Immigration Woes: Trying to obtain a work visa in the UK

February 1, 2011 at 12:56 pm 2 comments

By Lesley Anne Gundy

Very recently, I received a visa allowing me to live and work in the UK for two years. As an American, immigration is always a hot-button political issue, but something that I never really thought about until having to deal with my own immigration issues. Going through the process reminded me of Peter’s national insurance number adventures (which I also had to obtain, but my experience was much less eventful), and the whole idea of public services being made more efficient and user-friendly.

The instructions on the UK border office’s website seemed simple enough. Fill out a form, provide a passport size photo, bank statements for three months, and the processing fee and voilà! However, I soon learned it would not be that simple. Because all of this happened around Christmas time and I wanted to spend the holiday at home, I was forced to expedite the entire process (which usually takes anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months). Luckily, the UK border office allows people to walk their applications through one of their offices for same day service, for a hefty fee of course. Ok, go online, fill out the form, make an appointment…simple! Not so much. No appointments available anywhere for at least the next three months. One would think this would be due to people snatching up available appointments like housewives snatching up Manolo’s at a sample sale, but no, the UK border office randomly stagger releases appointments. After a night filled with many tears and frantically searching immigration message boards looking for solutions explaining how to book the ever elusive appointment, I gave up and contacted a solicitor. Once I met with the solicitor, the process was a walk in the park and I received my visa in two days.

My housemate is now going through the same process. Because she does not need to travel, she posted her application, which by the way is the submission method recommended by the border office. Her experience, while different from mine, has also been filled with seemingly life shattering roadblocks – many trips to the bank to obtain statements, a passport photo which was .00001 centimeters too large and so forth. Finally she said, “it’s like they are just looking for a reason to reject people!”

Which brings me to the point of this long story. During my time at the Innovation Unit, I have found myself more closely scrutinising public services. How can they be made more efficient and user-friendly? In going through this process, I realised that perhaps the main objective of certain services is not just to please those who we assume to be the user. If the visa process was simple, most people who met the conditions and applied for visas would get them and the UK would have an immigration problem on its hands.  While I complained about how impossibly convoluted and unfair the whole thing was, looking at it from the perspective of the UK government, I came to the conclusion that they are as much a user of the service as I was. They use complicated, bureaucratic procedure to selectively chose applications. The process is difficult and confusing and filled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles because it is supposed to be discriminating. If you are patient enough, resourceful enough, determined, and in my case, have money set aside, you will find a way to get the visa. Gathering all of the materials for the application and submitting is actually the first test. Not all public services are efficient and as easy to use as we would like, but perhaps they were purposefully designed that way.

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Entry filed under: Public Services.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Craig  |  February 1, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Great blog. You’re right, and this is an extreme example, but in fact lots of pubic services use techniques like this as a form a rationing. It’s an approach to rationing that is very cheap for public services but incredibly expensive in the way it burns up people’s time and energy.

    Reply
  • 2. alecpatton  |  February 1, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    And it’s an approach to rationing that’s incredibly misleading, and wildly discriminatory – which is unsurprising, since it’s in the UK’s interest to only give visas to people who are bureaucracy-savvy enough to negotiate the whole tortuous process, and confident (and financially secure) enough to hire a solicitor. As a fellow American in Britain, I’ve found it a bit of a shock to find that when a country is dealing with potential rather than current citizens, discriminatory practices are not only tolerated but encouraged.

    It gets much worse for people who are trying to gain asylum. I know of one child who was deported because his foster family moved house, and while they informed their solicitor of the fact, the solicitor forgot to inform the home office. He was then listed as ‘absonded’, and sent back to the middle of the war he’d just fled.

    Policy-by-stifling-bureaucracy, which is what you’ve anatomised so sharply in this post, is really unpleasant, and we tolerate it more than I think we should.

    Incidentally, Charles Dickens has probably sent this up better than any other writer, with the Circumlocution Office in Little Dorritt:

    Reply

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