for Sophie and Anthony to realise they had fallen in love.
“On Independence Day he invited me to watch this epic fireworks display with him by a lake, then invited me to a dance at the hotel,” she said. “I was captured by how interested in me he was; he was very different.”
Sophie credits Anthony with boosting her confidence and helping her to feel as ‘normal’ as she possibly can.
“I had a great time in childhood and was never bullied. It was more when I got 18 and people saw me out in bars and drinking,” she said.
“I can get nasty comments; in a small town you can’t just blend in like in the rush of a city.
“I just want to be able to walk down the street without people hanging out of car windows to take pictures and laugh. What is a minute’s joke for them can stay with me all week.
“I’ve grown up going to conventions in England but seeing so many people like me in America was overwhelming and amazing.
“Getting together with other small people really helps, and Anthony helps me to rise above it if people say something.”
The couple embarked on a transatlantic relationship, knowing from the start it would be difficult. After almost two years of holidays, Skype calls across the time difference, and the heartbreak of goodbyes, Sophie decided she would apply to study at an American university so they could be together properly.
But the couple’s world fell apart when the visa application was refused.
“I was told that I had not overcome the ‘presumption of immigrant intent’- that I had strong enough ties to the UK to compel me to return home at the end," she said.
“I only applied to one university - Mt. San Antonio College in LA close to Anthony’s home, but they said they would have preferred me to apply for more.
“It was completely devastating. Even worse, the refusal means I can’t even get a tourist visa now, so I can’t go back.”
With Sophie unable to spend the summer in America as planned, Anthony instead quit his job and booked a flight to England.
He spent more than two months in Kendal, thoroughly enjoying walks in the rain, lots of tea, and watching The Great British Bake Off.
And in his final week, armed with chocolate alphabet truffles and a picnic, he took her to Kendal Castle where he proposed. She was able to say yes before bursting into tears.
But with Anthony back in California and desperately saving up, the couple are going through the process of applying for a fiancé visa for him to move to Kendal.
While it is not the dream wedding Sophie has dreamed of from a young age, they realise a ‘quick and quiet’ ceremony, which would provide a spousal visa and enable him to work, is the only way they can be together.
If all goes to plan, they will have a proper celebration next year.
And after Sophie’s application refusal, the couple are terrified that any mistake in their application, or a negative decision by the UK Border Agency, will make it impossible for them.
Mum Gwen said it has been unbearable.
“It is awful because they make you feel like they have done something wrong.
“I can understand from the Government’s point of view that they have to be careful, but they’re just a young couple who met and fell in love.
“They can’t keep throwing thousands and thousands of pounds at this and we are so worried it won’t work.
“What we really need a legal expert who can help us through the application process. It would be great to speak to somebody who has been through this.”
In order to gain a fiancé visa, Sophie and Anthony must prove their relationship is ‘genuine and subsisting’, and also meet set criteria around finances.
A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said it could not comment on individual cases but that each application is considered on its own merit, while the US Embassy in London said Sophie’s previous refusal would not necessarily preclude her from ever moving to the USA as a spouse of a citizen.
Sophie, who is studying business and management at The University of Cumbria’s Lancaster campus, added: “I don’t even want to think about what would happen if it is refused. It makes me feel quite sick. We always knew we would get married; it’s just had to come sooner than we would have planned.”
Finishing runners-up in a Bride of the Year competition run by Kendal’s Elephant Yard shopping centre also brought home to the couple what it means to them. They entered the public vote contest to win a £5,000 dream wedding while Anthony was still in the UK.
Sophie said: “We were absolutely delighted to come second; that was such an achievement. It was a fantastic day but then whereas the other couples went home together, I was just there with my girlfriends because Anthony had gone back to LA.
“Lots of small people meet at conventions around the world but we don’t know of anyone who has found it this difficult to be together.”