Trying to emigrate to the UK? Student visas might not be the answer any more…

» Student immigration levels unsustainable – BBC News

According to immigration minister, Damien Green, the current UK immigration system is ‘largely out of control’.

Translate: Getting in to the UK might be about to get harder. AGAIN.

The article focuses mostly on student visas and throws around some craaaaazy statistics.  For example:

  • In 2004, 21% of students were still in the UK 5 years on
  • In 2009, net migration increased by 33,000
  • In 2009 the number of student visas issued went up by 35%

Also interestingly – Sally Hunt (General secretary of the University and College Union) was quoted as saying,

“Damian Green is making his speech today after returning from a trip to India where he encouraged students to come to the UK.”

Looks like dandy D. Green is a little turned around :) .  I have my opinions about immigration just like the next Shamerican, but this blog isn’t about you guys having to put up with my policital ranting.

Nope, it’s about being an EXPAT, and this article makes my stomach a little quesy.  Why?  Because in 2004, I walked into the UK because of my student visa.  And in 2010 I’m still here…

I’m hitched with my tent pitched now, so I’m not worried about me getting the boot.  But my heart squeezes for anyone looking for their red-tape-loop-hole right now.  Googling ideas non stop and stressing about it every time it floats to the front of their mind.

I’ve been there… I’ve been RIGHT there.  Wondering how I was going to get in.  And once I was in, wondering how in the Bo-Jangles I was going to stay.

What do you lovely ladies think?  Is anyone out there filling out the student paperwork even as we speak?  And what I’m really interested in knowing is – How many of you got in to the UK on a student visa like I did?

How do you bring up ‘the fiance visa’ thing?

yankeebean

yankeebean

We recently had a comment on the post ‘Getting a Visa: One Woman’s Saga‘ that got me thinking.  Dreamer asked how I brought up the ‘fiance visa’ issue with my English guy after I completely ran out of  ’how to stay in the UK’ options  (her original comment can be read here)

I’ve got to start by saying that my heart goes out to you, Dreamer – it’s not a easy situation to be in, but I know you’ll make it through, no matter what happens.  I think it takes a certain type of person to make a long-distance relationship work for over a year – and you’re clearly that type of person.

The Facts

There are several facts that both parties in an expat-dating-situation almost certainly know:

  1. Staying together is going to take a lot of paperwork, red tape, patience, perseverance and (cha-ching!) WONGA.
  2. There are about a thousand ways to get into the UK – and a thousand way to get to STAY in the UK, none of which are guaranteed to ACTUALLY work when it comes down to crunch time.
  3. The ONLY way to stay together, might be to get married – which is obviously not a decision to be made lightly…

The Elephant in the Room

So, I’m assuming both of you – both you and your partner – KNOW all of these things.  Of course you do… you’re smart people, you read all the forums and the blogs and the articles and the advice.

It’s also possible that, even though you know these things, you don’t really talk about it with each other much.  It’s just a giant, stupid elephant in the room that keeps getting in the way while you’re trying to do regular relationship stuff together.  Because who wants to have that conversation??  The one that essentially boils down to, “So, if we don’t get married right now – are we going to break up?”

I mean, what the hell kind of option is THAT??  When it’s the person you love most in the world??  I’ll tell you what kind of option it is – the kind that makes your throat tight and your eyes water whenever you try to bring it up.  It’s the kind that makes the atmosphere in the room thick and tense – until you could cut it with a knife – and if you DID, it would actually bleed…

Man, the memories of those days come flooding right back.  And I mean flooding – fast…

How Did You Bring It Up?

Tearfully is the answer – tearfully and mucus-y and breathlessly – and hopefully… hoping that all I had to do was mention it and he would produce a ring like a rabbit out of a hat.  Hoping I would just have to whisper the words fiancé visa and he would get down on one knee… just like that.

Did it happen that way?

No… I’m afraid it did not…

The first thing we did was go out to lunch… When my ‘last-chance-at-non-marriage-related-visa’ rejection letter came through (and I was no longer hysterical and bright red) we went out to lunch.

We talked about normal stuff, every day stuff, for most of it – a lovely table for three – me, Mr Nice Guy, and that bloody elephant.  Only near the end did we discuss that, now, the only option left was marriage.  We did it in an almost observational kind of way – I think it was more about acknowledging it’s existence than anything.  Just admitting that we both knew what it was going to take if we were going to make it.  We both knew we wanted to be together forever, so at least that was unanimous. :)

Part of me thought he might propose then and there, but he didn’t, and looking back I understand why.

The next couple of months involved a lot of emotion and pressure.  I knew that I wanted to marry him, I was ready.  He knew that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, but he hated the pressure of having to decide because of a stupid piece of paper that would be glued in to my passport…  I was waiting for him to propose every second of every day… he was waiting for the moment that ‘felt right’ – which would never come while I was so riled up about it.

It was like a big relationship game of chicken… ugh…

How Did You Decide?

