‘Shameful’ system sees Laggan family ordered back to Canada

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A family who put their life savings and ambitions into running Laggan’s only store are being sent back to Canada next month.

Jason and Christy Zielsdorf arrived in Scotland in 2008. More recently and with their five children, the Zielsdorfs have owned and run the Laggan Stores, bothy and holiday let.

Over the past year, however, the family has been embroiled in a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ with the Home Office regarding their desire to stay in the country, as reported by The Oban Times in June 2016.

On April 14 this year, the Zielsdorfs were forced to announce to their customers that the shop will no longer be open for business as their efforts to obtain an extension to their entrepreneurial visa allowing them to stay in Scotland had been unsuccessful.

Jason told the Lochaber Times that having to shut up shop had left him feeling rotten.

He added:  ‘This was our plan, our livelihood and our future.  We didn’t have a plan b, c, d, e or f but this is not a decision that effects just us. We serve the elderly and young people who have just moved to this remote area. What does it say to them?

‘It is so frustrating because our customers are great. This is not a story about the demise of a rural shop. Last week was one of our best and busiest, and yet the whole time we are thinking, we are having to give this up.’

Jason claimed that throughout the application process, the Home Office had not been interested in their circumstances but its decision to revoke his wife’s driving licence was a crucial factor in the family’s fight coming to an end.

He said:  ‘The Home Office have us on that plane on May 4.  We don’t want to leave but we have decided the fight is futile. Before Christmas we heard of a family from the US living in Nairn who had what we are applying for but were then denied permission to stay full time. These people had done everything that was asked of them but it still was not enough. Then in January, they [Home Office] took away my wife’s licence.  I thought they had a modicum of sense or goodwill but, no, we were left having to pay other companies over the odds to have our goods delivered to a rural area with no public transport for eight miles.’

Jason had been hoping to sell the shop before leaving. Although there are some interested buyers, a deal still hasn’t gone through.

He said: ‘We didn’t even know where to pick when they asked where should our things be sent. We chose Toronto because it is central. There has been no joy and no anticipation of this move. We are a strong family but the impact on the children won’t really be felt until we leave I think.

‘When we get to Canada we are going to have to take some time to rebuild ourselves. We have lost our happy ever after and our financial means. All our assets are here but with the shop not operating it is costing me a third more to insure the building.  Time wise, nothing is working out in our favour.’

While feeling let down by the system, Jason thanked MP Drew Hendry’s efforts as staunch defender and advocate.  The family were also ‘touched’ by an online petition campaigning for their visa approval which received more than 3,000 signatures.

Councillor for Caol and Mallaig Ben Thompson described the situation as shameful, meanwhile Kate Forbes, MSP for Lochaber, said: ‘When an immigration policy starts deporting our local families, it cannot be right. I’m disgusted by the number of people in the Highlands who have found themselves at the mercy of the UK Government’s irrational policy on immigration.

‘The Zielsdorfs have lived with uncertainty for over a year. I’ve met them and visited their shop and cafe. They invested thousands of pounds to turn the small business into an asset for Laggan and the surrounding areas.

‘The reward meted out by the UK Government for moving to Scotland, bringing children into a Highland village and investing in a small business is deportation. We need an immigration policy that doesn’t damage the Highlands.’