Scotland could lose a highly trained doctor specialised in diagnosing cancer after the Home Office refused a visa for a child in her care. 

After securing a job as a pathologist in the UK, Kathrine and David Leeson and their niece, who we have been asked not to name, could not have foreseen that months later their lives would remain in limbo.  

Mrs and Mr Leeson, who are the legal guardians to the 13-year-old child, were granted a skilled worker visa and a dependent visa respectively in December last year – but the child’s application was refused.  

“It was positively devastating,” Mrs Leeson said. “We had already sold our home in the United States and our cars so that I could come on over. 

“There was no expected reason or logical reason why we should have anticipated being declined on this.” 

The doctor added about the decision: “What they did was put me in a position where I’m obligated to be here for work, but I’m also obligated to abandon this child – that’s how the US courts would view it and how I would view it.  

“She is by all rights and purposes at this point our child.” 

After the Home Office refused the application claiming that the couple did “not have full legal guardianship” despite evidence supplied by the Superior Court of California, they enlisted legal support from Thorntons.  

Despite now owning a house in Scotland, Mrs Leeson returned to America with her niece while submitting a second application with 120 pages of documentation proving the full guardianship from doctors, schools and the courts.  

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The pathologist said she had “every faith that the system is logical and reasonable” and that the second application would come back with a positive response within weeks. 

Mrs Leeson flew back to the US at the start of January with just four changes of clothes and a set of pyjamas expecting it to only take a “week or two”.  

But a month later, the child celebrated her 13th birthday in America and when questioned about what she wanted to celebrate the occasion – the youngster asked for “a Scottish visa”.  

“I was simply floored when the second refusal came because I had this faith that this system was reasonable and it was rational,” Mrs Leeson said. 

“I think it is safe to say that I have lost that faith at this point.” 

Following the second refusal, the family has requested an administrative review of the decision which could take more than six months to be considered, putting the child’s life essentially on hold. 

Senior solicitor in Thorntons immigration and visa team, Louise Crichton, said that the team’s view is that the Home Office “have made a mistake”.  

The second refusal – a single-page response to more than a hundred pages of evidence – stated that because the Californian court retained letterbox contact for the child’s mother and “very limited, supervised visitation” for the father meant Mr and Mrs Leeson did not have full guardianship.  

“They’re really misconstruing what guardianship is,” Ms Crichton said about the Home Office decision.  

“Her parents have no rights to make any decisions about her going forward, regarding being responsible for her education, her medical care and where she lives.” 

The Californian court even provided extra permission for the child to be moved outside the jurisdiction of the court to Scotland.  

“The Home Office didn’t engage with that at all, the first time or the second time,” the solicitor said. 

“It really does seem ridiculous that they have all this paperwork from the court in California, all the assessments that it is in her best interest to live with her guardians and the Home Office aren’t considering it.” 

She explained that the case is “quite unusual” and added: “I've never had a case where it's been in our opinion quite clear cut that they’re the guardian of this child.” 

The family are currently all in Scotland, but the child is here only as a visitor meaning she’s “stuck in this no man’s land”, Mrs Leeson said.  

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Their case has even been raised with UK Immigration Minister by their local MP Hannah Bardell, who represents the Livingston constituency.  

The Herald: Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick (pictured in 2023)Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick (pictured in 2023) (Image: PA)

After explaining the situation in the House of Commons, Ms Bardell is set to meet with Robert Jenrick to discuss the case in more detail. 

While the family awaits the next step, their MP vowed to “continue to support them as best as we can in the hope that a positive outcome will be reached soon.”  

Ms Bardell said: “The awful situation Mr and Mrs Leeson are in is yet another example of the traumatic and unnecessarily inhumane processes of the Home Office that folk have to go through just to live their lives peacefully here in Scotland.” 

Meanwhile, the 13-year-old child cannot begin to adjust to a new life in Scotland.

She has been accepted by a local school but cannot legally go there but also cannot be registered in a school in the US because her legal guardians no longer have residence there. 

She is also unable to receive medical treatment and can only stay for limited periods of time.  

“We can’t even make her feel like she has stability or safety because visitor visas are six months out of every 12, or more accurately three out of every six.” 

Mr Leeson said: “She’s been a real trooper through all of this.  

“Right now she can’t go to a regular school, she can't make friends around here. She's pretty much stuck at home, on a computer doing online classes to satisfy her educational requirements.” 

But if the child is not allowed to remain, the couple is prepared to sell the home they bought in Scotland and uproot their lives again.  

This would see the country lose a highly trained and GMC-certified pathologist amid “a significant shortage in the UK of doctors of all specialities but certainly in pathology” with months-long wait times for cancer diagnoses, Mrs Leeson warned.  

Mr Leeson said that the lack of in-person or even telephone communication with the Home Office has posed a big problem.  

“Every file that comes across their desk represents an individual with a story and you can't get that full story just from a mound of paperwork,” he said.  

Mrs Leeson added that as a pathologist her duty is to examine every glass slide “on its own merit and to individualise the diagnosis”.  

“I would argue that the Home Office is tasked with the same obligation, every file that comes across their desks, just like every glass slide that comes across mine, represents a real living person or persons who need hope.  

“I think on this one the home office has come to the wrong diagnosis.” 

A Home Office spokesperson said: “All visa applications are carefully considered on their individual merits, on the basis of the evidence provided and in accordance with the immigration rules.” 

“We do not routinely comment on individual cases”.