A COUPLE who spent last Christmas apart as they battled to end a 15-month visa dispute are looking forward to being together this festive season.

Steve Bearns and his son Ryan, four, were kept apart from his wife Xia Zu, who was stuck in China after she encountered problems trying to secure a spouse visa to live in the UK.

In April Mr Bearns, the technology operations manager, was finally able to celebrate as Xia Zu, known as Mary in England, was allowed to return to the family home in Wallingford.

Mr Bearns said: "Last Christmas we were apart so it is lovely that we are all back together this year.

"It was a tricky time last year because we did not know how much longer we were going to be separated.

"Last Christmas Ryan was with me before he went back to China in January to be with his mother."

Mr Bearns met Ms Zu in Shenzhen, China, in 2006 and married her there in 2010.

After their son Ryan was born in 2013 they moved to Wallingford.

At first Ms Zu was granted a family visit visa that allowed her to stay in the UK for 180 days of any 12-month period.

Then Mr Bearns and his wife agreed to apply for a spouse visa as part of the process of being allowed to live in the UK.

The application was refused by the Immigration Service despite the couple having a child together, then granted on appeal at a tribunal.

Once the appeal decision was made the visa was not issued immediately before the dispute was finally resolved.

The couple were kept apart after Ms Zu went back to China to help look after her father and she stayed there while the visa dispute was being resolved.

After being given permission to return to the UK, Xia Zu finally received her passport and visa and arrived back in the UK at the end of April.

Mr Bearns said he and his wife were looking forward to celebrating Christmas in Wallingford and they have already decorated their Christmas tree.

He added: "Ryan will be getting lots of presents but we can't tell you what he is going to get – we don't want to spoilt the surprise."

Members of the community and staff at Rainbow Pre-School, which Ryan attends, backed Mr Bearns in his efforts to get the visa problem resolved.