In the end, it all boiled down to a very simple, very emotional conversation – good Lord, I remember it like it was 5 minutes ago.

I knew I had to book my plane ticket home.  My current work visa was coming to an end and I had to book my plane ticket – and the choice I had to make was would it be one-way, or return?  So it boiled down to two simple questions that I asked all those years ago.

I asked/cried, “Do you want me to come back?”

He said, “Of course I do”

I said, “Then I’ll come back”

I asked, “Should I apply for a fiancé visa while I’m home”

He said, “Yes.”

And that was it – decision made.  We were engaged…

What Happened Next?

I went back to the States and paid the extra cash to apply for my fiancé visa in person rather that in the mail (because I had to have it when I re-entered the UK).  I went back to England and had to sponge off of Mr. Nice Guy for 4 months until we were married and I could legally apply for work.

At the time I remember being disappointed that everything wasn’t more romantic.  I didn’t have a big romantic proposal, I didn’t have much time to plan the big day, I didn’t have an engagement ring…

But when we got married it was just the best day.  Any doubts that I had about us being rushed in to a decision vanished when I met him at the end of the aisle – I knew he meant his vows and I did, too.  What more can you ask for?

And on our one year wedding anniversary, he proposed – because he said he wanted to do it right… :)

So even though I might have missed out on a little but of romance at the time, what I got in the end was far better…

So, Dreamer, I guess the same advice applies as always – you’ll know what’s right.  All you can do is make the best decisions possible with the information you have right now.  Knowing you want to spend the rest of your life with someone is the hard part, and if you’ve done that you’re a lucky lucky person.  I’m not saying the rest will be easy, but also know that you’re not alone!

Getting a UK Visa: One woman’s saga

yankeebeanThis post can’t come with a big enough disclaimer, my lovely peeps – A reader asked us to write about our ‘getting a visa’ experience so I thought I’d amble over to She’s Not From Yorkshire and get started.  But this only reflects my experience, pleasepleaseplease don’t take this as advice.  Visa laws and requirements change about every fifteen minutes so make sure to check with the Big Dudes (http://www.ukvisas.gov.uk/en/).  I (unfortunately) know how stressful and heinous it is to have an application rejected for not doing everything right, so don’t take anything I write as gospel…

*deep breath* Ok… brace yourself, this is going to be a long one…

After I met Mr. Nice Guy, I went back to the US for University – we did the long distance thing for 4 seemingly endless years and then it was time to move.  So it begins…

Visa #1: BUNAC work-abroad programme = Accepted

Cost: 300.00 USD (ish…)
My location when I applied: USA
Valid for: 6 months
Received: September 2004
My age: 22

Bunac were the people that allowed me to first set-foot and work in England for 6 months as part of a work-abroad programme.  The exact programme I came across for doesn’t exist anymore (I imagine I wasn’t the only one that used it as a blatant weasel-in-to-England scheme).  Basically, they got me in the country and guaranteed me an English bank account – then they left me to it to find a job and a place to stay (which was the easy part).

I had two choices for my next visa.  One, find a job that would hire me and go through the visa application process on my behalf.  Two, marry my guy (I know, it doesn’t sound very romantic.  But I already knew I wanted to marry him, so I thought why not now?).

Visa #2: Work Permit = Rejected

Cost: Blissfully unaware
My location when I applied: UK
Valid for: However long I was employed by a specific employer
Received Notification: Early 2005
My age: still 22

I found a job in a standard beige office with the hopes that they would go through the second round of visa applications that needed to begin almost immediately.  They agreed (I still can’t believe they agreed) AND they said they’d pay for it (best news ever).  I was put in charge of all the research, paperwork and evidence required to get the Queen to let me stay.

Applications completed – One.  Evidence supplied – substantial.  Time spent researching – infinity.

Application status – rejected.  Ugh…

My application was rejected because it would only have been valid if it was for a job that no other person in the European Union was capable of doing.  I must’ve known deep down that there was no way it could work…

Visa #3: Fianceé Visa = Accepted

Cost: 350.00 GBP
My location when I applied: USA
Valid for: 6 months during which I was not allowed to work
Received Notification: April 2005
My age: 23

SO, me and Mr Nice Guy hadn’t decided to get hitched yet because we needed to make sure we were doing it for the right reasons.  To buy time I went back to the States and applied for a Fianceé Visa.  I had to bring evidence of our relationship for the past 2 years including stuff like letters, pictures, plane ticket stubbs – you get the idea – in addition to filling out yet another giant form of doom.  I went back home for 5 weeks during which I paid a little extra to apply in person, went to the UK Embassy in the big-bad-city, thumped my paperwork on the desk of some lady, left it there and went and had a coffee/panicked/waited, and then received a call from the UK Embassay informing me that I was successfully engaged to Mr Nice Guy.  :)

Not exactly a romantic proposal, but I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of refief that washed over me when I heard those lovely words of acceptance.

