This time last year, I had just moved to England and was barely getting settled in. My passport displayed a freshly stamped, shiny new visa sticker and I was a few days away from picking up my BRP card – giving me the right to live and work in the UK for two years.
When you just moved halfway across the world to finally be reunited with your long-distance boyfriend and that everything is new, exciting and scary, two years feel like a very long time. It’s not.
I have been in the UK for 408 days – which means there are exactly 293 days left to my current visa. More time has passed than there is left to go, yet there are still days when I feel I have just landed here. We moved into our house in July, I only started working full-time in November and I’m just now relaxing into a semblance of routine but with less than a year to go on my visa, it’s already time to apply for a new one.
In a pre-Brexit world, this seemed like an annoyingly necessary but standard procedure; post-Brexit, it doesn’t feel so simple. I am applying for a FLR(M) visa as unmarried partner (for now) of a British citizen. It is valid for merely 30 months and costs a mighty £1,800* – that’s on top of the £3,500 I have already paid to move here: visa, biometrics, flights, custom fees, etc. Not only do I have to pay for the right to live here, I also have to pay a NHS surcharge for every year I do. Tell me again that ‘immigrants pay nothing but get everything’? Moving to a new country – and remaining in said country until you can apply for citizenship – is extremely expensive; and you can only hope not to be rejected.
In the post-Brexit and increasingly anti-immigration world we now live in, applying for a visa renewal is stressful. What if you are rejected? What if the life you spent two years rebuilding is suddenly snatched from under your feet? What if you are told to pack up all your belongings, say goodbye to your other half, your new friends, and get on a plane back to a country you can’t call ‘home’ anymore? Immigration anxiety at its best.
In order for me to obtain a Further Leave to Remain, I have to prove all sorts of things – my worth as a member of the society, mostly – and that Edward and I are in a real relationship and were prior to me moving here, and that we have lived together for at least two years. We have to gather all sorts of evidences: payslips, joint account statements, electoral cards, letters from witnesses, date-stamped Facebook posts, gas and electricity bills, photographs… Then, we will have to fill several complicated forms and drive down to London where we’ll spend a day waiting for my demand to be processed.
Loving each other is easy but proving to complete strangers that we actually do is another story. It’s hard work.
As much as I understand the immigration process and its necessity, as a Commonwealth citizen I cannot help but find it a bit unfair. For years, there have been talks in favour of free movement within some of the Commonwealth countries (namely Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK) but nothing has been done toward it. Yet, I’m fairly certain it would benefit everyone involved. Those countries share similar values, political and healthcare systems, economy and quality of life – and in my opinion, skilled and willing workers moving freely from one to the other can only be a good thing.
But until the governments come to an agreement** and until my new visa is (hopefully) approved next January, I will have to live with the anxiety that comes with an unstable immigration status. And I’m one of the lucky ones: young Commonwealth citizen, educated, skilled and employed. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to seek asylum or a refugee status…
*There was change in costs after I wrote this post and the FLR(M) visa is now £2,100. The NHS surcharge alone is of £500.
**If you wish to help the cause move forward, CANZUK has started a petition and need to reach 200,000 supporters; you can sign it here.