Tag Archives: immigration

100 reasons not to vote UKIP.

As some context for my non-British readers, a political party called UKIP is starting to gain support at the moment. Their leader is quite a charismatic guy who makes people feel like he is in touch with them but underneath his smiling facade is a controlling, far right, racist autocrat who will destroy the country if he gets into power. This post explains just why no one should vote for UKIP by exposing what they really stand for!

max j freeman

100 reasons not to vote UKIP.

Please read these reasons not to vote UKIP.  Many of you have concerns about the way the country is being run, but UKIP are not the answer.  There are many parties out there that you can vote for as a protest vote if you don’t want to vote for the main three.  Before you cast your vote, please take the time to see who you are voting for.

Change profile picture on socialmedia to this picture the day before Euro elections Change profile picture on social media to this picture the day before Euro elections

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Love Letters to the Home Office

Although it might seem like all of my life is taken up with movie watching, outfit picking, cooking and general mischief and nostalgia, I do occasionally involve myself in something a little bit more serious.

Almost two months ago a colleague of mine approached me about getting involved in a project he was working on. He (Jason) and I are both British Citizens who started our lives elsewhere. Me in South Africa and him in the United States. Over the years we have shared our immigration and visa woes and given each other tips on the best ways to jump through the UKBA’s (as it was then) various hoops. Jason’s friend, Katharine, was recently affected by the Family Migration Law of 2012, which specifies a minimum income of £18,600 p.a. for a British citizen in order for them to sponsor a non-EU spouse (increasing with every child where there are children). She has been married to her partner, Raco for over 18 months but he has only been allowed to live with her in the UK very recently.

Before I go into the project, I want to explain how unfair this law is in practice. First of all, 47% of all British citizens would not be able to meet this criteria and even worse, 61% of women would not be able to. Secondly the non-EU partner’s income is in no way considered. So even if the non-EU partner earns a gazillion pounds they would not be able to live with their partner and family. Thirdly it says in the EU Human Rights convention that you have the right to marry whomever you want and to have a family life. Deciding who gets to have human rights depending on their income is flat out wrong.

To make people aware of how British families are being affected, Katharine came up with the idea of getting people who have been separated from their families by the law to send in their love letters to be collated and published in a book called Love Letters to the Home Office. As someone who feels really passionate about Human Rights I was really excited to get involved and started out by doing some ghost writing and helping out with the social media, especially around our first petition urging for a change in the law.

The book, which you can and should buy here, has now been published and will officially be launched tomorrow night. While we were gathering stories of those who have been affected by the unfair Family Migration law of 2012, we realised that no one we encountered, including ourselves, had had a positive experience of dealing with the Home Office Visas and Immigration Section. So as part of the launch we decided to write a manifesto of how the Home Office should operate it’s visas and immigration section and that’s the second part of what I’ve been working on. Tomorrow night I will read out the manifesto that I have written with the help of Jason and Katharine and which is also available as a petition.

If this is something you also care about you can read the stories here, sign the petitions here and here, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter and even attend the launch if you’re based in London… and you can buy the book no matter where you live.

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Passport league table

Ever wondered just what your passport was worth? Regular readers of this blog will know that I hold dual South African-British nationality. I was born and grew up in South Africa but moved to the UK in 2004 and eventually gained British citizenship last year. I hold passports for both.

Of course anyone who has citizenship from somewhere outside the “first world” will know not all passports are created equal. If you come from anywhere in Western Europe, North America or Australasia most countries will welcome you, at least as a tourist, without any kind of pre-qualification. However those who don’t, will know all too well the joyous hoop-jumping thrill of applying for a visa… for everywhere.

Recently residence and citizenship planning advisors, Henley & Partners published their annual passport league table, ranking 219 territories in order of “ease of travel” I suppose. According to the league table the maximum points total a nationality could get is 218, as a point is subtracted for traveling to your own country, except for countries where nationals have to have a visa to reenter their own country. It seems that this only applies to the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (has anyone else noticed that the minute you add democratic to the name of your country it’s normally a signal that it’s the exact opposite). A point is then subtracted for every country that requires you have a visa to visit.

