Thursday, 29 July 2010

My Journey to Official Residence

In June I took the “Life in the UK” test, which is a prerequisite for applying for citizenship or indefinite leave to remain. The Home Office offers a book that contains all of the information used to formulate the test, so I had been studying for a few weeks before driving up to Llandrillo College in Conwy to take the test. There were six of us in the room, and we learned afterwards that four of us had passed. I treated myself to a cream cake in one of the many tea rooms in Rhos-on-Sea afterwards to celebrate, and began to think (in other words “worry”) about the next challenge: my application for “Indefinite Leave to Remain.”

Having lived and held a work permit in the UK for five years, I was eligible to apply for this long-term residence permit, which would remove conditions from my stay. It would allow me to work in any job, instead of only as part of the music duo “Ember,” as specified on my work permit. It would also free me from the need to apply for more visas or work permits, as long as I was never absent from the country for more than two years.

So I compiled my application, with evidence of my work, finances and continuous time spent in the country. I also asked for letters of support from my employer, and from some of the theatre and festival organisers who have booked Ember in the past. For good measure I rounded up a selection of reviews and publicity about our music from over the years, to show how very busy we have been. . . and finally I made sure I had the £1095 in my account to pay for the application!

The people in the Cardiff public enquiry office were very friendly, and after I handed in the application and paid the fee they advised that I go look around the town centre for a couple of hours, as it would be more pleasant than hanging around the small, crowded waiting room. So I took their advice and found the high street, with plenty of shoe shops to keep me occupied. And, in fact, I did find a couple of contenders for summer sandals, but decided it would be bad luck to buy myself shoes before I knew the outcome of the application.

After two hours, they still hadn’t rung my phone to ask me to return, but I couldn’t face any more shopping so I returned to the dreaded waiting room, and asked the security man to tell someone I’d returned. After a while a man came out and asked me a question about my application. It was a scary question, as it seemed to imply that my time in the UK may not have added up to five years. I answered the best I could. He went back behind the door. This happened three or four more times over the course of an hour or so. My heart was wildly fluctuating, and I could see the other applicants in the room looking by turns exhausted and fearful, but then remarkably poised when they were approached by an officer holding their papers.

Eventually there was only one other person sitting in the waiting room with me. She and I took turns standing up and walking over to look out the window at the typically grey and uninspiring street scene below. I happened to be sitting when my officer, whose name I never learned, walked out and handed me my folder. “You’re all done. You’ll get your passport in the post with the sticker in it within five days.” He was very matter of fact. I was so relieved and grateful, I shook his hand vigorously and thanked him, which seemed to amuse him somewhat. Then I caught the bus back to the station, in time for the 5:43 train back to Machynlleth. As I walked to my platform, I recognized a woman I’d seen in the waiting room. She was just settling into a seat in the cafe, and pouring herself a glass of white wine. I had already bought myself a celebratory can of Guinness, which I opened as soon as the train began to move.

When I arrived home several hours later, there were big yellow letters in the window spelling out “HOORAY,” and the unmistakable sound of the gramophone playing some lovely smaltzy 1940’s jazz. Paul appeared from the conservatory with a bottle of wine in his hand, poured me a glass and then grabbed me for a waltz until the music stopped. The cat was there too. We were all very happy.

Since then I have felt much more grounded. It’s made a difference to my state of mind, knowing that I can stay here as long as I want. Once or twice I have felt worried for a moment, about nothing in particular, and then had to remind myself: I don’t have to worry about that any more! It had been weighing on my mind for a long time, as I feared they might find some reason to turn me down. I’m very grateful to have been accepted as a permanent resident, and might even consider applying for citizenship, when I’m eligible in another year.

Paul and me after our traditional "river walk" on Solstice

the river (alright, so it's more of a stream)