Category Archives: immigration

Vietnam Visa on Arrival

One thing that is important to know about Vietnam is that most people will need a visa of some sort to enter the country. That’s right: Just to enter. I’ve heard that if you don’t have yourself sorted before you even check in to your flight, they won’t let you on the plane. Now, this all depends on what nationality you are, so make sure you look up the rules for where you are from. This was the process for me as a Canadian in Korea. Your process may be different. I’m obviously not a lawyer or an expert on immigration, this is just what the process was like for me.

To begin with, my purpose of going to Vietnam is to settle in for a few years and work. However, I don’t have a job yet, so I couldn’t get a work permit. That will, hopefully, be the subject of another post when I am gainfully employed. In the meantime, I need a visa.

After loads of searching around, it looked like what would work best for my situation was a three month tourist “visa on arrival” (VOA). This would let me (as far as I know!) enter Vietnam and give me time to find work. I went with a single entry option, I don’t plan on travelling out of the country in the first three months anyway.

My research took me to a VOA site that other people had previous success with. I filled out my information and paid for the VOA (total $34USD) with my UK Visa card. I immediately received an email from them saying that my payment was successful and a few hours later a message saying my application was in process. By the next day, I had my letter.

The letter you receive is two pages and your name could be on a list with others. This is, apparently, normal. You want to print this as well as the Vietnamese visa application. You’ll need these documents, along with two passport photos (the company’s email said one, but the application form said two, so I brought two and never got one back, so who really knows) and the stamping fee (it was $25USD for my visa) for when you arrive and head to immigration.

I had to show my letter to the booking counter at Incheon before she would check me in. She didn’t look at the application, just the letter.

At the airport in Hanoi, I had to go to the immigration counters. There are two, side by side. The one on the right is the one you will need first. Give that guy your letter, application, and passport. Don’t give him the money. Then wait. I was there 40 minutes when my name was called. I went to the counter on the left, handed that guy my cash, and was handed my passport with the visa in it. No questions asked, none to be answered. It was a very easy process overall.

Visa’d passport in hand, I walked over to the immigration counters. The officer did look at my passport a long time, looked like he was going to say something, but in the end, handed it back without a word. I was with him all of two minutes and nothing was said.

Welcome to Vietnam!

The Outcome of My UKBA Debacle

It’s been a long time now since I first got that horrible letter telling me that I was in violation of the UK Immigration Rules and would be expected to leave (or be made to leave) as soon as possible. It’s been so much time since I sent in my appeal that I figured I was just never going to hear from the UK Courts either… I mean, if the UKBA is so poor at communication I wasn’t exactly expecting much from other British institutions.

I was wrong.

Better (very) late than never, I received this past week the First-tier Tribunal’s determination of my appeal.

TL; DR – I WON THE APPEAL.

I hope that this is good news for more than just myself: I hope all the people that come to my blog desperate for answers to their own situations will find this update and know that it is possible to fight. It is possible to win. 

I wanted to share some of the sections from the Determination, as I believe some of the wording may give hope to others who have been (or who are currently being) screwed over by the UKBA. Check out what a judge thought of their monkey business… there is some key stuff here that could really be useful if anyone is having similar issues (note “the respondent” is the UKBA):

11> I accept that the respondent has the burden to establish the facts that give rise to the power to remove. For example, the date of expiry of leave is not conclusive on the issue of overstaying since if a valid in time application for a variation was made before the expiry of the limited leave, that leave is extended by statue while in the decision on the variation application is pending. If the decision is negative, an in time appeal could be brought.

13> A more important consideration for me is that when removal decision is taken under section 10 of the above stated Act, the exercise of discretion is involved and the burden of proving overstaying or breach of conditions is on the respondentWhilst the Immigration Rules are silent on how the discretion is to be exercised, the Rules set out factors, which the respondent must take into account.

14> Paragraph 395B of the Immigration Rules requires the respondent to have consideration of all relevant circumstances including the appellant’s age, length of stay, strength of connections with the UK, personal history including the character of the appellant, employment record, domestic circumstances, criminal record, compassionate circumstances and representations made on behalf of the appellant.

I sincerely hope reading what a judge thinks about how my case was handled will give some people the confidence they need to fight back with their own cases.