It’s unsurprising that a UK passport ties for number one with Sweden and Finland with a whopping 173 points, followed closely by the USA in second place with 172 (tied with Germany, Luxembourg and Denmark). South Africa comes in at a rather pitiful 42, with only 94 points, tying with Turkey and St Lucia – slightly better than Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania and the Solomon Islands but not quite as good as Serbia, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or El Salvador.

However one must be satisfied with one’s lot. At 42 Mzansi is still the highest ranked of all African countries. You also wouldn’t want to come from Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan who come in at joint 91st, 92nd and 93rd at the bottom of the table. Afghans are only able to enter 28 countries without a visa. Bizarrely even citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea are more welcomed worldwide at 85 with 41 countries not requiring a visa… maybe because you can’t actually leave the country without an exit visa anyway. They’re hardly likely to deluge the French Riviera.

I guess this proves once again that there is a very distinct divide between the two different halves of the world… those who are welcome and those who are seen as a threat!

You can see the whole league table here, so let me know… how does your passport rank and do you think it’s fair?

Passports

Applying for a British Passport: Step 7: The final chapter in the “Diaries of an Immigrant”

Today, just three weeks after making my application, this baby arrived.

The Holy Grail: promising visa free travel to almost everywhere, something it’s hard to appreciate if you’ve had all your life but incredible if you haven’t.

And with that… my nine year immigration story along with the thousands of pounds I have spent on administration fees is only a memory.

Passport

But I will end with the gripe that after making a massive song and dance about not returning my supporting documents to me without an ID, the person the IPS employed to return these documents handed them over to our receptionist at work when I wasn’t even in the building. This includes two South African passports, my marriage certificate and my naturalisation certificate. Wondering if I can get a refund on the £3 I paid for “secure” delivery.

Applying for a British Passport: Step 6: Another chapter in the “Diaries of an Immigrant”

The passport interview is a relatively new process, brought in in 2007 to try and cut identity theft and passport fraud. Unlike all the other fun hoops I’ve had to jump through, this particular pleasure is not just reserved for immigrants but for anyone applying for a first adult passport.

After submitting your passport application, you will receive a letter that asks you to attend an interview. This doesn’t happen in every circumstance but it is relatively common. I received my letter two weeks after submitting my application and managed to make an appointment within a week of that.

My interview took place at the Passport Office in London, which is very close to Victoria Station. On arrival I went through am airport style security scan and then received a number, which first gets called for you to register at the information desk and then to a booth for your interview. Oddly the numbers are not called in sequence so you have to pay attention.

My interview was with a lady called Carla, who asked me an array of expected and totally unexpected questions. These are the ones I can remember, not in any particular order:

  • How did you get here?
  • What tube line did you take?
  • Did you have to change trains?
  • What is your full name? Spell it.
  • What is your date of birth?
  • Where were you born?
  • What is your full address?
  • How long have you lived there?
  • Who do you live with?
  • Do you know who lived in your house before you?
  • What were their names?
  • Do you live in a house or flat?
  • What storey do you live on?
  • Are the walls very thin?
  • Can you hear the neighbours?
  • Are you on the electoral roll at your address?
  • Where is your local electoral office?
  • Have you ever voted?
  • How long does it take to walk there?
  • Where did you live before?
  • How long have you been in the UK?
  • What was your route to citizenship?
  • Did you have to write a test for your citizenship?
  • When did you have your citizenship ceremony?
  • Where was it held?
  • Was it a private or group ceremony?
  • What job did you do when you first got here?
  • Who do you work for now?
  • Where is your office?
  • How do you get to work every day?
  • Have you ever changed your name?
  • What was your name before?
  • Are you married?
  • What is your husband’s name?
  • Where did you meet your husband?
  • When did you get married?
  • Is your husband British?
  • What is his date of birth?
  • Did you get married in the UK?
  • Is your family in the UK?
  • What are your parents and siblings names?
  • Where were they born?
  • Where did your parents meet?
  • Do you have a bank account?
  • Do you have any credit cards or loans?
  • What bank accounts do you have?
  • What credit card do you have?
  • Where did you get your passport form?
  • How did you submit your application?
  • Which post office did you submit your application at?
  • Have your documents been returned to you?
  • What is your counter signatory’s name?
  • How do you know him?
  • What is his job?

