This week we talk of our immigration experiences. What was your experience?
I applied for citizenship in 2002 my thought being that after 9/11 they might start chucking every immigrant out who disagreed with George Bush. Typically, the application coincided with my ten-year green card expiring. I didn’t even know it could run out, but since my paperwork had been “mislaid” twice before, I hired a lawyer to keep track of things. Boy was that the wrong thing to do.
Come the day of my interview, we were herded around as usual, then shown into a tiny room where “Officer” what’s-his-name took an instant dislike to me on account of aforementioned lawyer sitting in the corner taking notes. You have to learn 100 questions about the USA, and answer 6 out of 10 correctly. He asked me the hardest questions, and even though I got the first 6 correct, the ba***rd continued to ask four more. He then interrogated me as to why my Texas marriage license didn’t have any witnesses, despite the statement on the certificate that no witnesses were required. I was then reprimanded for not applying sooner for citizenship. At the end of the interview, instead of shaking my hand and congratulating me, he said I would hear in about 6 weeks, because “you never know what the FBI will kick out” at which point everything went a bit dream-like.
What he should have said was that because they were now actually carrying out more thorough FBI background checks, there was of course, a huge backlog. But no. That would’ve been too civil. I then became convinced that the marriage in Dallas was null and void and that I was about to be featured on CNN as the latest tragic deportee. (Not that I minded going back to England, but taking the family would have been the plan.)
Happily, my paperwork came through in about 4 weeks and I was invited to the swearing in ceremony downtown. We were warned, on pain of not being sworn in, to arrive at least an hour beforehand, which of course, I did. We were all herded (again) into a large room, where we sat for about 45 minutes. Very strange. At that time, about ten more people were let into the room and I bristled at the “special people” who were allowed to be late. The judge, himself the son of Mexican immigrants, mentioned something about not everyone “loving this country as much as we do” and I thought he was referring to the events of 9/11.
Leaving the building afterwards, I noticed the place was crawling with press. Surely they don’t make this much fuss every time people are sworn in, I thought as I dodged mike booms and cameras. It was only on watching the news later that I realized some idiot had entered the building with explosives in his backpack/rucksack, intending to blow up the entire place – while I was stuck on the 29th floor.
I moved to Britain by coming over to visit my fiancée, marrying her and just never going home. We got a bit of stick for it when we went for my Leave To Remain, but mostly no one minded. That was seven years ago, however; try that now and you'll find yourself on the first boat back to where ever you came from.
When my five-year apprenticeship ended, I applied for citizenship, received it with very little fuss and attended a warm and sincere welcoming in ceremony hosted by the local Lord Lieutenant. They even provided snacks.
However, the current trend in immigration rules—be they for spouses, students, workers or Anglophiles—are not something I keep a close eye on (after all it's no longer relevant to me) but I understand it is getting steadily more expensive to get into the United Kingdom no matter how you do it. The last time I did a loose mental calculation was when my wife's cousin married an American, and it was in the thousands.
I don't recall having to pay that much. Truth be told, I don't recall how much I paid at all, so it can't have been a lot. Even my "Can You Speak English Well Enough To Pass This Test?" entry exam was only £40. I paid more than that to get my driver's license. And when you consider that Bill Bryson mentions in one of his many books that his immigration experience basically involved finding England an agreeable place to live and deciding to remain, you can't deny that admission requirements (as well as the cover charge) to club Britain are rising.
Even so, it's still way easier to get into the UK than into the US, and I have to wonder why that is. The US has gangs of room (plus that poem on the Statue of Liberty about sending over your huddled masses yearning to breathe free that I bet they wish they could blank out) whereas the UK is a bit full up. With 640 people per square mile, compared to the US's 80, I don't think it's out of line for them to raise the bar a little.
Besides, immigration over here is a lot different than in the US. Because we belong to the United States of Europe, anyone living in any of the other member states can come over whenever they want to and stay as long as they like, just as if you were moving from Minnesota to Mississippi. It's also just as hard to track them; the government, to stem the rising xenophobia, reports that the number of "non-British" EU citizens living in Britain is around 37, whereas The Daily Mail puts it somewhere nearer to 1.7 billion. So, being unable to keep EU Immigrants out, the government seems to be doing what it can to limit tangible immigration.
But it's still a doddle compared to what you have to do to get into America.
Got something you want us to address? E-mail your suggestion to us or just pop it into the comment box.
Spring in the park
4 hours ago