For me, now that I’ve already left the UK and established myself elsewhere, at the end of it all, all that matters is the Decision:

The appellant’s appeal is allowed on grounds that the decision is not in accordance with the law and the Rules.

My life was still horribly uprooted and I was put through a terrible ordeal… but everything has turned out well for me. And to find out now that I was right all along?

I’ll take it. Being right isn’t much, but I’ll take it. 

I am not an Immigration Lawyer

Nor do I play one on TV.

That’s not stopped so many people from getting in touch after I  shared my story  here on my blog about my run in with the UKBA. Considering I’m nobody online and my blog is pretty much an obscure collection of my ramblings, it’s pretty distressing how many people have found my ranting and either commented on my posts or have sent me messages asking for my help.

I tell them all the same thing. Talk to a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, look into getting legal aid. Keep going back to the UKBA. And mostly what I have to tell them: I can’t help you.

I can’t help you with your fight. I hope that posting my struggles and my letters will help someone else put together their thoughts. I hope that it will help people realise that they are trying to fight a huge, faceless, soulless government agency and that they need someone who knows their shiz (read: IMMIGRATION LAWYER) on their side.  But there’s nothing else I can really do.

It also makes me realise how many people’s lives are impacted by decisions made by the UKBA. There are so many stories and  you can hear their desperation in their comments and their messages.

I will most likely have one more update left in my UKBA saga (sometime after 14 February), but for the most part, I lost. I’ve left the UK and everything I had there behind. But I’m still hopeful that the system will be improved. There are changes happening to other systems in British government, you can see it in the good work that has already been done in other areas of government by GDS. I hope it improves for all the poor lost people that get in touch after reading my story. And, I have to admit, I hope it improves for me as well before I go through the process of reapplying to pick up the pieces in the UK again.

The Dirty Foreigner Test

Something massive that has changed since the last time I was in Korea (2005 – 2007) is that you have to get a “medical certificate” in order to get your Alien Registration Card (ARC). Also new is that you need your ARC in order to get a bank account. They’ve really got foreign teachers by the balls on this one, especially since some schools won’t pay you until you get a bank account. Yikes.

The “medical certificate” is just a form that the hospital gives you saying you are a-okay to be in the country. I suppose that they are checking for a few things, but the key things they look for is drugs (which are bad, mmmmkay?) and disease (also not cool) – especially sexually transmitted diseases (more not-coolness).

The amount of information I received from the school on how to get this done was hilariously weak. I was given a piece of paper that said this:

Where – Gang Nam Hospital in Young in
(Ask Lauren, Song TR. They know how to go there…)

Ready – 1. You must fast for 8hours
2. Photo (3.5* 4.0 size) 4
3. health diagnosis fee 61,000 Won

How – 1. When you arrive hospital, go to the hospital administration
Tell them “I want to issue medical certificate in English…”
They will help you.

You have to get 2sets.

::SIDE NOTE::

I’m hoping that these stories will a) amuse people who know me – my pain and suffering seems to bring my friends and family joy (haha) and b) really help out people who are thinking about teaching in Korea. Nothing like reading about someone else’s pain and suffering to realise it’s not nearly as scary as you would think.

::END SIDE NOTE::

“Where – Gang Nam Hospital in Young in”

The “Lauren, Song Tr.” part of this sentence means that I should have spoken with fellow foreign teachers (Lauren and Song) to get more details on how to get to the hospital. Lauren isn’t even there anymore. Song Teacher was really helpful though, I definitely wouldn’t have made it there without her. It would have been so much easier if they had just included some instructions of how to get there.

Getting there wasn’t bad. I had to get up early on a Saturday (sob) to get there relatively early. It was one weird little bus for about 15 minutes and then a two minute walk. I still managed to get myself slightly turned around, but still made it there early. I was really happy I had looked up the name of Gangnam Hospital in Korean (강남병원, if you are interested) so I could show a Korean where I was trying to go. She was good enough to point me in the right direction.