I think I managed to competently answer all of the questions, although I think Carla let herself down a little by giving me quite a few clues along the way. Apparently know I should receive my passport in the next ten days, following a few more background checks. I’ll keep you posted.

FINALLY, Home Secretary Theresa May declares the UKBA “unfit for purpose”

After my immigration rant yesterday, it seems I am not the only one who has realised that the UKBA is a complete joke. Only five years after its creation Home Secretary Theresa May, has announced that the Border Agency will be scrapped as it is, “not fit for purpose.”  It will now be split into two different arms – one dealing with visas, immigration and citizenship and the other focused on law enforcement.

Surely this can only come as a relief to those who are concerned about the millions of asylum seekers that the UKBA has managed to lose track of along with all the illegal immigrants they have failed to eject, as well as those who are personally stuck in its Brazil-esq processing hell.

Whether you wish everyone would just fuck off to their own country or you wish someone… anyone… would just tell you if your application has been successful and give you your fucking passport back, the UKBA is not doing what it was intended to do.

What this will mean for people who currently have pending applications or for the obscene backlog of cases, it is hard to tell. As it stands, the change is supposed to start next week but in real terms there doesn’t seem to be any time line for actual daily operational changes.

I am no longer at the mercy of the whims of the UKBA (or whatever it becomes), but I will be watching this very closely as I have several friends and colleagues whose daily lives will be deeply impacted by the changes. I want to believe things will be better, but the cynic in me who has personally had to deal with the UKBA can’t help but worry that we haven’t seen rock bottom yet.

Applying for a British Passport: Step 5: Another chapter in the “Diaries of an Immigrant”

So it appears that David Cameron is on his usual tack of blaming immigrants for everything, with the latest plan for luring voters away from UKIP being to put a time frame on how long migrants must be on the housing waiting list to receive a council house. Commenters around the web are filled with positive excitement with added enthusiasm around not letting anyone in who can‘t support themselves in in the first place. What it appears most of the population has not realised is that non-EU immigrants are already subject to stringent controls around entering the country – including having a job already and earning enough –  and are not entitled to any benefits. And EU immigrants are entitled to whatever the EU says they are. That’s what being part of the EU means. What a load of hate mongering, meaningless hot air, Dave.

The best comment I saw out of everything was one bloke who suggested sending everyone who had at least one parent born outside the UK “back to where they came from.” Wouldn’t that be an amazing, family destroying, human rights violating joy? I guess some people honestly believe that immigration is a new thing that the previous Labour government invented out of spite and that British people only marry and have children with other British people.

But I digress… as this is actually supposed to be about my immigration woes and the latest step in my ultimate goal of obtaining a British passport.

Having finally received my corrected naturalisation certificate last month, I held off on making an immediate application in order to keep my South African passport for my trip to Budapest.

Yes, that’s right; in order to make an application for a British passport you have to send off your current nationality passport yet again.

An application for a first adult passport can take up to six weeks, with the possibility that you might be called in for an interview to prove that you are a real person. Kind of like when you apply for a Natural Insurance number.

The form is a relatively standard affair asking for information similar to that which you would supply for citizenship, minus the number of days in and out of the country. You can get this from your local Post Office. It also requires a counter signatory. This person must hold a British passport, must have known you for over 2 years and must be a professional e.g. a teacher or solicitor. They must also be prepared to be contacted to verify that you are who you say you are and that they really do know you. They must also sign one of your photos along with a small statement. Unlike all other applications, the passport one comes with a handy little booklet that tells you what to fill in where… because you know, now you’re British and they care.

