AN Australian family living in the Highlands were celebrating last night after they were finally given leave to remain in Scotland – after a 12-year battle with the Home Office.

The story of Gregg and Kathryn Brain and their then two-year-old son Lachlan made worldwide headlines after the Home Office scrapped the post-study work visa the family arrived here with, and tried to apply the new rules retrospectively.

They settled in Dingwall, from where their determination pitted them against more belligerent immigration ministers and home secretaries than many politicians have had to face – among them James Brokenshire, Caroline Nokes, Theresa May and Amber Rudd.

Throughout their fight they won direct support from MPs Ian Blackford and Drew Hendry, and their SNP colleague Kate Forbes MSP, as well as the SNP contingents at Westminster and the Scottish Parliament.

Their case featured in Holyrood in 2016 when The National arranged a meeting between the family and then first minister Nicola Sturgeon in her private office, at which we were the only media outlet in attendance.

The National:

However, their arrival in Holyrood’s foyer turned into a media scrum, as Gregg recalled last night: “We said to Lachlan ‘we’ve got to say goodbye to Nicola’, then of course seven-year-old Lachlan was saying goodbye to everyone, and just rushed up to Nicola and gave her a hug.

“Somebody [a photographer] caught the first time he did it, and there was this look of surprised delight on Nicola’s face in the first photo.

“And then of course all the photographers turned around saw it happening just as he let go, and they shouted ‘do it again, do it again’.

“So the second time for the photographers it looked nice, but it was awkward. I remember finding that one photo and we saved a copy of it somewhere.”

The National was the only publication allowed to sit in on the meeting in the FM’s private office as she sympathised with how they had been treated and told them she would do what she could to help.

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Eight years later and after a surfeit of changes to immigration rules – including many brought about by Brexit – the Brains had to sit their Life in the UK test. They took it ahead of their application for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), which was submitted in April.

Kathryn and Lachlan were told last month that they had passed the test and their ILR had been approved.

Gregg wouldn’t speculate on why his decision was delayed, but yesterday – two weeks later – he breathed a sigh of relief as he told us: “Hi Greg – that’s three of us with our Indefinite Leave to Remain applications approved. We’re now officially free of the Home Office!”

In a Facebook post, the family said it was time to celebrate, and added: “We’ll be stopping by our immigration solicitor’s office on our way back north as we got the news from Andrew that he now has all three Indefinite Leave to Remain approvals through from the Home Office.”

Lachlan has grown up in Scotland and is now a teenage pupil at Dingwall Academy. He is fluent in Gaelic, plays clarsach and has performed at the Mod.

After arriving in Scotland as an infant, he now towers over Kathryn and – at around 6ft – is as tall as his father.

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Gregg is highly critical of the whole UK immigration system, including the Life in the UK test, which he says is self-defeating: “They actually sell you a textbook to study from. It’s not a test of your cultural assimilation at all; it’s just a measure of your ability to produce a result in accordance with Western education norms.

“In other words, can you memorise information, and regurgitate it on demand?

“And having passed, they don’t even tell you what your score was, let alone which question(s) you might have got wrong, so you can improve your cultural knowledge.

“It’s as though they don’t even care about improving your cultural assimilation, but just want to place an extra obstacle in your path. Oh wait ...”

And he says he was always wary about the outcome of his application: “There were legal reasons to consider that the Home Office could come up with a logical legal argument for a refusal.

“It was it was absolutely watertight, but there were logical ways they could come up with a refusal.

“One of the things that we also considered is that the person who is looking at our case isn’t just considering a legal application. There is a political dimension to it as well.

“And so we’re putting in this application in the fervent hope that everyone can avoid the international PR disaster that occurred in 2016 [their meeting with Nicola Sturgeon] and hope that they were thinking much the same thing. But their sensitivity to accountability seems to have increased dramatically over the last few years.”

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When they arrived in Scotland in 2011, after 27 hours on a plane with a two-and-a-half-year-old child, they did not notice that while Kathryn’s and Lachlan’s passports were stamped, Gregg’s wasn’t.

That came back to haunt him during the years of waiting when he says he became convinced he was being targeted by the Home Office when they were temporarily leaving Scotland.

In April 2012 they were in Venice and had no visa trouble on their return. However, the following month they went to Australia to catch up with some relatives, and when they returned, Gregg was detained after being asked why he did not come to the UK with his family the previous year.

“I told them I had, but when we looked at my passport there was no stamp. I told them I came in 2011 and ‘if you guys didn’t do that, that’s an internal administrative issue for you’ … but of course that’s always visited upon the applicant.

“They came back 20 minutes later and said ‘you’re fine, we found you on the passenger manifest’.”

They refused to retroactively stamp his passport with the proper entry date, which Gregg says has resulted in him having to provide extra documentation – utility bills, leases and so on – every time he leaves the country.

“I suspect they’re finding themselves, in order to chase boats, having to appeal to a demographic that’s further and further out along the edge of the bell curve.”

The National: File photo dated 08/10/22 of Ian Blackford, former SNP Westminster Leader speaking at the SNP conference in Aberdeen. Mr Blackford has said he will stand down at the next election. Issue date: Tuesday June 6, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS

Blackford (above) told The National he was delighted that the Brains’ 12-year battle was over before he added: “But my goodness, what the family have had to endure over that period has been quite extraordinary – a lot of pain, a lot of tears, a lot of heartache along the way.

"And let’s not forget that the root of this was them arriving here with the promise of being able to benefit from the post-study work visa and that was taken away from them whilst they were in transit to Scotland.

“There’s been a breach of faith and trust that’s been shown to them right at the beginning of this process, and there are times I have to admit that I thought the family would be looking at being deported.

“But I think the fact that so many people rallied round, through the resilience of all of them, that at the end they’ve been able to follow their dreams, their hopes and aspirations, and build a life for all of them in Scotland.

“They’re an integral part of our community, they add to Scotland’s story and I’m delighted that for them, at long last, the journey has reached its end.”