Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dang, Not Bad

So I've been busy this year. The neglect suffered by this blog is probably evidence enough of that, but I haven't just been grocery-store post-office busy. I've been scratching my name on some pretty important milestones since January 2012, many of which you only do once (or at least only want to do once.) Namely:

I started working at Central. First 9-5, 5-day a week permanent full time job I've ever had, and I plan to keep it. I pay into a pension, have my tax deducted automatically, buy an annual travel-card, am entitled to sick days and am required to take my allotted holiday leave. I have a desk and a computer that no one else can use. I manage the supply inventories so I control how much of everything we need and know where it all belongs. (Well, I know where most of it belongs. A lot of it, anyway.) I fix things when they break. I teach students good work habits before they develop weird ones on their own. My employment end-date is my 65th birthday. It really is not a gig. It's a career. That's cool.

I prepared for and followed through with Getting Married. It was fun. It was pretty. Boy and I are happy. And we never have to do it again.

I visited Devon and Deal for the first time. They were both very lovely in their own ways. The sea around England is so much prettier than the beaches of South Carolina and gulf coastal Florida. The sea is always a dark, muddy green there, if not simply brown. I realize it's the algae in the area and not strictly South Carolina's fault, but cold water is so clear and blue and beautiful, or such a clear emerald tone, it's just absurd. The first time I put my toes in clear seas was in Honolulu in 1999, and I thought I was doing something rare and special. How was I supposed to know that the sea is clear or a pretty colour most everywhere except where I grew up?

My family is going through a hard time on several fronts, difficulties that I sincerely hope none of us ever have to deal with again. I have little excuse to feel sorry for myself in these trying times, as it's not really me who's sad, and the stories are not mine to tell, so they won't make their way onto these digital pages. Why blog if not to fling complaints into the void? My little home is happy enough--Spouse has been ill but is 80% better, work is cracking on, it is nearly April but no one has bothered to tell the snow--in other words, nothing to report, sah.

Poor neglected pages. I have nothing to tell you.

Oook! Oook! baaaa...

Hats off to the government. I do salute you. No one else has the audacity to pull your stunts--writing laws, breaking them, then gathering the shards and declaring them the new law! I appreciate your brazen, no-holds-barred outlook on legality almost as much as I celebrate your similar attitude toward internal codes of practice and your relationship with the globe's larger governing bodies--the EU, the UN--whose precisely delineated policies you bravely disregard, and from whose judicial systems you triumphantly evade prosecution! Three Cheers for You! Hip hip-hooray! Hip-hip...

Sod it. No. That's the attitude I'm supposed to maintain, I know, as a foreigner, as a hopeful, as dangerous overseas scum, but I just can't maintain the fa├žade without it putting strain on my rebar. Too many lies, too many law changes, too many nonsensical forms, too many badly-spelled threatening letters from faceless bureaucrats. My nerves are shot. I think I'm being watched. I'm losing sleep and packing on pounds.

First, the good news: This past Wednesday I was granted provisional leave to remain in the UK for a period of 30 months.

Now, the fine print.

They changed the criteria for and the parameters of the category for which I was applying a full four months after I applied, but nevertheless applied the changes to me. 

The fact that someone used my application form to line a bird cage for six months meant that by the time they looked at it, the form I filled out was no longer legal, and the category I applied to enter no longer existed. I should point out that I sent the application form certified signed for via the appropriate channels, and received a letter of confirmation that they would be considering it soon a week after I submitted the application form and the relevant (substantial!) fee.

Last time I applied to extend my stay, I submitted my forms, paid my fee, and waited. Three months after I applied I caught wind that the category I applied under was being done away with, completely and permanently. I was legally barred from asking questions about my application form until 14 weeks had passed, so on day one of week 15 I called and after two hours on hold was politely told not to worry, that because I had applied long before the change was announced they could not apply the change or cancel anything regarding my application retroactively. I was granted 2 years leave to remain as a post-study worker, exactly as I applied for, one of the last few to eke through.

At the end of August of 2012 Spouse and I submitted a form to apply to extend my clearance to remain in the country, as his wife. I filled out a fairly simple and straightforward form on their official website--one that asked a few general questions at the beginning, to help it decide which questions to ask you (for instance, if you answer 'no' to the question, "Do you have any dependants who are applying with you?" it skips about eight pages worth of questions about them. Likewise, if you answer 'yes' to "Do you live with your spouse?" it re-phrases questions about housing to sound relevant to both of you.) then tells you how to pay and suggests a number of documents you need to send along in the post. The form and the money go straight to the office through the interwebs, and they ask you to send your travel and supporting documents along in a registered mail envelope soon, but in your own time. We sent along our passports (Spouse's current, my current and expired), council tax bills, pay stubs, bank statements and utility bills from the past three years, our tenancy agreement, letters from mutual friends, our marriage certificate, PAYE information, several self-labelled passport-sized photographs and several other talismans, nearly a kilogramme of original-not-photocopied paperwork accounting for our every movement since 2009, crossed our fingers, and waited.