Visa #4: Temporary Marriage Visa (take 1) = Rejected

Cost: 750.00 GBP
My location when I applied: UK
Valid for: 2 years
Received Notification: October 2005
My age: 23

Fastforward past all the wedding excitement (Best Day Ever! :) ) and we arrive at the next visa.  Technically I was applying for Temporary Leave to Remain.  The rules for this Visa were that I had to 1) be married to a UK-type and 2) stay married for 2 years.

When I began this application process, I did everything I was supposed to (or so I thought).  All the evidence was in place, I’d even called the UK Visa Office to make sure I was using the right form for what I was trying to do.  But (I kid you not) between the time that I received what WAS the correct form, and completed and posted said-form…

They changed the form… so I sent in the wrong form.

Sure enough, 6 weeks later almost to the day I received my letter of rejection because I’d sent in the wrong form.  Enter drama from stage left – I criiiiiiied when I got that one.  Blah…

Visa #5: Temporary Marriage Visa (take 2) = Accepted

Cost: They rolled-over my first payment of 750.00 GBP (thank God)
My location when I applied: UK
Valid for: 2 years
Received Notification: Late 2005
My age: 23

I re-confirmed which form I was supposed to use, re-filled out every last detail, re-posted it to the appropriate red-tape-central address, and received my acceptance letter with a complimentary truck-load of relief…

Visa #6: Permanent Marriage Visa = Accepted

Cost: 750.00 GBP
My location when I applied: UK
Valid for: Ever (yay!!)
Received Notification: Late 2007
My age: 25

Technically what I was applying for is called Indefinite Leave to Remain – this was the one I had been waiting for.  This was the Visa that meant I could stay and never have to apply for another Visa unless I wanted to.  I had to supply evidence the me and Mr Nice Guy had been living in the same place for the past 2 years in terms of bank statments and things.  They had some rule that, if your bills were in a joint name, you need evidence spanning 2 years from 5 different sources.  However, if you didn’t have your bills and stuff in joint names, then you needed evidence spanning 2 years from 5 different sources EACH.  We (of course) didn’t have our bills in our joint name, so we scraped together about a foot of paper between the two of us.

Another giant form was filled in.

Another wad was posted off.

Acceptance arrived around Elevenses one morning while I was in the middle of a First Aid training course.  Mr Nice Guy called me on my cell to tell me the stellar news.  It was a good good good good day…

Visa #7: British Citizenship = Pending

I haven’t actually applied for this yet, but I will one day.  I was worried that becoming British would mean I wasn’t allowed to be American anymore, but for now I don’t believe that’s true.  I’ve been to many an Expat forum where people have said that America will not force you to solely be an American citizen.

However, I’ve also heard people say that America doesn’t really want to know if you’re a citizen somewhere else.  It would be a ‘use your American passport to get into the States’ and ‘use your UK passport to get into the UK’ situation.  The one warning I have heard is that you should never let your US passport expire if you’re also a British citizen because the US are unlikely to renew your passport if this happens.  Again, this all just stuff I’ve read on forums, but it’s good enough for me for now…

Bloody hell, I need a cuppa tea… I apologise if I bored the bejeezus out of you, but don’t worry, it’s over now :)

Getting a UK Visa as an American– the emotional turmoil

yahooavatar15Over the past month, “Shes not From Yorkshire” put up a little poll asking you how much money you have spent on your UK visas so far.  We were not shocked that a whopping percent of you have spent so much on your visas that you don’t even keep tabs on it anymore. I would fall into that category, too–but I have calculated its been about 3,000 squid. I console myself by dividing how much I have spent on visas so far into monthly payments in my head. If I’ve been here for nearly 5 years, then I am renting out a life in Britain for about 50 quid a month. Somehow this makes me feel better. Well, its one way to look at it, right?

It is not only the money you need to save for (and then depart with) to get that little Visa page on your passport.  No, the cost sometimes takes form of other payment as well.

Other payments  include:

  • Nights when its 3:20am and you wake up thinking about if you will be approved before you next go home to the USA. Will it make that Christmas deadline?
  • Minutes and minutes  and seconds and minutes of waiting on hold to speak with someone at the Home Office to answer a question about what application version you need– because its changed yet again!
  • Tears of worry because you need to get 12 months of old bank statements and tax docs in 2 days (“if only I would have prepared better!” you say to yourself every time.).
  • Confusion about if you really want to stay in this country anyway and is it worth all the money (at 750 quid for my last one I had this thought a lot)
  • Arguing with your partner that he has no idea about the stress levels of applying and surely he can’t go to Tesco’s this time?
  • Imagining a big sweaty Visa Approval Bloke looking at your paperwork, and putting the words REJECTED in red ink, and having to move back to the USA– because he’s had a bad day.
  • Saying “Whats WRONG with this country?” around 1 time an hour when filling in the 78 page application.

I would say that the UK visa application process is a lot more “friendly” than trying to get into America. So, I feel lucky in that sense.

But… no matter where you are applying for your visa, its always an emotional experience. If you are in that process now, I can understand your pain, wherever you are!