In terms of documentation, you must supply any current passports in your possession that have not been cancelled. In my case this was both my current passport and my most recent one in my maiden name. If you have ever changed your name you also need to supply evidence of this – for me my marriage certificate. Obviously you also need to include your naturalisation certificate if you are a naturalised citizen. And two passport photos, one signed as mentioned above. There are very strict rules around passport photos so make sure you check this in advance. If your application is on the basis of something other than naturalisation there are other documents you need to supply so please do read the booklet. There is even a document matching table.

With no added extras a passport costs £72.50… yikes! You can however pay an extra £7 to have your passport application checked by the Post Office to make sure you have filled it in correctly, supplied the correct documents and that your picture is acceptable. I decided to go for this option since it’s supposed to make it go a bit quicker. My picture was the source of some debate since part of my fringe touched one of my eyebrows but ultimately my application was fine. I also paid an additional £3 to have my documents returned by secure mail considering that I have sent them every piece of valuable paper I have.

And now we wait. Paul and I are supposed to go to Lithuania on 12 May so we are crossing fingers and toes that it will come back in time and that my nine year immigration saga will finally be over.

The UKBA… it doesn’t make mistakes, or does it?

Today is a very happy day because the UKBA (fuckers) have finally returned my South African passport and correct naturalisation certificate to me more than one whole month after I sent it to them.

For those who are wondering why I would do something as bonkers as posting the UKBA my passport, they sent me my naturalisation certificate with my name spelled incorrectly on it (more here).

The process for getting this amended is bizarre and based on the premise that the UKBA *doesn’t make mistakes*. At a mind-numbing cost of £851 to process an application for British Citizenship, you would hope they didn’t, but it seems cross checking your name with the mountain of documentation you have sent them is a step too far.

According to their website, you must post back the offending certificate with proof and then await a new one and the return of your documents. Yes, kids, that’s right, you must prove that your name/date of birth/place of birth is what you say it is, not what they say it is. Heaven forbid that they would go back and look at the aforementioned mountain of documentation. The only acceptable proof is your current nationality passport or birth certificate. Considering that my birth certificate has a different name on it (pre-marriage), my only option was my passport. It also declares on said page that they will decide if they are going to charge you for a new certificate when they review your case.  There is no other information – no processing SLA or description or contact information.

I decided to post my precious documents registered post and supply a return envelope. This cost me about £12. I requested reimbursement. After all I have already paid them £851. This was met with stony silence.

After the one month anniversary of the absence of my passport last week I became nervous. I had received no letter of acknowledgement and my only proof that the UKBA even had my passport was a cryptic Royal Mail delivery notice. Of course one isn’t expected to know if you should get a letter of acknowledgement or not, or if a month is long to wait, because as I mentioned, there is no information. The UKBA does not make mistakes. Why would they need a process?
So I decided to contact them. Surely someone must be able to look on the system and say, “Your passport, Mrs Osbiston? Yes, indeed. We’ve thrown it into the bottom of a cupboard. We’ll get to it some time.”  Followed by twelve minutes exactly of cackling.

Well, no, because they will only speak to you if you have a reference number and your application is more than six months old. This particular type of query does not fit into any of their “help” line numbers because the UKBA does not make mistakes. There is an email address you can email. After which you get a stock response that says, “These are the answers to all questions. However if, by some miracle you have another question, you can email this other email address.” Which I did. No response. Eventually I wrote to my MP. Now I have no idea if the unfortunately very Tory, Justine Greening, went and kicked some UKBA arse. I highly doubt it. She normally sends you a heavily embossed letter to say she has had your letter. (Stop spending my damn money on fancy paper, you mad cow, and pay some disabled people their benefits). In any case my passport and corrected certificate arrived today.

I can finally prove that I am actually British. Well half British anyway.

I suppose I should count my blessings. I am not as unlucky as the 16,000 people stuck in the backlog queue, including 2,000 cases over ten years old dumped in a box. Or the people who wrongfully received text messages from the UKBA telling them to immediately leave the country.