“How – 1. When you arrive hospital”

Once I was going the right way, the hospital was dead easy to find. And as promised to me by Song Teacher, I just had to go in through the sliding glass doors, where there was a long information desk to my left. All I had to do next was “take a number” and wait. Unfortunately, this is what the number machine looked like:

20140114-195436.jpg

Sorry it looks like I took the picture with a potato, but I was trying to take a sneaky picture in the hospital. That machine has three buttons, all in Korean. I HAD NO CLUE. Then this nice Korean lady (who basically spoke no English except one word – “long”) helped me. She pointed at buttons and spoke to me slowly in Korean. Poor lady. Speak as slowly as you want, I won’t get it. When she pointed at the third button though she said “long”, and I figured that was going to be for people who were going to be in the hospital a long time (although it seems REALLY weird to me that you would have to take a freaking number if you were so ill that you’d be in the hospital forever). In the end, she gave me a ticket produced from the same button she had pushed, the first one. Then that cute motherly Korean lady sat down and saved the seat beside her for me. What a star.

When it was my turn – and the wait was very short – I went up to a Korean girl who looked like I was going to ruin her morning by making her speak English and handed her my number. I then said the only thing I knew to say: “medical certificate”. Yah, she didn’t know what that was. I had to type it into the dictionary on her phone. I still don’t think she got it. But she called for someone else and they knew exactly what I was after as they spoke English. Sadly, she didn’t stick around.

I had to pay 80,000won (not 61,000) but fortunately they took debit card. Once I paid, she gave me a piece of paper with further instructions. Awesome. Except the instructions looked like this:

20140114-200116.jpg

I understood that I needed to go to the second floor, but that was about it. Happily a woman on the lift spoke flawless English and once the doors opened on the correct floor, she helped me find the way to my next step – the x-ray room.

::SIDE NOTE::

She also asked if I did private lessons. Worth knowing if you are teaching in Korea that it’s not really legal here. I’m not exactly sure what the rules are, but I don’t think you are supposed to give private lessons. What I told her is that I had only been in Korea one week, and I wasn’t looking to take on extra work. Which is also true.

::END SIDE NOTE::

I walked to the x-ray/MRI counter and they seemed to know what to do (thankfully!) and even spoke a little English (thankfully!) They ushered me behind a curtain and instructed me to take off everything I was wearing on my upper body and then put on a gown. I put on the gown North America style, open to the back, and they thought that was HILARIOUS. Like I was too retarded to dress myself. Which, at that point, I suppose I was. Then it was over to “hug” the x-ray machine, and they took a chest x-ray.

::SIDE NOTE::

No one, not in the instructions nor when I asked the other foreign staff, told me what to expect in the way of “tests” for this medical certificate. I knew that they would be testing for drugs thanks to the forums, but the rest was a complete surprise. Like the chest x-ray. Like the freaking blood test (and I hate needles) coming up. Just thought y’all would like to know. And, of course, no one at the hospital could explain much to me about what was happening.

::END SIDE NOTE::

The x-ray people were able to tell me to move along further down the hall. I believe their exact words were “You go there. Wait.” Okey-dokey-smokey. So I head down the hall and there is another waiting room with another information desk. Happily, this time there was a sign that said “foreign patients” in front of one of the workers. So, being the only white person in there, I went straight up to her without a number. She took my receipt and some other information, then asked me to sit. Not even two minutes later, I was off to do the next test.

The nurse had me take off my coat and shoes to be weighed and have my height measured. Weighed slightly less than I thought (whoo-hoo) but strangely I’m also shorter than I thought. I always thought I was 171cm, turns out I’m 169.3cm. Whatevs. But then came one of those situations where not speaking the language can make the simplest tasks both harder and more hilarious.

I step off the scale. Nurse points at my shoes. I pick them up to take them back to the chairs to put them on. Nurse says “anniyo” (Korean for “no”) and takes my shoes and puts them on the floor again. I look at her quizzically. She points at my shoes and says something in Korean. I go to pick them up. “Anniyo, anniyo!” and she makes me leave them. Says something else in Korean. I tell her (in Korean) that I don’t understand Korean (clever that). She picks up my foot and puts it on my shoe. At this point an elderly woman patient is laughing at me. At this point I wish I could say “I’m not a retard. I know what you want me to do, but I want to sit down to put on my shoes.” At this point I give up and just put on my shoes standing there. Which is all that poor Korean nurse ever wanted. She was worried I’d put them on 5 feet away and walk off without finishing my tests, I guess.

