So the end is finally upon me. I don't mean a literal end, but a figurative one. I've been over in the UK for about five years now, actually a little over exactly five years.
And while I did I lot of things right, like pick the right time to sell a house in Austin, Texas, I also happened to pick one of the worst times to try to emigrate to another country, namely the UK.
So I have been asked to leave. In a polite and unassuming way. But asked to leave the same.
My plan wasn't to ever stay here permanently, but it'd be nice to get to a stage (called "indefinite leave to remain" in visa terms) where I could choose to come and go as I could.
Immigration policy seems to change pretty frequently as the UK tries to cut down the flood of people beating down their door.
I've decided to lay out my immigration tale here in (somewhat) detail, not to bitch, but just to show you, dear reader, what's been involved in this year long process.
Perhaps someone can learn something from my mistakes.
Also, just so that it's clear - during this entire time - starting in February of 2011, I was (and still am) gainfully employed both in the UK and in the US as a freelance writer. I can't vote in the UK, nor, despite what people might think, go on the dole. I do, however, pay out taxes to National Health and other UK governmental services including, I suppose, the Queen.
The Good Old Days
It's not like it used to be in the olden days. About 110 years ago, my relatives just picked up, packed their stuff and knocked on the door of the United States of America - and Ms. Liberty waved them right in!
Take a look yourself - that's Great Grandpa Isidoro Calonico and Great Grandma Maria in the United States Guest book at Ellis Island from 1904.
They made the guest list for the US! (Even if they did misspell his name. Some things never change.)
Sure, Uncle Sam let the nice Italians in, but it also looked like he went back to check on them. Above Isadoro's name you can see the date of 5/22/42 scribbled right there in the margin.
Looks like the authorities checked up on him right after WWII started (for the US at least) and made him sign a "Declaration of Intention" to become an American citizen. Just in case he decided to switch sides to Mussolini while Isidoro was cobbling shoes in the Streets of San Francisco.
Just an aside - but here's a little something I just noticed in the header of the record. Just take a look at the questions in columns 18 and 19:
This raises the question - were they letting Polygamists and Anarchists into the USA at one point? And, if so, when was this? Because I know exactly what year I'm headed for if I ever get my hands on a time machine.
The UK - I Hardly Knew Ye....
It's been interesting over here. I was a huge Monty Python fan as a kid, into Floyd and the Beatles, read my Thomas Hardy and even played a makeshift game of cricket on one sunny 4th of July. I'd always been curious to see the United Kingdom and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
I've seen and lived in more parts of the UK than most people from here. I've resided in Central London, outside London in posh-ville, Northern Ireland and, for over the past year, Scotland. I've driven from London up to Liverpool and then taken the ferry over to Belfast, made it from the Atlantic coast in Scotland over to the North Sea in the space of a few hours, and journeyed across the length of the UK from Derry to Dundee over Christmas break.
I'll miss a lot of things about the UK:
- Pubs right down the street
- Being called a Yank
- People referring to the United States as "The Colonies"
- 1000 year old buildings in the middle of a city
- BBC6 music
- Awesome choices of hand pumped ale everywhere
- Taking the train
Things I won't miss:
- People who seemingly have colds/coughs all the time
- The constant and widespread misuse of the apostrophe
- Hearing about the Royal Family
- Turning the heater on in August
- Clothes dryers that don't work
- Teenage moms pushing baby strollers (actually this might be more of a Dundee thing)
- Council estates
- Bars that close at 12pm
I applied to have my visa renewed in June of 2011 with the UK Border Agency. I spent time gathering up all my paperwork, including tax records of my freelance work in the United States, as well as all my US bank records (originals, of course). My Visa runs out on July 1. I get paid at the end of the month, on the 26th, so I wanted to have another month's worth of salary in my account before I applied.
I sent the application in from my address in Belfast.
Average processing time is between 4 to 6 weeks.
My visa and passport arrived after just a few short weeks. Just in time for my birthday! What a present!
