I want to start a series of posts about the technicalities of being an expat in the UK, because a lot goes into being a normal human being in another country and the way to do that is not always readily apparent. I’ve mentioned in an older post that I felt like a helpless newborn baby when I first arrived. I’d say that after 14 months here, I’ve graduated to toddler status, which is a win. I guess 14 months-old are toddlers, so that makes sense. I’ll be a full on adult in 2033. Happy 18th birthday to me!
First things first.
How does one become a legal resident of the United Kingdom? I am most recently familiar with one route, but if you want the full list and are really bored, here is a link. In general, the categories are family, student, work.
I first came over on a student visa back in 2008, but so much has changed that it’s not worth going into the details. I recently returned on a family visa because I’m married to a British citizen. The process is so, so different from the U.S. immigration system, which I wrote about here.
For us, it was entirely a very expensive paper exercise. We had to prove the legality and authenticity of our marriage (license, photos, joint documentation); provide detailed documentation that we met the financial criteria and that my husband was gainfully employed (sponsoring spouses must earn £18,600 a year and only certain employment situations meet this criteria); provide evidence that we had a satisfactory place to live when I arrived (can be in a relative’s house or your own accommodation but it must have an appropriate people to rooms ratio); supply biometrics and original and copies of all documents (biometrics must be done at a specific collection centre); and fill out endless forms. We had to pay roughly £800 for the visa application itself, £500 to expedite the application; £600 for the NHS immigrant surcharge; and then there is the cost of shipping the huge packet of information.
With the expedite service offered, I received my visa within a week. Let’s compare that to the YEAR it took for my husband to get his U.S. immigrant visa. As much as I hate on the Home Office sometimes, you just can’t complain about that turn-around time.
My visa gave me one month to immigrate to the U.K. or else I would have to start the process all over again. I was a bundle of nerves after I sent the application off, even though I believed we were all set. You just never know. I was in a very important meeting when I got word it had arrived in my passport and may or may not have sobbed silently. Ok, I didn’t do that because I was note-taking for some important people and needed to have my shit together, but I felt euphoric.
Once I arrived in the UK, I had to collect my Biometric Residence Permit from the Post Office (size of a driver’s license). This card has my photo, my personal identifying information, and the stipulations of my residency. Basically I need to never lose this card. Ever.
I am only given ‘Leave to Enter’ for 2.5 years, after which I must do the above process all over again (and it’s getting more expensive). I am not entitled to public funds, excluding the NHS, but I am allowed to work.
After 2.5 years, when I reapply, I will receive an additional 2.5 years ‘Leave to Enter.’ After that I can apply for ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’ which would make me eligible for citizenship if I wanted to pursue that or simply to live in the United Kingdom permanently without any more visa applications.
So, it’s fast, but it’s very, very expensive and cumbersome. I really look forward to the day when my husband and I don’t have to worry about this anymore.
Next up….getting a Driver’s License.