After the Great Shoe Debacle of 2014, I had to have my blood pressure tested. Then my hearing. And then I was tested for colour blindness. And then they checked my eyesight. After that I got to wee in a cup and another nurse took some blood. She was incredibly gentle – I didn’t even feel the needle. Serious business. I want any future necessary needle action done by that chick. She was the nursebomb.

And that was that, I was all finished. Or at least, I should have been. On Monday there was a call to the school because there was “something wrong” with the urine tests. You know what you don’t want to hear when they are testing for drugs and sexually transmitted diseases? “There is something wrong with your urine test”. That. You don’t want to hear that. But fortunately for me, it was just that they (for some reason) didn’t get a clear reading because of protein something something and blood sugar something. I went back this morning bright and early to re-do the test and they came back normal. Whew!

My next adventure (which I should be undertaking tomorrow) will be to take my passport and medical certificate and apply in Suwon at the Immigration Centre for my Alien Registration Card. I’ve already been given bad instructions on how to get there and I think I may be missing a piece of information here – I may be going Friday after all. Ah, teaching in Korea. Where everything is made much harder than it needs to be.

The good news though is that I’m officially drug and disease free. And that’s a good thing.

The Fun Never Really Ends with the UKBA

I’ve been owing you guys a final update on the situation with the UKBA and as I sit here tonight all deported and stuff in my mother’s kitchen in Canada, I thought it was about time to give you one.

1. The “Interview”

I spoke a couple of times with some very polite (and understanding – whoo boy… because was I upset with them) people at Beckett House over the phone in my last few weeks in London. They are the ones that deal with getting folks out of the country once they had agreed to go. They were the ones that got blasted when they told me that a) I *had* to go back to Canada and b) I wasn’t going to get my passport back until I was at the airport. It would have been nice to know that much, much earlier.

They asked me to come in for an “interview” with the UKBA in the days prior to my flight. They told me I’d be able to explain my story and that perhaps my case would be escalated for review by a senior case worker. That I should bring my papers. That I should be ready to explain what happened.

What a crock.

I went into their office, which felt a lot like going into a Job Centre. Dire. So very dire. My “interview” took place at one of the windows through a pane of glass. The guy asked me a couple of questions, one of which was how I had been supporting myself whilst in the UK. And a few others that were on my flipping application. Then he disappeared for a good 10 minutes.

When he returned, he gave me all my supporting documentation (like birth certificates, etc) except my passport. He gave me a letter to give to the ticket counter at the airport and said that they would give me my passport. The letter said I could be “detained at any time” and really didn’t make me feel very safe.

He also gave me a form to fill out to appeal the decision of “overstayer” which had to be sent in from out of the country. That’s what I filled in tonight. More on that below.

2. The Airport

First, if you are going through this: TAKE A COPY OF YOUR PASSPORT PICTURE PAGE TO THE AIRPORT WITH YOU. No one told me that. I just did as my passport is my only ID, so I always have that copy with me. Without it, I don’t think I would have received my boarding pass.

I also didn’t get my passport at that time. I had to go through security first, and then call immigration on a phone at the other side. Several times. Because first the person on extension 2019 told me to call extension 7026. There was no answer. So I called 2019 back. They asked my name. They asked me to hold. They asked me to call them back in 10 minutes. I feeling panicky at this point. I mean, after everything I’d been through with immigration, I didn’t really trust them to actually get my passport to the correct airport.

I called them back after 10 minutes. They put me through to another line that rang and rang and rang. So I hung up and called them back. They said that the “department” that had my passport wasn’t in until 9:00 (just about the same time as my flight!) but they would see what they could do. Then I was told to hang on, someone would be there in 15 minutes with my passport.

Once the immigration officer finally showed up with my passport, she actually escorted me through to the waiting area where all the food and stuff is. And boy oh boy… for someone who knew fuck all about my situation was she ever condescending. She already had her mind made up that my deportation was all my fault. I would have been a lot more argumentative with that bitch but I was still nervous about getting detained, as they said I may be in their vaguely threatening letter. So I kept my mouth shut and got on my plane.