A little over a week ago I received a packet in the mail which contained a cover letter, a passport, and a sheaf of papers. I was excited for about three seconds, before I realized the sheaf of documents was actually a blank forty-one page form, with my husband's and my self-labelled photos stapled to it. The passport belonged to my husband--it had been photocopied but otherwise left alone. This was baffling--after six months of waiting, with no travel documents, no communication, and no public announcements except occasional newspaper articles about this department's incompetence, I expected any letter from them to be either good news or an announcement that, what with the unfortunate circumstance that the office had gone completely feral, the copier shaman's most recent bonfire had set off the sprinkler system and destroyed the hanging file hut.

I read the letter carefully, twice, three times, and it made less sense on each pass (mostly because each time I read it I noticed more grammatical errors). 'Please reply promptly and include: the completed updated form, a letter from your employer confirming that you work there, how much money you make, how long you've worked there, and how much they've been paying you what they're paying you, and a letter from your husband's employer confirming that she (?) works there, how much money she makes, how long she's worked there, and how long they've been paying her what they pay her.'

We had submitted pay stubs and bank statements as evidence of, not income, but our ability to maintain ourselves. As a dirty foreigner I have never been eligible for, nor will I probably ever become eligible for public support or state money. As my husband, Boy has waived his right to public support too. This is something we have always been aware of, and the state has always made a point to remind us in bold font that we may not, we must not, we better not try to claim benefits, but yes we must pay into the systems that fund British people's handouts, even if we're unemployed. This falls neatly into all nations' traditions of telling new immigrants to go fuck themselves. Whatever, I never asked the state to like me.

But now they've decided that, despite the fact that they have absolved the state of any responsibility for us, even if we're reduced to living under a bridge (and moreover, if we do get caught living under a bridge, rather than helping or imprisoning us they'll just send me away and then Boy will qualify for handouts), we need to have proof of above-median level funds and income if I want to stay in the country. This contravenes several laws passed by the EU about introducing unreasonable barriers to the cohabitation of married people, the fact that they have a duty to facilitate the naturalization of their citizens' legitimate spouses unless one is a criminal (neither of us are. I got a speeding ticket in 2007 for going 59 in an area that was normally 65 but had been lowered to 55 in advance of construction work. I didn't notice the temporary sign. My B. The last time I had anything to do with the Fuzz was in 2011 and I was calling to let them know I had witnessed a dog fight in my local park--as in, two adults standing in the grass, lining up their dogs with leads on, pulling the leads off and encouraging them to attack one another. They thanked me for letting them know and sent an officer to the area. London takes all kinds.) and the fact that they, like all government departments, are forbidden from discriminating against the working poor. I realize that the BNP and UKIP are scared of poor Romanian and Polish immigrants coming in, taking their jobs and their unemployment benefits (simultaneously?), and of course the Tories are afraid of anyone brown, but seriously, making it impossible for the real spouses of real citizens to really live with them just because they're not among the top 50% of earners? What the hell is wrong with you?

Thing is, they changed the law so as to require, not me, not us, but my Citizen Spouse only to earn above the national median in order for me to be allowed to remain. Boy must be able to independently provide for both of us, regardless of my income or earning potential. I assume that this is not a sexist thing, and if our roles were reversed that I would be required to provide for him, but the point is that if he's not reasonably well-off by himself, I get deported. Fun! A couple featured in the Evening Standard last week had exactly that happen--she was an Australian but earned £26,000 a year (this is bang on average, above median by about £5,000, and works out to about $40,000 p.a.), he was a citizen and a gigging musician and managed to scrape in £7,500 ($11,000, below the poverty line) in 2012. She was kicked out. Now they've joined the ranks of the Skype-bound, desperately clinging to their marriage over ten thousand miles of land and sea. They're appealing on human rights grounds, and if their case is allowed to set a precedent the state may be forced to discard their new policy which is clearly a deliberate attempt to exclude as many poor or financially-fragile from the immigration process as they can.