UKBA

Applying for a British Passport: Step 4: Another chapter in the “Diaries of an Immigrant”

I was very excited last week when I received a letter from the UKBA telling me that my British Citizenship was approved and I was invited to attend a Citizenship Ceremony at my local council, where I would receive my Certificate of Naturalisation. I was less excited when I realised that an extra “I” had crept into my name , rendering said Certificate useless. I was even less excited on discovering that getting a new certificate involves accepting the incorrect certificate and then sending it and your current nationality passport back to the UKBA in order to prove to them that they have made a mistake. Starting to think that all government departments around the world are equally ridiculous.

Fortunately I was able to secure a spot in a ceremony only a week away. Not being much of one for pomp, performance and sentimentality I have to admit that the event had ups and downs for me. It falls into a series of sections:

First “new citizens” (as we were referred to) sign the book of British citizens, where a professional photographer takes a snap of you with a photo of the queen. I declined the photo, finding it rather creepy.

The next step involves a speech of welcome and some history from the dignitary performing the ceremony. In this case it was the Mayor of Wandsworth, which did make it feel quite posh as apparently he doesn’t do all of them. A lot of his speech was very interesting but I found it somewhat patronising when he said, “You’ve all obviously come here for a better life.” I think many of the new citizens just came over for a different life rather than a better one per say. Considering that the countries of origin included South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and China, it seemed presumptuous to behave as if we were all former asylum seekers from war torn countries.

Following the speech those who have decided to take the Oath of allegiance stand and say their names in turn before repeating the oath in unison. The oath is a statement based on religious principles. Those who, like me, choose to take the Affirmation of allegiance, which is non-religious follow the same procedure  thereafter. I was extremely surprised that only about ten of the 45 new citizens took the affirmation rather than the oath. Both involve swearing allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and successors.  I found this rather bizarre as the queen has no real power and is somewhat inconsequential, but needs must.

All new citizens then take a pledge to uphold and respect the laws, rights and freedoms of the United Kingdom. This bit seemed way more logical and meaningful to me than the bit about the queen.

Once the oaths have been taken each new citizen goes up in turn and is announced by name and country of origin before being handed their certificate and asked a few questions by the major including for me, “Do you work?”. As if there were another alternative. That was probably my favourite part of the ceremony, since it was great to see just how wide the range of nations was and how much it meant to everyone to be becoming British. It being Wandsworth though, about a third of the group was South African.

Collecting my certificate from the mayor

Collecting my certificate from the mayor

The final step is for everyone, including the guests to sing the National Anthem. I have to admit that I don’t really get God Save The Queen. I’ve always thought a National Anthem should be about the beauty of the country, the greatness of its people and its core beliefs but the British National Anthem is just about one person. I don’t think I’m alone though as Paul and his parents, who came to support me all admitted that they have never sung it before. I don’t think you’ll find many South Africans who don’t get choked up during all four verses of Nkosi Sikele, even the bits that are in languages not everyone speaks. Despite the randomness of the actual anthem it felt rather special to sing it as my first time as a Brit… well Abigail Osbistion’s first time as a Brit anyway.

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So close… yet so far…

Next step is applying for an actual passport so stay tuned, we’re almost there!

Need to know what to do to get changes made on your Naturalisation Certificate? Click here.

Applying for a British Passport: Step 3: Another chapter in the “Diaries of an Immigrant”

After much scrimping and saving, I have finally moved onto step three of the process of applying for British Citizenship. Once you have the money and the documentation there are two ways of lodging your application.

The first is to fill in your form, hope you’ve done it right and post off all your documents.

The second way is to visit the Nationality Checking Service at your local council (almost all of them do it now) and get them to check your form, copy and certify your documents and lodge the application for you. The huge pro of this is that you get to take your documents home with you, the NCS representative will make sure you haven’t made any mistakes on the form and NCS applications are posted by special secure government mail and, to some degree, fast-tracked. The only con is that the council will charge you £40 for the privilege.

Considering that the documentation I had to submit included both my passport and my husband’s I decided £40 was a pittance and went for the NCS.