3. The Appeal

I now have a final option where I can send a bunch of information (again) to the Tribunal to ask them to overturn the decision that I’m an Overstayer. I don’t even care about getting chucked out and a 12 month re-entry ban at this point: I have my year-long job to do in Korea now. HOWEVER… not having to claim on any future applications to the UK that I “overstayed” (with a lengthy explanation) would be nice. So I filled out their form.  In a last little bit of awesomeness though, the directions included with the form had a) the wrong website given for you to access for information,  b) spelling error on the form (it said “her” instead of “here”), and c) they had the sections that needed to be filled in for non-asylum appeals incorrectly labeled. Amazing.

Hopefully there are only two more things I will have to endure in what has been a stressful, long-running, agonising and ridiculous process: 1) waiting for the decision regarding my appeal from the Tribunal and 2) the re-application process 13 months from now if I choose to go back to the UK. 🙂

As always: If there is anyone out there that is reading this that is going through their own nightmare with the UKBA… you are not alone. Reach out to others online. There are some really great resources. Share your stories. Every situation is different and there may be someone out there that could benefit from knowing what you went through, just as you may benefit from reading someone else’s story. Get legal advice. I recommend Gary McIndoe of Latitude Law (www.latitudelaw.com) who gave me great advice and was so much help.

Thanks to everyone for reading this saga and your support throughout it. Hopefully as my new adventures kick off (more on that soon!) my blog will be much more entertaining and a hell of a lot less gloomy going forward.

Eleventh Hour Fun with the UKBA

Every time I think that this nightmare with the UKBA must be over, something else happens.

As you might know if you read this blog, it’s been about six weeks since I told the courts I wouldn’t be fighting the UKBA’s decision any longer. They told me they would tell the UKBA. After a few weeks  of hearing nothing from the UKBA, I contacted them to formally request my documents back because, at this point, I’m anxious to get moving and get on with things. This past year has been no way to live.

This “request” was yet another faceless, voiceless form to fill in; the UKBA is nothing if not consistent in avoiding all contact with the plebs. Oh, and also that it could take up to another 20 working days to get my documentation back and to not contact them until 20 days had passed.

Friday was 20 days.

So what do you do when 20 days goes by? It’s the UKBA, kids. So of course you have to fill out another fucking form. It would be funny if it wasn’t so ridiculous.

I don’t know if sending the second form triggered this or if it was just a coincidence… but someone from the UKBA called me today. They did not have good news. I am not a happy person at the moment.

You might know or remember that I had planned on going straight to Korea from the UK. Well, the UKBA has managed to fuck up all of that as well.

What I Learned Today that is
Making me Unhappy/Blind Raging Mad

  1. It is going to be another 5 – 14 working days until something called “Becket House” has my passport.
  2. They will email me when they have it so I can book a last-minute flight to Canada.
  3. I’m not allowed to fly anywhere else.
  4. I won’t actually be given my passport until I’m at the airport.
  5. This is the first time I’ve heard about any of this.

This means that I can’t get my Korean visa before I leave the UK. It means I have to pay the price of a last minute ticket to Vancouver. If I book 8 months in advance that’s a £700+ flight. I’m terrified what this is going to cost. In what was already a horrible, stressful process, now I have an extra 10 hour flight and huge cost to deal with. Never mind what I’m going to do with my extra stuff or what I’m going to do with myself in BC once I’m there and trying to sort out my Korean visa. All without an income, because I can’t work here and I won’t be able to work in Canada as (with any luck) I’ll only be there a few weeks.

What the living fuck, UK? Can anyone explain to me why I can’t get my passport before I have to leave so I can make my travel arrangements? Can anyone explain why the UK has the right to tell me where I go as long as I go? And don’t say “policy”. If one more person says “policy” to me today I’ll lose my fucking mind.

Not only am I furious about the (continuous) lack of information, the additional stress and hassle this will cause and the considerable amount of money (I don’t have) that this is going to cost; they’ve also stolen any joy I might have had in going home and seeing my friends and family there. I won’t ever forgive them for that.

For a year now this has been a never-ending cluster-fuck. I should have known that it wouldn’t end any better than it all started. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the pub.

