When Gill Ford and Tim Pier tie the knot in a ceremony at the Bear Hotel in Devizes on Saturday it will be just the latest chapter in their three-year struggle to get permission for them to be together.
The two amateur photographers, Miss Ford from Devizes and Mr Pier from the US, met on the internet site of an international photography club almost three years to the day that they intend to wed.
Miss Ford, 53, who lives on the Le Marchant Barracks estate, said: “I admired Tim’s photo of a lighthouse on Lake Michigan, which is not far from where he lived, so someone put us in touch. As it happened, we joined the club, which was set up by Tim’s cousin, on the same day.”
Mr Pier (pronounced Pye-er) is a locomotive engineer, or train driver, who hails from Battle Creek, Michigan. He is also 53 and is divorced.
The couple began to exchange emails and it was not long before Miss Ford, a fundraiser for the Children’s Society charity, hopped on a plane and was taken on a photo safari of the Great Lakes by Mr Pier. Miss Ford reciprocated by leading him on a photo tour of Stonehenge and London.
But it was when they decided they wanted to marry that their troubles began.
Miss Ford said: “We have been involved in an immense battle over immigration and it has cost thousands of pounds. The Immigration Service has wanted to know everything about both of us and needed evidence of our trips together. We have had to send printouts of every text, email and receipts for postage, hotels, restaurants... everything.”
The couple also passed on letters of support from family and friends. The resulting package was six inches thick and cost £100 to send by registered mail. While the Immigration Service considered their case, the couple had to be content keeping in contact via Skype.
Miss Ford said: “We used to have our meals together on Skype, though, of course, Tim would be eating lunch while I was having dinner.”
Finally, they got the green light from the Immigration Service and they arranged their wedding at the Bear Hotel for last November. A last-minute hiccup meant they had to postpone, at great expense, but at last they will be hitched this Saturday.
Miss Ford said: “The invitations went out designed like a passport – our joke. Most of our guests will be dressed in red, white and blue.”
But it is not an entirely happy ending for the couple. Although Mr Pier has a visa to stay in the country, he is not allowed to work and has to reapply in the next six months for a spouse visa.
Then he must do it again in two-and-a-half years time, then five years after that. In the meantime, he cannot leave the country to visit his relatives in the US as he might not be allowed back into the UK.
Mr Pier said: “It has been a long, hard journey but being able to marry Gill is worth it.”