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:
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.