My representative was a lovely gentleman called Nana, who went through my application with a fine-tooth comb and discovered that I had made a mistake on one of the dates and left out a vital tax number… mostly because I hadn’t understood the question. I didn’t have the number on me but they allowed me to ring up this morning and provide it to add to the form. Definitely worth £40.

If you have managed to successfully complete indefinite leave to remain, you shouldn’t find the citizenship form too much of a challenge. There are a couple of additional elements, one of which is providing two referees. One must be British and over twenty-five. The other must be of professional standing and of any nationality (this includes people like teachers, doctors, solicitors and post masters). They must have known you for at least three years.

The documents necessary are also less complex than indefinite leave to remain. For an application based on residence requirements you will need only your passport/s for the last five years, showing your indefinite leave to remain and a copy of your life in the UK test… so kids, don’t throw away your pass notification after you’ve done IRL or you will need to write the test again. This is slightly different if you are self-employed so please check the guidance notes before you do anything.

While I have qualified for citizenship by my own length of residence, Nana decided it would be best for me to apply on the basis of marriage to a British citizen as my ILR is in my maiden name and my current passport is in my married name. In the case of an application on the basis of marriage you also need to provide your partner’s passport and your marriage certificate.

And then you have to pay £851. This will of course be on top of the £991 – £1,377 you will have paid for ILR. If anyone says becoming a British Citizen is easy, just show them these figures!

Now we wait. It can take up to 6 months for the UKBA to make a decision on your citizenship but it should be more like 3 months.

Then the next step is attending a swearing in ceremony which is a legal requirement to get your naturalisation certificate. Nana says he does a lot of the ceremonies and will be rooting for me. I’m looking forward to it. Watch this space!

Considering the National Identity of an Immigrant: is home where the heart is?

Earlier this week I read an article on The South African (which is a little on- and offline newspaper for expats around The Globe) where the writer’s friend suggested that after ten years in the UK, he was no longer allowed to call himself South African.

I’ve lived in the UK for eight years so the article actually hit me quite hard. I think the national identity of an immigrant is something that is deeply challenging and affecting to the individual, no matter how long you’ve been away or far you’ve gone.

By the end of this year I should legally be a British citizen both by the virtue of living here for the allotted minimum time and because I am married to an Englishman. I will, however, never be truly British. This is not because I won’t or haven’t embraced the culture. It is because of the culture that I want to be here. It’s also not because I don’t feel welcome here (although sometimes when I’m hula hooping over UKBA obstacles I wonder). It’s not for any reason other than what I feel inside me.

As probably the most “Anglicised” of my South African immigrant friends, I thought I’d just become dual nationalised in my heart as well as my documents but after the Olympics when my team was given permission to bunk off work and go and cheer on Team GB during the parade, I could not bring myself to go. It felt wrong.  And while I happily cheered on Team GB throughout the Games I never felt that desperate mixture of panic and pride that I felt watching the South African athletes. Nor did I feel the right to refer to Team GB as my team.

I have no intention of moving back home… although the fact that I still instinctively refer to South Africa as home after eight years probably says something in itself. While half the reason I’m happy to remain here is because I am openly and admittedly a massive anglophile, the other half is because I don’t have the balls or the energy to live with the political upheaval, corruption and crime endemic to South Africa now that I’ve experienced something different. On a daily basis I wonder if this makes me a bad person.

I have done the paperwork to keep my legal status as a South African. There was never a question that I’d “relinquish” as it’s fondly referred to. But from an philosophical perspective do I still have the right to call myself South African if I will never live in South Africa again? And if I can’t call myself South African and I don’t feel British, what am I?

I’d love to hear how other immigrants feel about this stuff (any country to any country, of course) or deal with not quite ever belonging anywhere.

Applying for a British Passport: Step 1: Another chapter in the “Diaries of an Immigrant”

Yesterday I finally started the multistep process of applying for my British passport. Admittedly I could have bypassed a few of the steps if I decided to go 100% pomme and give up my South African citizenship but what I learned from my father’s experiences is that you should never give up citizenship of your home country, even if it is a pain.

Fortunately the UK and South Africa are relatively chilled about dual nationality, although they have slightly different approaches, which I will explain through the analogy of marriage.

