BritCits Update: Becky and Les Since our last update for BritCits there has been a lot
of “water under the bridge”, much of it increasingly murky and supplemented by tears of anger, frustration and desperation… With the expiry date for Becky’s student visa only months away and still no offers of work in sight, in August 2012 our hope was re-kindled when she was offered a post by a well-known Insurance firm for an initial three-month contract, later to be made permanent. Although it did not meet the earnings requirement either financially or retrospectively, it provided a potential platform both for me to expand my job-search into the part-time market in a bid to make up the shortfall (something not previously possible because of the benefit “trap” I was in), and also, according to our Lawyer, potential grounds for an appeal in the event we applied for (and inevitably failed to acquire) a family visa. The irony – which won’t be lost on other BritCits, is that even with her earnings alone, Becky and I would easily have covered our living costs without recourse to public funds. As we all know though, this cuts no ice when it comes to the rigid application of the rules. Another irony is that this would also have taken me out of the benefits system (a humiliating and soul-destroying situation to be in, whatever nonsense the detractors in the “strivers versus scroungers” camp might peddle), thus helping to reduce the burden on the Public purse. All was set: Becky takes up the post, I re-double my efforts, and we make the application. If nothing else this would at least buy us some time. Then the bombshell…A telephone call and email from her new employer: “…regarding your start date Rebecca: we need to put this on hold until you get a letter of confirmation from the Home Office that you are eligible to work full time on your current immigration status, or a new visa”. “Well” says Becky “I can’t get a new visa without a job, and according to the information on the UKBA website, they don’t issue such letters to prospective employees. It’s actually the employer’s job to use their Employee Checking Service to confirm a candidate’s eligibility”. “No we don’t do that for temporary contracts. It does not state on your visa that you can work full time. We must insist you get a letter confirming this before we can let you start”. Sure enough, it does not. It does state that Becky can work 20 hours “during term-time”, but we also knew, having checked the rules, and after running this past the Lawyer, that a someone on a student visa can work 40 hours post-study – that is, when their studies are complete. Becky had completed and submitted her thesis in early July (ironically a matter of days before the rules surreptitiously changed) and had a letter from her University stating that she was now finished and no longer a student with them. She passed this on to the company who refused to accept it as “official” confirmation and stated the same conditions as before. Suddenly our optimism and hope began to
slide, the panic and distress escalate. Can’t this firm read? Can’t they see that the rules on eligibility checking are crystal-clear? Apparently not. What are we going to do now? We made an appointment to see our local MP Gordon Banks – a man with whom I had, as a former local journalist, a professional relationship. I knew him to be tempered and fair in his outlook, and someone committed to serving his constituents. Could he help? After explaining our conundrum he expressed concern over the new rules, of which he was aware, and told us we were not the only family in his constituency experiencing difficulties with them. His idea, despite the fact that UKBA did not treat with individual enquiries from employees, was to use his “in-house” channels to get confirmation from them confirming that Becky was free to fulfil her contractual hours under her current immigration status. We readily assented to this and our concerns were, for the time-being, allayed. Becky maintained contact with the insurance company to reassure them she was working on their “request” and would get them the confirmation they were insisting upon. The UKBA it seemed, had other ideas. Even Gordon was struggling to get anything concrete from them…and the clock was ticking…in fact to us, it felt as if time was speeding up – accelerating rapidly towards a point where Becky would not have enough time left in the UK to take on the post. However, Gordon, with considerable purpose of mind and determination eventually got the non-existent confirmation. Becky passed it on to the company. The company then dropped their bombshell by shifting the goalposts: “No sorry, you have to get another visa”. “But this is the confirmation from the Home Office that you’ve been insisting I get!” said Becky. “It’s taken our MP twoand-a-half months of regular prodding to acquire this, and as I already told you, the Home Office/UKBA don’t usually do it. They’ve only provided it in this case because a Minister has petitioned for it on our behalf!”. “We’re sorry you feel like that but no, you need to get another visa”. An additional irony to their intransigence in refusing to use the free Employee Checking Service to confirm Becky’s status (on average it takes two days to get the information), was that this company had already paid to have credit checks done on her in the States! We could only conclude that their behaviour was a product of their wariness about falling foul of the new rules and restrictions around the employment of immigrants – both complex and financially punitive if, even mistakenly, transgressed. Effectively a crude political deterrent aimed at “encouraging” UK companies to favour UK workers. We knew then that the “game” really was up. Although, according to at least two Lawyers we contacted, the company could be found in Breach of Contract (they had issued a contract to Becky which she was required to return on her start date) and possibly Indirect Discrimination since they set in front of her an insurmountable barrier to taking up the post they
offered in the first place, we didn’t have the money or the energy to take this forward. As a CAB Adviser I had explained to Becky that if she wished to take this to an Employment Tribunal she would need to exhaust the company’s grievance procedures first. Neither she, nor I, could stomach such a protracted battle while confronted with the prospect of what was now inevitable separation for an indeterminate length of time. I also had to cease my search for part-time work and resume my usual endless, and to date, fruitless attempts to secure gainful full time employment. The expiry date on Becky’s visa came and went. Our Lawyer had told us that, as we hadn’t applied for a visa, Becky would have up to three months following the expiry to leave the UK before being deemed by UKBA to be an over-stayer. My wife, best friend and soul mate was now, to all intents-and-purposes, a tourist. We faced what was to be our last Christmas together in Scotland (and possibly the foreseeable future) as best we could. Our friends – our true friends – and Becky’s family were incredibly supportive, as well as shocked, dismayed, angry and incredulous at what had befallen us and what was to come. Some