Okay, since I promised, I shall try to recount at least some of the many details of the terribly long and extended process I lived through this Fall to obtain a visa to be allowed to stay in England.
Please consider yourselves forewarned: there shall be some complaining here. I do apologize, but I was pretty amazed at the goings-on that took place. And I count myself lucky, very lucky, that my situation is as incredibly fortunate as it is. So many others waiting for visas are not nearly as blessed as I.
Here we go: We arrived as a family in the UK on March 1st of 2017, and I honestly didn’t research a thing. Going to England was “Nicholas’s idea” and I kind of let him figure out the hows and wheres – I had plenty of other things to occupy my time and thoughts anyway, packing up house. He felt it would be best to just get there and figure out the rest later. Perhaps he was right. If I had known all that we would have needed to do, I may never have ever agreed to start this whole grand adventure.
Anyway, once we were there we visited a lawyer and found that I was allowed to stay in England on a tourist visa for only six months. Because we went to France for a week and came back in to London the second week in April, we had the erroneous notion that I had until the second week in October to leave the UK (six months after my last entry in to England). Very silly notion, but it would have been so much more convenient to have the month of September to get our kids settled in to the new school year. Wishful thinking. We discovered on the first Monday of September during a visit to the solicitor’s office (I really should use the British word, no?) that I, in fact, had to skedaddle by the ninth or risk the displeasure of the Powers that Be. We booked me a ticket for September 8th.
The solicitor’s assistant said that a “normal” visa application would take upwards of four weeks, but if we prioritized the application, it would be two or three. We paid an extra almost-seven hundred pounds to prioritize it. Being away from my family for even 2-3 weeks seemed nearly impossible. Ha! It turned out to be eleven. Nearly three months, egads.
We got all the necessary info to the lawyer (I can only use the British word so often before it feels odd in my mind) before I left, and she said she would get the application filed the Friday I flew, or by latest the following Monday. Okay, I figured – three weeks from that Monday, I should be back in Beverley, right? Well, there were all sorts of problems getting the UK Visa application site working properly, she said, and they needed more information than previously thought, and it took much longer than that to get the application submitted. I finally got an appointment to have my “biometrics” taken, for October 5th. Sheesh, that was nearly a whole month after my arrival.
I was chomping at the bit well before this point. My elder daughter was starting “6th form” which is the equivalent of 11th and 12th grades, and we were Face Timing and messaging nearly every day, trying to determine which classes she could take. It was SO stressful, helping her from overseas and not being there to diffuse the tensions that were running high. She had very few choices and wasn’t able to take any of the subjects she thought she’d like to learn more of (Biology, History, Earth Science/Geology/Geography) because she didn’t have the GCSE exams (from the end of the equivalent of 9th and 10th grades) and didn’t have the confidence to take English Literature or Language (again, b/c she didn’t have the background all the other kids had from their GSCE level English classes). I was practically foaming at the mouth with the fact that she had to select only THREE courses to study for two whole years, and that her choices were so very narrow. Somehow, the school allowed her to try out classes for a good while longer than they allowed other students to do so. That was kind of them. And it prolonged the agony. Finally, she chose – Psychology, Art, Photography. On verra.
While this was going on, I also had to focus on my NY surroundings and get to work. I was blessed to have incredible help from my English niece who came over for two weeks in September. We organized several yard sales and ebay listings and more, to translate some of the many treasures from the basement and attic of my mom’s house into cash. I couldn’t have done it without her. Thank you, thank you, thank you for YOLO! (She quit her job to come and help, wow.)
Finally, October 5th came and I went to NYC to have my fingerprints taken and to hand in my passport to them. SURELY, I would be back in England 2 or so weeks after THEN, no?
No. The solicitor said it would be another six weeks. I so did not understand why. Did not the fact that I had an English husband and English children (they have dual citizenship) make ANY difference? No. How could they keep families separate for so long? The lawyer said some families are kept apart for many, many months and even years. Many weeks later we found out that she actually had no clue whatsoever of the timing, for me. No lawyers are able to be in direct communication with the visa office, so she had no knowledge of my particular case. Why had she never told us this? How could she even give any time estimates, then? We didn’t know this then, though, and just kept patiently (and not-so-patiently) waiting.
I’m going in to all the details here, now (gosh, on a roll I suppose – you may all be bored, however!), but Nicholas was also in the US for a couple of weeks in September and for much of October, needing to do work Upstate. Our children were being looked after by amazingly kind and helpful relatives (to whom I am forever grateful), but a school holiday was coming up for the last week of October and Nicholas’ warehouse project wasn’t finished. The relatives had to work. The kids missed me. The kids missed their US friends. The cost to have them fly here, we figured (after prodding from younger child), was not much more than for Nicholas to fly there and back again. And so, we booked them tickets. That story would take up another several paragraphs – it was stressful beyond belief and was like something out of an Ionesco play. Everything that could go wrong seemed to, including discovering only the night before they flew that their US passports had expired. Ack!! They couldn’t fly with UK ones unless they had visas. It got so complicated. But they made it here. Greatly due to more kindness from family members.
We had a whirlwind week, including Halloween, with our old community in Columbia County. it was pretty fabulous, and also so strange, since we weren’t living in our own house. We stayed in our friends’ house for several nights and got to look out on the Hudson River:
That same scene would be full of ice now, I think, so sorry for the anachronistic image. We also stayed at the mansion of another friend and had a good deal of fun “playing house” there. This picture hardly conveys the depth of decadence this room carries. I loved this room full of Birds-Eye Maple details – just delicious, the color and richness of the wood.
We were so very lucky to have so many friends to stay with, and that I had a house on Long Island to live in for as long as I needed to. I kept thinking of the poor people who had no such base to rely on who had to wait longer than I for visa approval.
I started to enjoy myself, too. I figured that I should take advantage of the fact that I was in charge of my own time, that I had no parental or spousal responsibilities, that I was my own free agent for a few more weeks. And so, I had lunch with my very first acupuncture colleagues, I went to NYC to visit a Wellesley friend I hadn’t seen in fourteen years (ack), went to Boston to take an acupuncture seminar. I even had the very good fortune to have a Face Reading event planned for me – a close friend organized seven women in her workplace to have mini-readings with me. It did feel good to work again.
But finally we thought, “enough is really enough!” and Nicholas, who was back in England by this time (he and our girls probably thought I was never coming “home” at that point), contacted the local M.P. (who is like a local congressman, maybe?) to inquire as to the progress of my case. Their office was incredibly swift in assisting us and within a day or so determined that my application was NOT being considered a Priority one. Huh? We’d paid a very tidy sum for it to be expedited and asked the lawyer to send proof of that fact. That was when we discovered she was not allowed to communicate directly with the UK Visa office. We had to send the proof to the M.P.’s office and THEY sent it on to the visa office.
Within 24 hours of that exchange, I had notice that my visa decision had been reached. Originally, the lawyer had told me that I would have to go back to the NYC office where I’d given my fingerprints and that they would hand me my decision in person there. Thank goodness I didn’t have to do that. They mailed them to me and luckily the decision was in the affirmative – phew. I could book a ticket! I did so for the next week. I ended up staying in Long Island for Thanksgiving, which was interesting. A bit sad to not have my usual family members to bond with, and also actually quite liberating not to have to cook a thing. I was the glad guest of a cousin out here (from my father’s side) who was incredibly kind to invite me to join in their family gathering. I flew on November 28th and arrived in England on my birthday. I was back.