Being a British citizen is a bit like being in an open marriage. They don’t care who else you’re having it off with. They don’t want or need to know about it, just as long as you know that if you get into hot water with one of your other partners, they’re not going to bail you out. So if you get yourself into trouble in a country where you’re a citizen, the British High Commission will not provide you with any assistance.

The South African government have approached it a bit more like the South African president has approached marriage. It doesn’t matter if you want to have lots of wives but you have to make it proper and official and get the right paperwork.  President Zuma is moving onto his fourth official wife. Luckily I only want to have two nationalities…

Before you can request permission to retain South African nationality you have to get a piece of paper from the UKBA that says you don’t already have British nationality. It’s a simple process. You fill in a piece of paper and send it off to Liverpool and then they send you back some kind of certificate. I have to admit that as I put my form in the post yesterday morning I was a little puzzled by its bonkers sexism since it required me to fill in the name of my husband and father. Had I have been married to a woman, I would not have had to fill in my wife’s name and there was no mention of my mother.

I am expecting said certificate to be printed in gold leaf as I had to pay £88 for it.

Step two will be presenting my shiny gold certificate to the UK branch of South African home affairs, stay tuned for that exciting instalment (in approximately 10 working days)…

Jacob Zuma and wives 1, 2 and 3

UKBA set to further tighten the immigration noose

It appears that the UK Border Agency is about to crack down on granting indefinite leave to remain to migrants who have been in the country for five years. According to an article on BBC News, the government wants to “”break the automatic link between coming to the UK to work and settling here permanently”. However ministers are saying, “they could make exceptions for workers earning more than £150,000 or if they were in economically important jobs” and further to this, “Clearly employers need skilled labour from overseas but in principle our view is that should be temporary, while British workers are trained for those jobs.”

So let me get this straight… first of all there seems to be a perception that you arrive, you stay for five years and then they just hand you a residence permit? Have any of these government ministers ever attempted to go through the process of getting indefinite leave to remain? I won’t bore you with the details of the process I went through to get mine again. You can read about it here, if you’re interested. But I will say the level of expense and hoop-jumping that those of us who have decided to settle here go through means that choosing to settle really is a commitment to being a permanent UK resident rather than an “automatic” right!

Secondly there appears to be an undercurrent here of the UK intending to get whatever it can out of migrant workers and then boot them out as soon as possible… well unless they’re uber rich of course. As it stands permission to work is only granted for jobs where there are no British workers able or willing to take these roles so I’d like to know who is busy training the British workers who are going to replace the working migrants?

Adding insult to injury, this comes after the very recent revelation that the UKBA is incapable of managing the asylum cases that it is flooded with and that it’s often easier just to let asylum seekers stay rather than even bothering to assess their cases.

Now, I understand that some people face terrible persecution for things that are not their fault in the countries that they were born in and in these genuine cases any country that is able to grant them asylum should be morally obliged to do so. These cases do need to be assessed though!

I also think that you should have to work hard to get your residency because it’s a privilege and in some ways an honour. While it was tough paying for mine and annoying writing the test and sometimes frustrating being subject to rules about how long I could be in the country and who I could work for, I didn’t feel like I was being treated unfairly.

And I do understand the UK’s need to manage sustainable immigration… but why punish professional migrants who pay taxes, follow immigration laws and are not a drain on the system. Is that really the logical place to start managing immigration or is it just the easiest place? If the real fear is that people go from indefinite leave to citizenship where they can then claim benefits and a UK pension one day why not reform the laws around naturalisation instead.

At the moment you can apply to be become a naturalised citizen one year after achieving indefinite leave to remain. Although it works in my favour right now, I think it’s too quick. Why not extend that time considerably for anyone who is not able to provide strong ties to the UK (strong ties being things like marriage and ancestry or possibly children born in the UK who have reached a certain age).  That way you keep only those people in the country who are wholly able to sustain themselves, while reaping the benefits of their taxes and expertise but allowing them the freedom to live without immigration controls.