Boy and I didn't have this problem, but we might well have. The couple in the newspaper article was news-worthy precisely because they were not so different from us--educated, employable, English-speaking and (I'm not blind) white. Moreover, we have to go through this another three times, and who knows what the future is going to hold for the publishing and theatre industries? We strive to live frugally, but the dollar is volatile and my student loans repayments aren't cheap, so aside from our work-based pensions we're not doing a whole lot of saving. If he loses his job and we haven't managed to shove £20,000 into a footlocker, the next application (let's call it a refresher) will be summarily rejected.

The Next application, you gasp? Surely you became a citizen the day you popped that ring on your finger?! Surely you're as British as mushy peas by this point? Surely there is nothing for the State to dick around with once you're married--it's just a formality now, right? Oh you poor sheltered doll, Nora. No no, Britain wants to make sure, not the most loving, not the most devoted, not even the most resolutely determined, but only the most wealthy unions between citizens and outsiders survive. This is why they have changed the rules (and again, retroactively applied them to me) to ensure that couples live together under the Probationary Leave to Remain (PLR) visa category for 5 years before applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain, whereas when I applied this was 2 years, but they have not extended the period of the PLR to match. No, the PLR is. . . here, I'll make you a little table of changes.

2012 FLR (M) Important Bits
Length of Application Form: 18 Pages (6 pages of check-lists)
Visa Period: 2.5 years (30 months)
Financial Requirement: Provide evidence that you can provide for yourselves without state assistance.
Evidence of Finances: At least 3 months of bank statements and pay stubs from either or both partners.
Next step: ILR (SET (M))
Requirements for SET (M): 5 years of legal residency in the UK, continued marriage to and cohabitation with the same spouse, continued evidence that you can provide for yourselves.
Relevant period of residency for application for citizenship: 2009 (student), 2010 (Post-Study Work), 2013 (FLR (M)), 2015 (SET (M)).
Cost of Application (FLR M (561), SET M (991), Naturalisation (1562): £3114 (as of today)
Earliest UK Citizenship Application Date: 2017.

2013 FLR (M) Important Bits
Length of Application Form: 46 Pages (1 check-list page)
Visa period: 2.5 years (30 months)
Financial Requirement: Provide evidence that the citizen in the house earns at least £18,500 per annum, plus £3,000 for each child (if any). If you cannot provide this evidence, provide evidence that you and your spouse hold at least £16,000 cash in savings
Evidence of Finances: At least 6 months of bank statements and pay stubs from both partners, letters from both spouses' employers verifying their employment, their start-date and rate of pay, changes to pay in the past year and job title.
Next Step: FLR (M) Renewal
Requirements for FLR (M) Renewal: Not less than 29 nor more than 30 months of continued residency under FLR (M) immigrant category, continued marriage to and cohabitation with the same spouse, fresh letters from employers, pay stubs and bank statements evidencing that the citizen earns at least the national median income
FLR (M) Renewed Visa Period: 2.5 years (30 months)
Next Step: SET (M)
Requirements of SET (M): at least 5 years of residency in the UK under FLR (M) category only, continued marriage to and cohabitation with the same spouse, more letters from employers, pay stubs and bank statements evidencing that the citizen earns at least the national median income.
Relevant period of residency for application for citizenship: 2013 (FLR (M)), 2015 (FLR (M) Part 2), 2018 (SET (M)).
Cost of Application (FLR M (561), FLR M2 (561) SET M (991), Naturalisation (1562): £3675
Earliest UK Citizenship Application Date: 2020.

The "Earliest" dates here are of course assuming that the relevant departments process each application level in 6 months or less. This is optimistic, I know, but I had to give HR a loose time-frame.

It is worth noting that the 46-page application form is riddled with grammatical errors, evidence of blind copy-pasting from other forms (numerous pages ask for data that I can't legally have, data that I'm in the process of applying for, data that they just asked for on the previous page, data that makes absolutely no sense*, data that only applies to refugees (but I'm not exempt from filling in)), and an array of veiled and blatant threats, mostly having to do with the fact that they can reject an application for any reason, but under no circumstance will they give your money back.

We have 29 months now in which we can relax and not think about immigration. Who knows what the law will be in August 2015? Maybe there won't even be laws by then. Maybe the Gregorian calendar will be abolished by then and we'll have to submit the next application form in Metric Time. Maybe America will have annexed the UK by then and Boy will have to apply to be My spouse. Maybe the EU will have collapsed. Maybe the state will get soft on immigration. Maybe one day, just one day, they'll dust off and fill up all of Heathrow's passport control desks.

We'll just have to see.

*6.Do you and your spouse currently live together? If YES, proceed to question 7. (Yes)
7. Does anyone aside from your spouse live in the accommodation you plan to live in? (Er, Me?)