THE notice on the website of Laggan Stores, the only shop for miles, says it all: “We sadly had to shut the café & shop portion of Laggan Stores Coffee Bothy & Wayfarer’s Rest... Sadly, our deportation is under way and we will be leaving our bonnie Highland home in early May.”
Over the past eight-and-a-half years, Jason and Christy Zielsdorf have invested more than £250,000 in Laggan Stores, which became known to millions of TV viewers as McKechnie’s in the BBC series Monarch of the Glen More recently, they and their five children have been locked in a visa battle with the Home Office, which has rejected their application to extend their entrepreneurs’ visa. Next month, they will be sent back to Canada, without even being able to sell their business, a community lifeline.
One MP described it as reminiscent of the Clearances. Ian Blackford, who famously fought the case of the Brain family, told The National: “This has all the imagery of the Clearances with people being forced out of the Highlands against their will.
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“Even at this late stage the UK Government should consider an act of clemency, but more than that they should hang their heads in shame that they are forcing out a family who are active and popular members of the local community and provide a lifeline service at Laggan Stores that benefits that community as well as the many visitors who flock to the area.”
“What’s the point in dealing with these people any more? We’ve already committed eight-and-a-half years of our lives and upwards of £50,000 in fees just to be treated like garbage.
“The Home Office are not waiting for us to get a buyer. I had people lined up to take the shop over so we could keep serving the community and all the tourists and visitors that come in to enjoy the Highlands, but that fell through at the last minute, so we had to close on Good Friday.”
Jason said there was no other viable option, and they could spend tens of thousands of pounds more over any number of years “just to get to the point the Felbers are at, where the Home Office can come up with any trumped up reason that they want and they have to fight them in judicial review”.
“I’m sorry, but if you have to take them to court for them to obey their own rules and be integrous and decent at a common sense level what is the point? It’s shameful to have to do that to get them to behave,” he said.
“We were short by half a point in that we were required to have two full time positions for 12 months in the three-year window of our entrepreneurial visa and we were only able to make one in the end.
“That meant we were five-and-a-half points out of six, but the Home Office went out of their way, not just to be robotic or pedantic, but went out of their way to make our application look worse than it was. The Home Office has made itself a law unto itself.”
The family’s MP Drew Hendry, who has been fighting their case, told The National: “I think it’s a disgrace that the village of Laggan and communities in the Highlands will have to say goodbye to a family that clearly added to the wellbeing of the village and general community.
“I also think it’s shameful that the Home Office have not taken any account of the family’s treatment in terms of removing all their documents.”
Gregg Brain made a plea on Facebook: “I don’t know why you rallied behind Kathryn, Lachlan and I… the Zielsdorfs are being abused every bit as much as we were. Maybe it was because we were willing to speak out.
“Please, I’m begging you. Everything you did for us, please, please get behind this lovely family. Shout it from the rooftops, tell your MP, tell your MSP, tell your journalist friends. Tell people on the bus with you. If the UK has any soul left at all, these people must stay.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “All visa applications are carefully considered on their individual merits, in line with the UK immigration rules and based on evidence provided by the applicant.”