The only annoying thing about the process so far is that, even though this was a package that had my US passport in it, I didn't have to sign for it. As a matter of fact, the Royal Mail Postman (and I think the Royal Mail kicks ass, BTW) SHOVED the entire package through the door so much so that it ripped in half, exposing the contents inside. DUDE. That's MY PASSPORT. I can't get back without that!
The other annoying this was that in fact, the visa program that I applied for was CLOSED.
It was shut in the prior 6 weeks before I applied. Whoops.
But, the nice thing is that the UK Government allowed me an appeal for the application after it was denied. The thing that confused me was that they didn't just say that the program I applied for was closed. They first said that, even thought the program was closed, l was still lacking X, Y and Z pieces of paperwork to apply for the program.
So, from the way I read the letter at least, all I needed to do was to get my visa was to send in the missing paperwork.
Now - here's the really fun part about being on appeal - you can't leave the UK. Fair enough.
The problem is that, especially coming from Texas, the UK is pretty small. It's about the size of Oregon. Imagine not being able to leave Oregon during the winter. I was trapped in the European version of the Pacific Northwest for the coldest part of the year - and without any indie hipster bands to help me through.
The UK government received all of my appeal paperwork. I had changed my address from Northern Ireland to Scotland during my application process, so I send them a number of emails, letters and faxes, giving them my new address in Scotland.
The holidays are fast approaching. I was hoping to have my appeal granted and get out of the UK in time to get back to the States for the holidays. Doesn't look like that's going to happen. As the days tick by, I hear nothing at all from the UK Border Agency
Here was the most frustrating part about this, though - you CAN'T CALL THEM TO ASK ABOUT YOUR CASE UNTIL IT'S BEEN SIX MONTHS. Yep. If you try to call them and they see your case is "fresh meat", no dice. Buh-bye. Just in case you forget that, it's on their answering service. Try it yourself!
Thanks to the hospitality of some friends in Northern Ireland, I took a journey across the Irish Sea to spend some time over there. I highly recommend the Rail and Sail deal. Takes about eight hours, but it's damn cheap.
Plus you can booze it up on the boat!
Shortly after I returned from my break, I picked up the phone to call the Home Office. Believe it or not, by this time it had almost been six months. Not quite, but I decided to give them a call anyway.
Here's where it REALLY starts getting confusing. Apparently, because I was appealing the case, my paperwork was all now with the Tribunal and Appeals Board. The Home Office didn't have anything to do with my case, at least not until the Tribunal was finished with it. So they HAD NO IDEA what was happening. and told me - politely - over the phone.
Mid January 2012
I was greeted by a package of mail from my former residence in Belfast. Included in the envelope was the answer to my appeal from the Tribunal. Which had been denied. BACK IN NOVEMBER. Thanks people who rented the place after me for being so prompt!
The funny thing is that they allowed me an appeal of the appeal - unfortunately the deadline on that had expired ALSO BACK IN NOVEMBER.
And the Home Office had no idea what was going on with my case - even though the Appeals Tribunal had made a decision TWO MONTHS EARLIER.
I called the Appeals Office , explaining to them that I had just gotten the letter. I was afraid that I was going to be yelled at by the employee who answered, like a house guest that has overstayed his welcome.
But the sleepy sounding public servant on the other end of the line seemed pretty non-plussed. They just said that, if I wanted to appeal, I should just send in a letter explaining that I hadn't gotten the original letter and appeal again.
So that's what I did.
My appeal was granted!! Hooray!!!
Apparently there was some earlier legal precedent that had some type of bearing on my case and the appeals judge thought my appeal deserved merit.
But then, glancing over the paperwork......I saw that they hadn't included a deadline for my appeal.
I emailed/faxed/wrote back to the Tribunal Board asking for a clarification. I started to figure out the game now and now I wanted to make sure that I got everything in writing.
As with the rest of this process, it took another month for them to get back to me.
This is what they sent back:
Yes, someone had scribbled on the original letter in handwriting telling me when I had to turn everything in.
This was an official document from the government of the United Kingdom.
I wrote up the appeal, using some of my best legal-ese. After all, I'd been on a Courtroom TV show. I don't think these folks knew who they were messing with.