friends of Becky’s invited us to their home for Christmas dinner. Wonderful food, selfless generosity, great company (and not a little malt whisky) provided a momentary cushion against the looming reality of our enforced separation. Becky’s amazing flavoured chocolate fudge was consumed in excessive quantity and praised by all who got to sample it. She is a superb cook, baker and sweet-maker. I’m not, if I may say so, too bad, in the kitchen myself, but her creations knock mine into a cocked-hat. I haven’t even mentioned her incredible Mexican food and homemade tortillas. I would miss all that of course, but would happily trade every burrito, sourdough loaf and Quesadilla if she could just remain by my side. Here, physically, in person. In sickness and in health. For better or for worse (actually “worse” doesn’t come into it, unless we are talking about the rending apart of our Union by faceless, heartless politicians quoting endless statistics, with not one trace of human emotion). For richer or for poorer. Definitely the latter in monetary terms. In happiness terms, before this all came to pass, I felt like I was bathing in gold. Once this “festive” period had passed (in, if I’m quite honest, a somewhat anaesthetised haze) we began, however reluctantly, to turn our attention to the future we never imagined or expected. February 24 th 2013. Our Doomsday. Theresa May’s Red Letter Day…and four days after our first wedding anniversary. In short, Becky’s flight was booked: Departure from Glasgow Airport at 1pm with layovers in Reykjavík and Denver. We booked a night in a nearby hotel to negate a needless rush with baggage across Central Scotland, to break up the journey and of course, to spend our last precious hours together somewhere comfortable and anonymous, where we wouldn’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning or any other mundane and vacuous distraction. One of my friends agreed to come
through from Glasgow to collect us, so we didn’t have to trail from travel point to travel point, as well as to take us out for lunch, and for Becky to say her goodbyes to him and his partner. It was a bittersweet two-course Italian meal. Becky’s last with any of our friends in this country could not have been anything other than bitter. The tears were never far away. Truth be told they’ve flowed almost constantly since last years sudden thump of realisation that this day would eventually have to be faced. What to say of out parting? I’m sure other BritCits who have endured similar can picture it well and it needs no elucidation here. The airport attendant at the security gates, the point beyond which I could not pass, kept eyeing us with increasing regularity and little compassion. Well, they were only doing their job I suppose. But we could not let each other go. It was unthinkable. The clock was ticking however. There was nothing we could do. My last sight of Becky was of her passing through airport security, placing personal items into the boxes provided. I hoped to catch her eye one final time but she didn’t look back. She later told me that she couldn’t do it. “If I had Les then I would have scrambled back over the barriers towards you. I’m sorry sweetie”. Of course I understood. How could I not? And so to today. Becky is lodged temporarily with her parents in Battleground, WA, distracting herself from the loneliness with endless job search. We speak on Skype as often as we can, exchange emails and comments on Facebook. It’s never the same of course. She can’t afford to visit, and besides, could we go through the trauma of separation all over again? Because that’s what it would be like, so thank goodness for the world-wide-web, despite it’s obvious limitations in conducting a full and meaningful marriage. Prior to her leaving we decided that the only real prospect of us being reunited in the near future was to initiate the US immigration process so that, all being well, I could join her there. Becky may be American but her heart was here. She was settled; she loved Scotland and had found her “place” in the World and she had much to offer this country by way of talents and skills. I in turn, have no desire to move to the States (but for the fact that it’s where my Wife is now exiled). We have to realistic though. As things stand, the chances of me being able to secure a job that meets the infamous earnings requirement when I can’t even get one at Minimum Wage seem so unlikely that we felt there was no alternative but for me to uproot from all that I know. Anyway, why should I care to stay in a country that wants neither my wife (as a foreigner) nor me (as “dole scum”, despite working full time with CAB for no financial reward)? Equally, the chances of her securing a job here that would meet the Tier 2 requirements seem just as remote. The process has begun; the wheels are (barely) turning. All the advice we have received leads us to believe that it will probably not be until early next year that I can join here there. Besides, there will be much to resolve at this end before I leave. People and places dear to me must be visited and bid farewell. The
prospect fills me with terror – of the unknown most likely. But also with anger and resentment that two people so obviously made for each other could be treated so inhumanely by my country in the name of reducing net migration and for the grabbing a few positive headlines in the right-wing media, as well as satiating the growing anti-immigrant contingent in the UK. Did I say “my” country? No, not any more. I am thoroughly embarrassed and ashamed of this so-called nation. I’ve always been, to a large extent, wary of fervent nationalism and patriotism, regarding myself (despite an inability to travel much in recent years) as a Citizen of the World. I certainly do not feel “British”, for what is it to be British now? I guess that’s a debate for another time, though I honestly think that even the British themselves do not have a definition. All I know is that some time in the (hopefully not too distant) future I will leave these benighted shores to its delusions of grandeur on the World stage, its next Prime Minister Nigel Farage, its hate speech, racism, migrant propaganda and increasingly isolationist perspective. But, for all that, there will be pain, because I know, when this happens, that I will most likely never see the little girl who never really knew me, after her mother took her away. Somewhere in this land my daughter Holly turned 7 this year. Maybe she will demand answers as to why her Father isn’t here when she’s old enough to ask, and is deemed to have the right to know. Maybe she won’t. After all I can only speculate on what she will be told. While I was here, however unlikely, there was always the chance that I might find her and initiate a successful family law action to re-establish access rights. Once I’m gone, that possibility leaves with me, but however much resentment I feel towards this land, there will always be something of me that remains behind and can never be fully sundered from the island of its birth. That “thing” is a person. A beautiful little person by the name of Holly Rowan. You will never be far from my thoughts. I may have left you, but you will never leave me.