The train journey to the Home Office in Croydon lasted longer than the sum total of my registration, biometric recording and application review. As “116” flashed on the screen, I was certain the case worker required more supporting evidence or intended to raise an issue. I stood dumbfounded as they handed me an approval letter. Gathering evidence and preparing the form for application spanned two months.
The in-person application process was authoritative but reasonable and efficient. A token reward for years of the UK Border Agency’s indifference, incompetence and peddling of shoddy technology; grossly overspent solutions handed to them by monolithic consultancies.
For the UK Border Agency’s many faults, recent government reforms are producing slow but tangible results. Unfortunately, the UK Border Agency — now UK Visas & Immigration — is only the ends to a draconian, anti-growth immigration policy pioneered by Conservatives in government.
The reforms are little consolidation to the individuals and families whose lives the government’s heavy-handed crackdown on immigration put into upheaval. It’s one less lash for those of us still here.
The long-term implications of settlement — or “permanent residence”, “indefinite leave to remain”, call it what you like — aren’t immediately obvious or pertinent. I am now eligible for public funds (e.g. unemployment benefits) and I can practice as a sportsperson or doctor. Neither terribly appealing.
There is a bigger realization still coming into focus. Separation of oil from vinegar, a layer still unsettled from the mixing process. Relief that in two or three years there is not another visa renewal. Nor the anxiety of rejection, or the months of evidence gathering: providing excuses for every absence from the country, collecting a year of bank statements and pay slips, writing letters, studying for patriotic exams. I will not plan to stay — and plan to leave. Relief that the small hole of doubt in the bone marrow at the base of my neck, eager to heal but kept open by the vitriolic pandering of politicians, will begin to close.
The restrictions around work seemed reasonable at first, and in many ways prevented impulsive decision-making. In the design and tech industry, stability and long-term employment are little prized. To the extent that individuals move from organisation to startup to self-employment and back again is startling in comparison to traditional service and manufacturing industries. We love the intangibility and serendipity of it. By discouraging risk, my visa limitations kept a firm hand on my shoulder.
A grant of leave served as a ticking clock. I made some decisions mindful of this, some decisions regardless, and a few were doubtlessly made with it as a crutch.
Yet, as my life became rooted to London the deadlines simply became tedious.
When years in your life are judged by comparing the scale of variation to those prior, a stable and otherwise enjoyable year risks becoming stagnant when it is anything short of a sea change. At the end of two-thousand-twelve, I wrote:
What of next year? I intend to stay in the same job, the same flat and the same city. A year of potential firm footing? I am not naive enough to believe these things are not prone to upheaval. If, however, I keep to the ground a bit perhaps smaller, more interesting treasures are to be found.
Perhaps to my delight, twenty-thirteen didn’t quite live up to such dull expectations. I have no similar prediction for this year. Everything is new again.
In January, both the founder and manager of Sidekick Studios moved to focus on their own ventures. This left the rest of us to decide two things. The first, whether to take ownership. Then whether we try and hire talent to both manage client relations and pursue business development. Agreeing to not take ownership was a decision not made lightly. Despite accepting that perhaps everything has its time and place, it was a sad end to a good thing.
It’s the second time an organization made me redundant, and both have spurred activity aching to be tried and tested.
The so-called Highly Skilled Migrant (Tier 1) visa offered me many opportunities, and I will always recognise how extraordinarily fortunate I was to receive the first grant and subsequent renewal. Yet while providing opportunity, it discouraged risk, healthy or otherwise. With a twelve month qualification period before each renewal, the expectation to meet salary requirements kept me from attempting self-employment.
Having these limitations lifted one month to the day from moving on from a full-time job then, is no small change. If the last five years were a river journey to outside the walls of the city, this is the gaping sea on the other side. The real prize of settlement is the choice to make a choice. Indeed, every choice is now mine and perhaps that’s far more daunting than before.
After three consecutive sets of five years in a city, is that pattern broken — or has time, experience and a confluence of events provided enough flexibility for a new arrangement? Exploding growth in the digital sector and gradual maturity of its economy provide a landscape — albeit privileged — where I can live and work divided across nations and cities.
Five years ago, I never could have predicted that I would stay. Visa renewals were a measure to keep things as they were without confronting long-term decisions. A year before my first visa renewal, I wrote:
I have lived in this country for two years and already have a sincere appreciation for my work experience, my friends, the culture, this city. I understand how difficult it could be in one year to leave all of that behind. The same decision three years on is a choice I would hope to earn…
I think it will be some time before I understand what the real benefits and responsibilities of earning that place are.