I love living in the UK but there are days when I wonder why I am trying so hard to settle in a country that seems to hate me so much!

INDEFINITE, that’s the magic word…

It’s hard to explain the kind of terror that embassies/home offices and other official immigration offices can strike into one’s heart unless you have at some time in your life been an immigrant beholden to all manner of hoop jumping to stay or go somewhere you weren’t born. And with that in mind and for those who seem to believe that us “foreigns” merely show up and get handed a passport and a bag of money at the door, I want to describe what a day at the PEO Office in Croydon is like.

I’ve been in the UK for seven years. I arrived on the now defunct, working holiday visa scheme, which granted me two years of work. Following that my company offered to “sponsor” me and since I had already fallen in love with London, I greedily accepted. After much wrangling, including me returning to South Africa for a month, I was granted a five year work permit (also now no longer in existence) with a series of restrictions attached to it, including that I had to remain in one place of work, or go through the whole permit process again.

With that work permit about four weeks from expiring the next option was to apply for a settlement visa, affectionately known as “Indefinite Leave to Remain”. Indefinite Leave is the holy grail of immigration statuses in the UK, with only an actual British passport topping it. Those with Indefinite Leave can come and go as they please, work where they want, marry whoever they love and even register any children they have born in Britain as British. The normal requirement to apply is five years spent on one type of visa e.g. work permit or ancestry.

The paperwork required to apply for Indefinite Leave varies depending on the type of application but everyone has to write the Life in the UK test and provide two photos (in mine I look like an Eastern European shot-put champion). I had to also provide bank statements proving that I had enough money to support myself, a letter from my employer, proof that I had not been out of the country for more than 90 days per year along with the exact dates I had been absent for and all the payslips and P60’s I could muster from the 5 year period. (I managed 51 out of 65… not bad). Work permit applications based on the old system are “easy;” you should see the stuff you have to bring if you’re on the new tier system.

There are two options for applying for Indefinite Leave. You can either post your application or go in person. I decided to go for the personal approach at an additional cost of £400, mostly because I’m not a fan of A: waiting or B: posting my passport.

On arrival (by tram) at the Croydon PEO as the London UKBA office is known, you get to go through airport style security before presenting your form and being allowed to queue up to go to one of the reception windows. The reception team checks to make sure you’ve filled in the correct form, brought the essential paperwork, are applying on the right date and have not been out of the country for more than the maximum allowed time.

If you make it through that gatekeeper you get to pay. I queued for about half an hour since there were approximately fifty people and two cashiers open. For a single application you pay £1350, with a hefty whack added for each dependent. Once you have parted with this stomach curling sum, you cannot have it back… even if they tell you that you’ll be getting on the next plane back to wherever you crawled out of. I had particular sympathy for a woman who had paid online in advance, which they were allowing until recently, along with online forms. Her payment was sitting somewhere in limbo and she was advised that she would have to pay again and then submit a claim to hopefully get her original payment back. OUCH!

After you’ve paid you sit in a room with all the other immigrants, all pacing, all looking worried, many with small children in tow. During my two and a half hour wait for my number to be called, I was adopted by a small, surprisingly confident, African child who decided that I had the look of a climbing frame about me. She proceeded to crawl into my lap, play with my jewellery, unbutton my dress a bit and carefully inspect my bra. Since her poor mother was also carrying a screaming baby, I decided I might as well keep her (and also myself) amused.

When my number was eventually called, I had to go and hand her over before I could go to the window I’d been called to. I hope her family got whatever immigration status they were looking for. My next step was to submit all my documents to the case worker assigned to my application and explain what they all were.

And then back to waiting for another 45 minutes while she entered all manner of things into her computer and shuffled around bits of paper. When she called me back and told me that the United Kingdom was willing to grant me permanent residence, the relief was palpable. The thought of having to uproot my entire life is terrifying to say the least. It wasn’t the end of the wait though since a trip to the elusive “window 22” to collect my passport, now with a new red and blue vignette posted in it was another half an hour away.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Because that vignette has a magic word on it. Next to expiry date it says “Indefinite.”