To top everything off, since this appeal was headed for Glasgow, I tried to appeal to the Judge's Scottishness - pointing out that I was a member of both the National Trust of Scotland and the Scottish SPCA, plus I was living in Dundee.
That's gotta count for something.
April - May 2012
More waiting. Weather was still shitty for the most part, except there were two days of actual sun! I was warm! I could drive around with the windows down! I put my feet in a Highland Stream and had a beer!
After the rain returned, everyone laughed and said that we just had our summer.
I wrote to the Tribunal Board asking what was going on with my appeal.
They assured me that they were working on it and would get back to me.
I called the board again this month. Oddly enough (I wonder if it was odd, in fact), the employee that I spoke to on the phone told me that they had just finished wrapping the case up and that a decision was on the way to me.
Mid-August 2012 - Day Before My Birthday
Took a day off from work because I was going to go down to Edinburgh and watch some Fringe festival shows.
So I was at home when my mail box opened and in popped a letter from the Queen.
I sat down on my bed with the fated envelope. Because I knew that this was going to be it.
I decided just to get it over with and tore open the envelope.
However, this being the land of the Stiff Upper Lip, they allowed me ANOTHER appeal.
But, I still gotta admit, as I said above, when the Royal Mail isn't trying to shove packages containing important papers through your door, they kick some serious ass. This letter was stamped on the 16th, so that means it probably went in the afternoon mail and got here the next day.
Late August 2012
I filed my appeal. Or, rather, I filed the appeal to appeal, since you first have to ask permission to appeal before you can actually appeal. I received a letter from the appeals tribunal saying that they had received my appeal request and that this would be handled by the Home Office.
Early September 2012
I wrote to both the Appeals Tribunal and the Home Office asking them two simple questions:
1) What the hell was going on? 2) If they're going to reject my appeal, when do they want me to leave? You bet my ass I want it in writing.
First Week of October 2012
Aaaah....the arrival of Fall in Scotland. Finally a break from the oppressive summer heat!
I stopped home for lunch one day to find a letter from the Home Office.
Whatever was inside this envelope was going to be it.
Hurriedly I tore open the envelope to see what my future held in store for me.... How they Tell You to Get the Hell Out
You'd think they'd try to be a little less....ambiguous about the whole thing.
This is what it said at the bottom of the letter:
Now, remember, I got this letter BECAUSE I HAD WRITTEN TO HOME OFFICE ASKING THEM WHAT WAS GOING ON.
"Make arrangements to leave as soon as possible." The phrase sounds like something that a really polite bouncer would say to you at a bar in Kensington.
But the best part, the one thing that almost make this worthwhile, was the envelope that this piece of news came in. I have scanned it in for your amusement and edification.
As with most of the important government documents that come through the Royal Mail here is the fact that there wasn't any kind of tracking or signature required. Nothing to say that the envelope had actually been delivered to me or that I'd seen it. The other sad part is that I didn't even merit a first class stamp:
But the best part about the envelope was waiting for me on the back...
And here it is ladies and gents. After five years here, this is how I was told to leave. A second class stamp on a taped up envelope with a crudely made return address label affixed to the back.
One Week Later
I arrived back at the apartment to find one last letter from the Appeals Board waiting for me.
They said no to my last appeal but....yes.....wait for it......
I've lost count now, but I think if I filed this appeal, it would be an appeal of the appeal of the appeal of the appeal of the appeal. I think.
Anyway, I'm not going to appeal, Home Office and Appeals Board so you can rest easy.
One last interesting thing of note on the letter is the last sentence "in Northern Ireland, different rules apply."
Oh, how true.
Poor old Northern Ireland. You also usually see that at the end of any kind of TV ad talking about fantastic deals or extra great values on insurance or pizza.
Northern Ireland is kind of like the UK version of Alaska and Hawaii.
Different rules apply.
Not all prices guaranteed.
Author's Note: Although this post may sound a bit bitchy, I know that things could be A LOT worse. I'm not on the run from a harsh and oppressive government (at least not yet), nor are there armed gangs running rampant in the streets of America who are out to get me (they're just on TV).
This post was written by a middle class, white, middle aged (although still in the 18-49 demographic, so that makes me feel better), American.