14 February 2012

Your livelihood in an envelope

I have thrown my frail, deprived body on the machine of the UKBA once again.

If you ask a normal person what their passport means to them (if they have a passport--I'm looking your way, Americans), they will probably think you're an idiot. It doesn't mean anything. It means I can travel to Europe, if I want to, I guess.

If you ask a foreigner living abroad what their passport means, you'll get a different answer. It's everything. It's your livelihood, your ability to live where you are. It tells you what you can do in the country you're in. It tells you how long you can stay. If you're married to another foreigner, but one who doesn't have the same passport as you? There is a date, most of the time far off in the future, but there is a date where you both cannot, without some more paperwork, stay in the same location together. Your passport is everything.

For me, right now, my passport is a potential key to a new job: I need it to travel to job interviews, to potentially leave this country for work... And it's in this envelope and I'm sending it via registered mail to Durham. DH99, where the UK Border Agency office is.

Inside the envelope is a series of documents I have been acquiring for the last two months, but with a great deal more fervour in the last week. The main document is an application for a visa for my daughter, Mia. This application should be straightforward, but it isn't. The visa rules have changed since we arrived in the UK four years ago, but my daughter, however, as my dependant, must hold the same visa type as my other dependants, based on the old rules, not the new ones. So what you do (and what we did for Mei) is put in an FLR (O) form, a miscellaneous visa application, with a cover letter stating what you need a visa for. And you send off your passport and your daughter's passport and cross your fingers, hoping you included everything they might want to see. They immediately take the £550 out of your account for the application fee. And then you wait. If you wait 12 weeks, you can call them and enquire about the status of your application. Before that? You wait. The best part is that if they reject the application (for whatever reason they want), you lose the £550 and, if you want to challenge the decision, have to put up another couple of hundred quid and wait some more.

As Mia was born here while I was (and, of course, still am) legally a student, there should be no problem, but there's a small, a very small wrinkle. We have been claiming a benefit that we are, from everything I can tell, entitled to claim based on a reciprocal agreement between the US or Japan and the UK. Unfortunately, the UKBA is free to have a different opinion about whether we are entitled to claim this benefit or not.

If they say that we are not entitled to it (which has happened to another applicant I know in a very similar situation as me), then I have technically broken the law and any series of bad things might happen. Nothing too bad: I won't go to prison or anything (although that would solve my visa extension problems as well as, ironically, letting me suck on the national teat for a bit longer). Just lose a lot, a hell of a lot, of money. The most rational part of me very much doubts they will do anything: I have done everything to confirm that I am entitled to the money I've claimed. I'm not trying to scam anyone, man. We've been through the application process once with Mei without a problem. Still. Lots of changes in two years and they are rabid to get people out of this country. Particularly people they see as not contributing.

They? Who are they? I have metaphorised them as rabid, grouped as ANIMAL and MENTALLY ILL in my dataset. But who are they? I'm not sure. I'm not sure who open this envelope, who looks at this information and who decides what. They are real people, I'm sure.

I don't want to do this: if we didn't make this application we wouldn't apply for the visa and just leave the country when I finish my PhD (which is perfectly legal) or make a new application for a work visa if that (albeit incredibly dim) possibility works out. But as the maths-literate younger sister is getting married in the summer, I found myself in a tough place: do I just go and leave the family here? Do we spend the money and make the application? What do we do.

Obviously, the choice has been made to go and I think it's the right one: Yoko says that money is for this sort of thing, but all I can think about is the worst-case scenarios. What if they block the application. What if I have to go to a tribunal. What if I get a job interview next week and can't travel to it. What if, what if. 

The things one does for love--a good message on Valentine's Day, I guess, and there aren't a whole lot of people I love more in the world than my maths-literate younger sister.  These are ultimately small things, small sacrifices, the kind of things you don't remember in three years. We will be okay: even my own worst case scenario just results in a serious loss of money and the inability to live in this country for some time. And I've chosen this life for me and my family. It is full of adventure and excitement and challenge, but it does mean that for the rest of my life, until Yoko or I or both of us (depending on where, when, or if we settle and) acquire permanent residency somewhere, based on citizenship or whatever.

I'm sorry for the stress this causes to my daughters. And my wife. And my extended family. It is what it is now. It can't be changed. We should just keep taking things as they come and live the life we've chosen. And money is for spending on things that are not iPads.

UPDATE (16 February): Money taken from account. So we are moving forward.