By Diana Bowley of the BDN Staff: DEXTER, Maine - A British couple have two years to develop a plan to convince the U.S. Embassy in London they have become model residents and have contributed much to their newly adopted American community so their visas can be extended.
Mark and Judith Stephens, who left Cheltenham, England, in 2007 to start anew as innkeepers of the historic Brewster Inn in Dexter, were granted last week a two-year extension of their I-94 card, an arrival-departure form used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
With their visas set to expire this month and their I-94 cards up in January, the couple flew to the Bahamas for three days last week, where they went through customs and received the extension - a temporary stay until they renew their visas.
"We can't wriggle anymore, that's it," Mark Stephens said last week.
They had initially planned to make the trip to London to renew their visas, but a London attorney advised them not to because the visa rules have changed four times since they left the country, making it harder for the couple to justify their stay in America.
"It's not the U.S. government, per se, that's causing the problem, but the U.S. Embassy in London seems to have taken on a new role," Stephens said.
The couple say they have done everything legally to become American citizens by entering the country through the proper channels. They sold their belongings in England and invested their savings in the inn, where they have immersed themselves in its history and the community.
They fear, however, that in two years, when they must return to London to renew their visas, they won't be able to show a huge profit from their business and will be rejected.
"They've changed the goal posts numerous times and we can't ever hope to achieve the unrealistic targets to try and stay here that they've set for us," Stephens said.
To get citizenship in America, Stephens said, he had to have a green card, but the only visa he and his wife could get to come to America was a U2 visa, which does not allow an opportunity to get a green card.
"We weren't good enough for any other visa and that's the way I see it; we weren't good enough, we're not rich enough, we're not famous enough, not illegal enough, whatever," Stephens said.
Once their visas expire this month the couple are landlocked.
"If anything happens over the course of the next two years where a member of our family is sick or dies, we can't go back to England because they will let us go but they won't let us get back in because we don't have a visa," Stephens said.
Despite that, the couple are making the most of their two-year extension.
"It means we can carry on growing this business, getting it to where we believe we can take it," Stephens said. He said he and his wife were already doing more business than the previous owners. "It's our sole desire to bring more and more people into this town to spend their money in the town and make this town and the whole area better because of it."
They also will use the time to find a lawyer to help them get through the renewal process in 2010. "We're going to have to figure out the best course of action," Stephens said.
Another British couple who own a Maine bed and breakfast are trying to renew their visas in Barbados, according to Stephens. "What we've always been told is that you're meant to go back to the place of issuance," he said. He has heard that London will not look favorably on those who try to renew their visas in another coun-try, but he is holding out hope the couple will be successful.
"We will do everything we can, to go where we think we need to go, to have a better chance of staying here," Stephens said.
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