Restaurant's petition for chef in visa wrangle
A Norwich bar whose chef and general manager is caught up in a visa wrangle is stepping up the campaign to bring him home. Malaysian-born Howard Lee - known as the "heart and soul" of Bedfords and The Crypt Restaurant - is stuck in Asia and being forced to live thousands of miles away from his English wife, Fiona Williamson, 31.
A Norwich bar whose chef and general manager is caught up in a visa wrangle is stepping up the campaign to bring him home.
Malaysian-born Howard Lee - known as the “heart and soul” of Bedfords and The Crypt Restaurant - is stuck in Asia and being forced to live thousands of miles away from his English wife, Fiona Williamson, 31.
His friendly banter and creative cuisine - that even inspired actress Maureen Lipman to write about Bedfords in the Guardian - are being sorely missed by his co-workers and regular customers at Bedfords.
Now the venue's owner, Steve Orrick, is setting up a petition to help Mr Lee, 24, appeal against the rejection of his visa.
“We need as many people as possible to sign the petition and help get Howard back where he belongs,” said Mr Orrick, who was so impressed with Mr Lee's culinary talents he was planning to give him a partnership in the business.
“He was the face and voice of Bedfords and a really great guy. I find it really hard to believe that this could happen to anybody who has been in this country for as long as Howard has, and who works as hard as he does. We all miss him lots here at Bedfords.”
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Speaking from Malaysia, Mr Lee said his job had been “his life” and it was heartbreaking being separated from his wife, a PhD student whom he married in July 2006 and who is now struggling financially because Mr Lee was the main breadwinner.
Mr Lee came to Norfolk in 1995 on a student visa. In 2002 he sent his passport to the Home Office and applied for British naturalization.
He frequently contacted the Home Office but it was not until MP Charles Clarke got involved in 2005 that Mr Lee discovered his naturalization application had been denied in 2002 and the Home Office had no record of receiving his passport.
Despite now having no visa, complications getting a new passport meant Mr Lee could not leave the UK until July this year, when he returned to Malaysia and applied for a settlement visa to live with his wife.
But a document from the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur stated Mr Lee's application was refused due to lack of evidence of past visas and whether he abided by their conditions. Mr Lee claims all of this evidence is in the passport which he believes the Home Office lost in 2002.
Now Mr Lee faces an agonising wait to see if his appeal is successful so that he can be reunited with his wife and return to Norfolk.
t People will be able to sign the petition in Bedfords from tomorrow. Mr Lee is also setting up an online petition, which will be up and running in the next few days at www.ipetitions.com/petition/bringhowardhome