Living Situation Update

One of the effects of not knowing how long you’ll be in the country is not knowing how long you should keep your flat.

So last month I gave my notice on my flat on Brick Lane. I was here just over a year and although the flat had some issues (not the best landlords) I really loved living here. Brick Lane might have been noisy, but it was vibrant and central and interesting.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do once I was past my move-out date (which is this Friday) because I didn’t know (and still don’t know) how long I would be here. 

Happily, my lovely friends Rich and Nell offered their spare room for the weekend, which was the first worry covered. It means so much that my first few nights homeless will be in the home of the loveliest couple in London.

I wasn’t too sure what I was going to do past this weekend though. I have a weekend to spend in Brighton with the fabulous Craig and Kevin, and couch offers from Kristi and Eva… but I have been growing increasingly concerned that I’ll be here long enough still that I could become a bother. Not having my passport or knowing when I’ll get it back is such a joy.

So, with great relief, I’ve found a room to sublet in Hackney for just under a month. The timing is perfect; they were looking for someone to take the room starting the day after I’m done at Rich and Nell’s place and until just about mid-October. 

Total strangers. But the place was tidy and there was lots of art on the walls. It had a homey feel and even though there are usually three boys living there, it didn’t smell like boy. And they have a super friend cat that I’m going to squish for a month.

Hopefully it will all work out. I’ve had issues with flatmates in East London before: I haven’t seen the Denizens of Aurghville for years now but I’m still emotionally scarred. If nothing else, I’ll end up with more stories and loads of kitty pictures for Instagram.

Not My Day in Court

In another universe, yesterday would have been the day I’d be in court to fight the decision handed to me by the UKBA back in March. And with how often I get asked “So how are you doing with everything anyway” these days, I thought I’d give a quick update on how I’m feeling about things and stuffs now that the court day has come and gone.

I still feel like I made the right decision to not pursue the hearing. Although logically the “punishment” (deportation and a 12 month re-entry ban) seems to severely outweigh the “crime” (missed a tickmark) in this situation, I still believe that a judge would have been hesitant to set precedence in this case by overturning the decision of the UKBA. So had I been in court yesterday, I honestly believe today I would have been out a hefty lawyer’s fee and just getting the gears in motion to move on.

I do wish I had more information from the UKBA earlier (like back in December, when the first application was returned would have been nice). If they had sent me back everything in March I wouldn’t have ever filed for the hearing and could have gotten moving earlier. That would have meant avoiding spending the last six months as I have done: Waiting in limbo for my life to change.

I’m not happy about having to leave my friends behind. In the past six years living so far from home many in London have become like family to me. I’m grateful that keeping in touch is easier than ever, but a Skype call is not the same as a pint down at pub. I’m going to miss a lot of people an awful lot.

My career in the London tech scene, which was just progressing nicely from operations to project and product management, also gets put on hold. At best gets put on hold. With 12 months out of the country, it could very well be the end of that progression. A year is a long time in technology and if I want to return, I may have to start at the beginning again. And I’m starting to feel a bit too old for that nonsense.

And leaving London stinks. I love this silly old city so much and I feel like although I’ve been so fortunate to have explored so much of it, I’ve definitely not seen enough. I could live a thousand years I think and not see enough of it.

But on to happier thoughts. There are some positives on the other side of all this bureaucratic governmental idiocy.

I am very excited about teaching again. I really enjoyed my time as a teacher before and looking forward to working with the kids again. I’ve actually had a student from when I was there previously get in touch and it’s made me realise how much I missed working with the little monsters.

I’m happy to be heading back to Asia. South Korea is an amazing country and I highly recommend checking it out. Of course, from there it is also easy and affordable to visit other countries in Southeast Asia… something else I’m really looking forward to. With any luck, this Christmas you’ll find me on a Malaysian island beach instead of sitting about in my pants in a cold London flat, eating leftover pizza and playing Civilisation.

So how am I feeling?  

I’m alright. I have a lot to do in the next few weeks – like move out of my flat this week, hassle the UKBA for my passport (oh yah, those dirty birds still have it), find a teaching job in Korea and finish my Korean paperwork for my Korean visa. And do all that without a job or a home.

