Monday, November 23, 2009
One of my least favorite parts of living in London is the UK Home Office’s penchant for changing the rules of my visa. First they changed the name from HSMP (Highly Skilled Migrant Programme) to the yawn-inducing Tier 1. Then they decided that instead of having just an undergraduate degree, you have to have a Masters. Then, after the uproar that ensued following that change, they decided that if you already had the visa, you didn’t have to have a Masters but if you were a first time applicant, you did. It gets even more confusing, but I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that I don’t wish the UK Tier 1 visa application process on anyone.
All of this is relevant now because I just celebrated my two year anniversary of living in London. That anniversary also coincided with the expiration of my visa, so I had to apply to renew it. The visa is simple: you get points for age, earnings, UK experience, and education. Get enough points and you get a visa. Given that the Tier 1 visa is essentially the same as my HSMP visa but with a new name, it would seem that this process would be simple and straightforward. It’s not.
The first problem I encountered was with the Earnings section of the application. In this section, you have to prove that you made a certain amount of income during 12 of the last 15 months. Unfortunately, to prove this income, you have to have two sources of documentation to prove it. One of those is bank statements. However, if your bank statements are e-statements, you have to have your bank stamp them with the official stamp of the bank.
What the Home Office doesn’t realize is that the UK is the only country in the civilized world that still uses a physical stamp for banking purposes. When I called my bank in the US to ask them to stamp my statements, they were utterly confused. Seven phone calls to seven different branches later, I finally found one that had a stamp.
Then came the process of sending the statements to my mother along with a letter of authorization for her to get them stamped on my behalf. She was kind enough to do this for me, then mailed the statements to me. That would be the end of the story except for the fact that the good people of the Royal Mail decided to go on strike for a few weeks. Needless to say, I never received the envelope with the statements, and had to repeat the entire process. It took almost a month.
The next problem came with the UK Experience part of the application. This section gives you five points for having studied in the UK (not me) or for having worked in the UK (me). The problem here is that at least a certain amount of your earnings have to be “UK earnings.” What does that mean? Does that mean that this includes earnings made while working in the UK but getting paid in the US (which was my case for awhile), or does that only include earnings made while working in the UK and being paid in the UK? I have no idea.
Apparently neither do the people at the Home Office help desk, which I called multiple times and from which I got multiple different answers. Incidentally, none of those answers were the correct one, as I later learned when I was awarded these five points but not in the way that the people at the help desk claimed that the points would be awarded. This begs the question: if the Home Office doesn’t know the answers to my visa questions, how in the world should I be expected to know the answers?
The third problem with the visa came when the application was updated after I had already printed all 150 pages of it. I then had to kill several additional trees to print another copy, after which I nearly killed myself when I saw that the cost of the application had more than doubled in one day. 850 pounds later, there’s still no guarantee that they’ll give you the visa. And if they don’t, they keep your money. How kind of them.
There were many more obstacles to my Tier 1 application process, but I’ll stop there for now lest I scare anyone off from applying for one in the future.
After the ordeal of the application process and the agony of waiting to see if I would get approved, I finally received my visa in the mail and had a small impromptu dinner celebration at the local pub. After two years of anxiety over whether or not I would get my visa renewed, it was such a relief to have my Tier 1 in hand.
Yes, the UK is now stuck with me for at least three more years. After that, I’ll have to apply for indefinite leave to remain, which I’ve heard is a much easier process than the Tier 1 application. I’ll believe it when I can sit down and apply for it in less than two months, after having spent less than two hours on hold with the help desk, after printing out the application less than two times, and after less than two weeks of postal strikes right when I need the government-run enterprises to come through for me.