Born in New Zealand but raised in Australia, sisters Rafaela, 24 and Valentina Diaz-Byers, 22, now live by the canal in Haggerston, East London.
Attracted by the vibrancy of the capital’s music scene, the two sisters came to England in mid 2015 with hopes of getting their musical careers off the ground.
“We decided to go for it: live somewhere else, experience different things and meet different people,” said Rafaela when I spoke to her in June.
The girls’ life in London was made possible by the Youth Mobility Visa which guaranteed them a two year stay in the UK. But as of this September, those two years come to an end and Valentina and Rafaela have no choice but to make their way back to Queensland, Australia – a move they’re both reluctant to make.
“It feels so unfair that you can’t choose where you want to live,” says Rafaela. This is a sentiment former Labour MP and founder of New Europeans, Roger Casale agrees with:
“Free movement is fair movement. Free movement is to do with people’s rights, it’s about non-discrimination, it’s about everybody being treated equally,” said Casale at a recent talk at The University of Sheffield.
“What I’d like to see is a change in the way that we look at European citizenship in the twenty first century. [It] should be given, not just on the basis of nationality, but also on the basis of permanent residency.”
“So if you’re a permanent resident from Germany, or a refugee from Syria who’s got permanent residency status, you should be given a green card which entitles you to all the rights a European citizen would have.”
The issue of migration remains a contentious one in the UK and across EU member states, and with Brexit approaching, Casale’s vision for a new Europe may seem somewhat optimistic.
Earlier this year forty-five Conservative MP’s wrote to Home Secretary Amber Rudd urging her to consider fast-tracking visa rules for members of the 52 Commonwealth states:
“The Government must commit to examine ways to reduce wait times for Commonwealth citizens entering the UK, perhaps through the use of dedicated Commonwealth border control gates,” the letter stated.
A response from the Home Office later stated that it’ll be up to the government to set out immigration rules in a Post-Brexit UK.
For the moment, Valentina and Rafaela have the option of applying for an ‘Exceptional Talent Visa’ -a process they’re about to begin.
This visa requires applicants from outside the European Economic Area to either demonstrate they are established, recognised leaders with exceptional talent in engineering, medicine, digital technology, the arts, humanities or sciences. Alternatively, applicants can prove themselves to be emerging leaders with exceptional promise.
“You need certain documentation to actually start the process, which includes articles from the press; newspapers and blogs and three letters from people in the music industry endorsing your talent,” says Rafaela.
“It all really depends on our new music,” adds Valentina.
Rafaela and Valentina decided to officially write and sing together in 2010. Citing London as one of their biggest sources of inspiration, they perform today as Her Sister.
“The challenge of living on the other side of the world has resulted in some of our best songs,” says Valentina.
“Apart from the music, it’s been such a growing exercise. We’ve learnt so much, which has been incredible,” adds Rafaela.
London is now home for the sisters, but their upcoming visa process could be a long one. If their applications are approved, Valentina and Rafaela will be able to live in the UK for a maximum of five years with the option to extend their stay.
“With this visa we can get residency, it gives us so many new possibilities,” says Valentina
The girls are optimistic. They are now wrapping up the EP, recording vocals for the last couple of songs and piecing everything together with hopes that it’ll be out before they leave the country.
“Plan ‘A’ is music,” says Valentina
“We’re still experimenting with our sound, still trying to build our repertoire.”
“Some people know when they’re ready to go, but we’re not quite done here.”
*Photo Credit: Sats Solanki