It’s a scary time. But it is also an exciting time. At least you shouldn’t hear me complain about being bored for the next few weeks.

Dance of the Paperwork (Part 1 of Most Likely 1 Billion)

As people find out that I’m having to leave the UK, I generally get asked two things:

  1. Are you okay?
  2. What’s next?

I am okay.

Google "I'm okay" in images and this is what comes up.

Google “I’m okay” in images and this is what comes up.

Some days are totally fine, I feel good about having some ideas about what to do next and taking steps towards getting there. So I have to go; I get to go on another adventure.

Then other days I think about how none of this was my choice and how much I’m being forced to give up. Those days suck.

But mostly… I’m okay.

My next steps are to wrap up life here and to start getting stuff together for the next part of the journey

Right now that means trying to get my paperwork together to go back to Korea to teach. I’m also (thanks to Heather) going to make some enquiries into teaching in Istanbul. Korea is much more likely at this point, I don’t think I’ll be able to make enough money in Turkey to cover my loan payments in the UK as well as, you know, live and eat and stuff. But it is still worth looking into.

Which means it is time for the Dance of the Paperwork. Again.

I’ve got a lot to get together in order to apply for my E-2 visa to teach in K-town. And it is made much more difficult as there are bits that need to happen in Canada and Korea and England. Yarg! Paperwork everywhere! Thank goodness my mother is in Canada and can help at that end (best mommies ever).

The only other real complication is that I don’t know how much time I have. I’ve been moving on leaving the UK… but I haven’t heard from the UKBA. I don’t know how long it will take to get my passport back nor have I been told how long I have to get my shit together and get out of here. I am going to draft them a letter and try to get some answers.

Side Note: How fucking stupid is it that there is no direct line of communication with the people handling your ‘case’? There’s a useless email address for complaints (they responded well beyond the timeframe they gave for my first complaint, they’ve never responded to the second) and a phone number you can call if you a) want to spend 10 minutes on the phone trying to navigate a labyrinth of options so complex that you only finally get through to a person once you start quietly sobbing to yourself and b) want to speak to someone who can’t actually help you AT ALL but will be friendly and somewhat sympathetic. Your only real option is to write them a letter and post it. And wait. While you are trying to get your life sorted. You wait.

Hopefully I’ll find out soon enough what my actual timeframes are. In the meantime, I’m pushing hard to get my documentation sorted for Korea, getting rid of everything that won’t fit in one of two suitcases, and saying good-bye to everyone.

For the want of a checkmark, a kingdom was lost

Or Queendom, as the case may be.

And speaking of cases… I’ve made a very difficult decision to withdrawal my appeal to the first level tribunal and leave the UK. I’m not entirely sure what the timing will be, but it is looking like I will be leaving sometime in late September.

So what happened?

The first thing that you need to keep in mind is that I am entirely and unquestionably eligible for the Ancestry UK Visa I had applied for. The only criteria are really that you were born in a Commonwealth country (feel the wrath of Canada!) and had a parent or grandparent born in the UK (thank you, Scotland-born Grandma S.).

My visa application was not rejected because of an issue with my eligibility or even my supporting documentation (it was all there). No, my visa was rejected because of issues with the UKBA taking payment.

But surely this is still be worth taking to court? Well… not really. The mistakes are technically mine. Technically. I think that’s what makes this so incredibly painful. Yes, I made a mistake on the payment page of my application (twice). But was it so massive that I deserve to be deported and made to stay out of the UK for a year?

Here’s the error:

payment_page

Do you spot it? Maybe you are much smarter and eagled-eyed than I am (although I’m a pretty meticulous and thorough person). I’ve shown this page to several people… I usually have to point out what exactly had been missed. If you found it, you are awesome and deserve to stay in the UK (haha). If you missed it, go back and look at number five. If you are STILL missing it, let me know and I’ll send you a picture with a red circle around it.

The issue is that I didn’t tick the box with “£561” in it to indicate how much money they should charge me. I somehow missed this box on two applications in a row. Maybe it’s because of how not-obvious it is? Or is that just me? Should there be a tick-box for the box?

But wait! There’s more!

