Heartbroken couple fight visa laws to make Highgate wedding dreams a reality

A heartbroken couple is pleading for help in their fight against visa laws so they can realise their dream of marrying at a historic Highgate house.

US-born Michael Chan, 37, has been trying for three years to make a new life in the UK with his English partner Chris Barlow, 66, following struggles with a debilitating mental illness and a decade of sleeping rough in New York.

But Home Office officials have so far refused his visa applications, which have drained the couple’s limited finances.

They are now appealing to the Highgate community to help them raise the necessary £5,000 for a looming legal battle as Mr Chan applies for a third time to stay in the UK.

If they succeed, the couple plan to marry at their beloved Lauderdale House in Highgate Hill, where they volunteer every week.

Mr Chan, who has paranoid schizophrenia, said: “If I go back to the US, I won’t have any support.

“I’m estranged from my family, they don’t accept my sexuality. I can’t return.”

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Retired Mr Barlow, who judges Lauderdale House’s upcoming LGBT art competition Pride in the House, said: “If we were able to get married tomorrow, we would. We just want to build a new life.”

The couple, of Islington, estimate they have already spent £5,000 on two visa applications for Mr Chan.

Their bids have been refused for a myriad of reasons, including that Mr Chan’s mental health treatment could continue in the US, and that Mr Chan could support Mr Barlow by gaining employment in his home country.

Mr Chan applied again for discretionary leave to remain last Tuesday.

If they succeed, Mr Chan will look for work and start studying part-time.

Mr Barlow added: “If you believe in something, you have to fight the system and make it happen, because it would be for all the right reasons.

“I don’t think happiness should be a negotiable commodity.”

The Home Office was contacted for a statement but did not respond before the Ham&High went to press.

Email imogen.blake@archant.co.uk if you can help Mr Barlow and Mr Chan.