A NEW York couple who invested more than £400,000 to build up an award-winning bed and breakfast business in the Highlands have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help with their legal fees fighting the Home Office decision to refuse them a visa extension.

Russell and Ellen Felber arrived in Scotland in 2011 on a Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa under which they had to invest in a business.

They had sold everything in the US and used their life savings to buy a run-down hostel in Inverness and transformed it into the Torridon Guest House, which regularly receives top reviews on tourist websites such as TripAdvisor and Booking.com.

A week before Christmas 2016, they were told they would have to leave Scotland because their application to extend their visa had been refused, after the Home Office retrospectively applied a change of rules relating to a “job creation” requirement that they had met for their original visa.

Legal Aid has refused to help with their fees for a hearing next month, so they have had to turn to crowdfunding at www.gofundme.com/fight-to-remain-in-the-uk.

Russell said: “We made a successful business, that we can live on. The agony that the Home Office is putting me and especially Ellen through has been horrific. I am ashamed that we have to ask for financial help to keep fighting. All the money we made we invested back into the business. It hasn’t stopped until now. Our savings for the future has gone on legal fees.

“We are still baffled that the decision went against us. I was in the courtroom, the judge was confused at it all.”

Their MP Drew Hendry had asked Brandon Lewis, who was the Immigration Minister, to meet to discuss the case, but he said Theresa May’s reshuffle mean he would have to start the process again.

Hendry told The National: “It’s a nonsense that the Felbers are being forced out against all common sense. The fact that Theresa May has changed ministers yet again has meant that the representations that I previously made will have to be made again to the new minister Caroline Nokes, and all this leads to more uncertainty and delay.

“In the meantime, it’s more uncertainty for the couple. I’ve already requested a meeting, but I had hoped to get a decision from the previous minister.”

Hendry added: “There are systemic failures in the way the system’s set up by the UK Government and it has a completely the wrong outcomes for people in the Highlands and in Scotland.

“It’s a nonsense that communities are faced with losing people who are valuable to them because of this one-size-fit-all approach backed up with a dogma of not giving way.”

Gregg Brain, with wife Kathryn and eight-year-old son Lachlan, faced their own battle with the Home Office.

The family, who live in Dingwall, were eventually allowed to stay when Kathryn secured a job with Macdonald Hotels at their flagship Aviemore Resort – but then had to apply for an extension.

Gregg told The National: “After a bit of faffing around, they gave us a four-year extension, so we have the sword of Damocles removed for another four years. We had a visa that was essentially measured in weeks so my trying to get a permanent position at that time was pretty much a wasted effort, but now I can do that.”

He said he sympathised with the Felbers: “This couple have invested over £300,000 just in the business, let alone what they’ve contributed to the local economy since they’ve been here.

“The Home Office is effectively starving them out by forcing them to spend money to get them to make the decision they should’ve made in the first place. The perfect win-win situation would be to let them run their business.”

He said his family’s case and the Felbers’ were similar in many respects.

“We’ve got people who are actively contributing to their community, the economy. To refer Theresa May back to her own words when she was Home Secretary, she said that ‘we welcome people who are willing to linguistically and culturally assimilate and pay their own way’.

“The Felbers are doing all of that and are willing to live and work in what is, compared to some parts of the UK, a sparsely populated and economically depressed area. You’d think they would be the gold standard for immigrant applicants.”