Thursday, 7 July 2011

An Immigrant Should Occasionally Blog About Immigration

Since it's a FAQ in my life, no being married to an Englishman (in Scotland) does not automatically confer British citizenship. It doesn't even grant me residency or any other thing that would make living with my husband, well, possible. What it does grant me (other than a mutual promise to live together and cherish each other for ever and ever and always) is the chance to apply for Further Leave to Remain (Married). "Futher", because I'm already in the country (it would be a Spousal visa if I weren't) and "Leave to Remain" because I don't have to leave. Yet. FLR(M) is good for two years at which time, under the current system*, I can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain and stay, well, indefinitely - unless I leave the country for two years (I'd get to start all over should I wish to return). ILR is, among other things, a requirement for citizenship. Each of these requires an application to be filled out, fees to be paid, and documents submitted.

That's where I am now - filling out the application for FLR(M). How this one works is I download the interactive PDF (my first experience with one of these) which is saved on my computer. They estimate it will take about 3.5hrs to complete, not including the time needed to gather supporting evidence. I found this estimate to be somewhat...generous, though I did have to save it and consult a friend from UKY** as to the specific timings referred to by two questions: When did you decide to live together as a married couple? and When did you start living together? She concurs that they mean when did we get engaged and we started living together when I came over this last August on my student visa. The six months I spent here the previous winter I was "visiting" not "living with", an important immigration distinction. I emailed the PDF to my husband to look over and he quibbled over some answers (I got the correct number of years he'd lived in the UK (his whole life) but miscounted by a month) and agreed that it looks ready to be submitted.

Only I can't submit it yet. See, when I submit the application, I'll upload it to the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) website, indicate if I've booked an in-person appointment or will be mailing it in - if mailing pay the £550 fee; if in-person, pay £850 at the time of appointment - collect the supporting documents that will be requested at time of submission, and either bring them to the appointment (along with my husband) or mail them in with the official version of my application that I need to print out and sign (presumably along with my husband).

Did you catch the problems there? If I want an in-person appointment, I have to book it before I upload my application. They won't tell me which supporting documents I require until after I upload my application. Now, because I hang out on an immigration forum I have a fairly good idea what will be required - a recent UK-size passport photo, our marriage certificate, utility bills in both our names (or each, but ours are in both), paystubs and bank statements showing we have at least £106 each month after taxes and paying the mortgage, a copy of the mortgage. All of these have to be "original documents" which can be a problem in the modern world of online-statements and online billing. We switched back to paper statements after trying to get "authorized copies" for my Tier 4 (student) Visa.

But if they ask for something I don't expect? I saw on UKY that other people who are switching from Tier 4 to FLR(M) are including a letter from their university saying they're attending and passing all of their courses. Do I need such a document or are they providing excessive paperwork? Having booked my appointment, I'll have a limited amount of time in which to procure any supplemental documents, but I have to book an appointment before my current visa runs out in 41 days. And yes, booking an in-person appointment (in Glasgow) is more expensive than applying by post but I'd get a same-day decision rather than 3-4 months of limbo that I'd get if I apply by post. 3-4 months of limbo, living in a foreign country without my passport or the visa showing that I'm allowed to be here.

What's involved in booking an in-person appointment? I'm glad you asked: I went to the in-person appointment page, read through all the guidances, noted that Glasgow is my closest appointment centre (that's the other side of Scotland from Inverness), and "registered" to book an appointment. First I had to verify that I'm read all the regulations - that I'm applying for a visa that can use the in-person service, that I'm not booking an appointment for more than 10 members of a family unit, and a few other questions I can't remember. Second, they needed an easy-to remember but difficult to guess word between 8 and 12 characters, all letters. I picked one, typed it in, and wrote it down on a pad of paper: "UKBA: Memorable word: MEMORABLEWORD***". My word is, therefore, hard to guess unless you A) have ever met me or B) can find the large legal pad sitting next to my laptop with "UKBA: Memorable word: MEMORABLEWORD" blazoned across the top. On the next page they asked for my first and last names, my phone number - preferably a mobile so that they may send me an sms, and a valid email address. Since it's just me, I didn't have to enter information for anyone else. On the fourth page I'm asked to verify that my name, phone number, and email are all correct and enter the 2nd, 4th, and last character of my memorable word. Apparently they're already worried that someone may be trying to impersonate me.

That's it - my application to register is complete. Wait, my application to register? I'm not actually registered? That's correct. I got an email telling me that my application was being reviewed. Later I got an email saying that I'm registered and here's a 9-digit Reference ID and a 16-character Transaction ID which, along with randomly requested characters from my Memorable Word, will allow me to log-in and attempt to book an in-person appointment.

Or I could've called the application centre's phone number and booked an appointment over the phone.

That's where I've left things for today.

* I say "current system" because later this week they're going to announce changes to the family settlement route, changes that are expected to include extending the probationary period before you can apply for ILR to 5 years and, of course, the semi-annual fees hike. The UKBA does not believe in "grandfathering" people in - when they move the goal post, I have to aim for the new one. This means I, and every other settlement-seeker, am aiming for a goal-post that will be somewhere else by the time I reach it.

** UK Yankee, a forum for US citizens living in the UK

*** not my Memorable Word

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