Thursday, 26 August 2010, 9:00PM - 10:00PM on ITV1
Florida: Paradise Lost
Florida is universally known as the Sunshine State so it’s unsurprising that many British holidaymakers want to stay there for good. This programme looks at the highs and lows for some of the almost half a million Brits who have made Florida their home in the past thirty years.
While ex pats are chasing the dream of making their fortune in the sun, the insecurity of the strict visa requirements means even Brits who’ve lived in the US for years can find themselves being sent home. On top of this, fierce competition in recession-hit businesses and expensive medical treatment can lead to financial devastation.
Some Brits can make it work for them. Janet Southern and her partner John have spent the last 10 years buying and selling property in the Fort Lauderdale area.
Janet says: “John bought this house ten years ago for $475,000, he dropped the house and completely re-built it and sold it for, how much did you sell it for babe?… 2.2 million dollars. Whoa, how good is that!”
Janet and John are looking to buy somewhere new and have enlisted the help of estate agent, Julie Jones; originally from Hampshire, she’s lived in Florida for the last 20 years and specialises in million dollar properties.
Julie has a luxury house up her sleeve which blows Janet and John away. Janet says: “John, I love this house, I love, love, love this house. Am I being OTT? Cos I love it!”
But while Janet and John are contemplating a house that’s on the market for over $4 million, life in Florida has been hard for some other British ex-pats.
Two years ago the McKnight family emigrated here from Kilmarnock in Scotland and bought two Maggie Moos franchised ice creams shops in Fort Lauderdale. With two busy stores to manage, Andy sent his wife and daughter back to the UK for their visa renewal interview. But five months later, they’re still there.
Alison says: “It was just refused. They said we weren’t making enough money and we couldn’t support ourselves let alone our family.”
“If we don’t get a visa and we don’t get back then we stand to lose everything.”
The US Embassy in London gives them one final chance to renew their E2 Business Visa. So Andy flies back from Florida to re-join his wife and daughter who have travelled down from Scotland.
Six weeks after their interview the Embassy finally get in touch. But if the news isn’t good it could split the family in half and ruin their livelihood.
On a Florida radio station Lancashire born travel agent Jackie Spaven, who has lived in the USA since the 1970s, is participating in a phone-in about the E2 visas.
Jackie tells the radio host: “In the current economic situation we no longer meet the requirements of the E2 Visa, such as, we do not employ enough Americans and our business is not as profitable as it was several years ago. So when we re-apply, we will be denied.”
And while established businesses like Jackie’s are struggling in the recession, for newcomers the situation’s worse. David and Sally Wylie from Bedford arrived in Orlando two months ago and thought that buying a home cinema business would be a licence to print money.
Sally says: “I thought it was the next big thing.” But, she adds: “Within three weeks we knew there was a problem.”
The Wylies are now stuck with a business that’s bleeding their savings dry.
In barely a year in Florida they’ve lost nearly half a million pounds. The only thing they have left is their home but they’re struggling to keep up their mortgage payments.
Angela and Ted Marples moved to Florida from Chester in 2002. Because of a shortage of nurses in the United States, Angela was given a Green Card and the right to remain in the USA forever.
But Angela reveals: “It was just a year after we came out here that I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
The USA doesn’t have a National Health Service and while Angela’s job came with medical insurance, it stipulated that they had to pay a substantial excess for every doctor’s or hospital visit, leading to their debts mounting quickly.
Sadly Ted became ill too. He says: “If you look at our medical expenses for the last few years, we’ve paid about 100,000… If we had another health scare then I think we would go back to the UK.”
Nine years ago, John and Jenny Taylor moved from South London to Florida and opened a quintessentially English bed and breakfast which even serves afternoon teas.
Jenny says: “It was really easy to make it London because we are from London. All the little touches like the red buses and the little map of the Underground and the Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill, and all of the really good things about being from London are in this house.”
John says: “It’s a great business actually, it’s easy. There’s $20 a head for a cup of tea and cucumber sandwiches.”
In 1998, Anika Keeland left the rainy Lake District town of Cockermouth and headed for the beaches of Miami where she started work as an aerobics instructor.
Ten years on, Anika says: “I have my own production company and I’m on air talent. I host info-mercials; they think I’m intelligent because I speak with an English accent so I’m taking full advantage of every opportunity that there is out there here.”
She’s taken to the Florida way of life but says: “You work harder here than you do in the UK because you’re competing against people that grow up here. You’ve got to compete to get a visa.”
With no income or savings, and the threat of repossession, David Wylie has decided to return to England with Sally and the children and set them up in accommodation in Bedford before returning to Florida alone.
Sally says: “David feels like he’s the provider and he feels like it’s his fault, he’s up every night. It’s him who’s suffering now, not me, because he has to try and find work.”
Having got Sally and the children settled, David has to return to Florida the week before Christmas. He says: “I don’t want to be doing this right now, I don’t want to leave the boys, I don’t want to leave my wife… I’ve left them with virtually no money, well, I’ve left them with no money, I’m going back with no money and I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
And Sally admits: “We sat on the aeroplane a year ago and we just looked at
each other and said it was Florida or bust. That’s so ironic, ‘cos it was Florida and it was bust…If I’d have just had a crystal ball, I would never have got on that aeroplane.”