It is also extremely frustrating that because payment is handled by a separate company  subcontracted by the UKBA, that company cannot a) contact me for payment clarification or b) turn the fucking page and look at my application to see what sort of application I was making.

They cannot contact me because they are not “contracted or qualified” to contact applicants (that’s direct from the UKBA by the way; personally I like the idea that they have a company full of people not qualified to pick up a phone and interact with human beings that are processing visa payments).

They cannot look at my application because of “data protection laws”… yet the payment process company also looks at every piece of my supporting documentation (including my passport, birth certificate and bank statements) so I’m not sure how that works.

So that was my first two applications. Returned to me as “invalid” because they were “not accompanied by payment”.

So yup. My fault because I didn’t tick a box. But I cannot help but think that if the agency wasn’t so broken, their procedures so poor, that my application wouldn’t have been sent back invalid because of this. This could have been avoided if they allowed for online payments or hired people “qualified” to contact applicants for alternative forms of payment.

But there is still more – my third application was sent back to me as well for not having a payment with it. As with the previous two, I had no idea from their letters what had happened. The way they word the letter, it makes it sound like you were missing the payment page (which I so hadn’t). But since the hearing stuff kicked off, they finally provided more information about what happened with the third application.

They tried to take payment for my third application on 31 December 2012. Honestly, who tries to take payment in the late afternoon on New Years Eve? Unfortunately, on that day there was a hold on my card because I had missed my payment at the beginning of December. This might be my favourite bit of this entire circus, because that one is legitimately my fault. But I can’t help but feel burned by the UKBA in this situation as well anyway – a) I had switched from my debit to credit card because I thought perhaps the previous two payment issues had been with my debit card  and b) I missed paying that bill most likely because I had been fucking around with UKBA visa applications at the beginning of the month when the bill was due, and c) had they been able to process my first application (or second!) the third would have not been an issues. But alas!

So why am I dropping the hearing? Surely a human being looking at this situation would see that I’ve been kinda dicked around by the broken processes of the UKBA. I’m completely eligible for my visa, not a criminal, and have been contributing my bit to the UK for nearly six years now (taxes, working the tech scene, general awesomeness, etc). Had I gone in to their offices the first time (it would just take a day off work and an extra £300 or whatever), this never would have happened. Surely the judge would see that this proves it was them and not me?

I think there is the potential to get one of two kinds of judge: Either a human who sees how ludicrous this situation is, and that the punishment grossly outweighs the mistake that was made; or another government automaton who will not look past the technicality of the mistake.

So a 50/50 chance(ish). Are those odds high enough to warrant how much the lawyer would cost and the continued life-on-hold situation?

There is a further complication. Even if I was lucky enough to get a Good Guy Judge, and he (or she, but most likely he) wanted to be humane and  reasonable about what has happened… he will have to keep it in mind that how he rules in my case will set precedence for later hearings where perhaps the appellant isn’t trying to play by the rules as I am. Which would drastically reduce my chances from 50% down to too-low. And I certainly cannot afford to take my case to the Upper Tribunal. It was always going to be “win at the Lower Tribunal or go home”.

I don’t think my chances of winning the case are good enough to push forward. Although it means giving up so much (my life is here in London now), it also means giving up a handful of things I haven’t wanted… like paying a lawyer’s fee. And coming home every day and feeling sick if there is mail. And not being able to make  plans past 10 September. And feeling like a criminal even though I did nothing wrong. And not being able to just get on with living a normal life. And this constant, underlying and undefined fear that I don’t even want to talk about because it sounds SO DRAMATIC even to me. All of that. I’m happy to give up all those things.

So this is how my UKBA story ends. I suppose it shouldn’t be a happy ending if the bad guys win. But I plan on making the most of it and getting on with getting on. Further updates on next steps for another post. But here’s a teaser: It involves heading back to Asia. Where getting a visa isn’t such a freaking circus.

Holy macaroni this was a long post. Thank you so much for reading. What got me through this horrible year of UKBA rottenness has been the support of everyone. My family and friends, obviously… but also all the other people out there in the big, bad world that had great advice, kind words of encouragement and their own stories to share. The UKBA makes you feel like you are alone. You wonderful lot proved that this is not true. Thank you.