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How much I’ve spent on becoming a British citizen

It’s a lot of money, people.

Cha-ching!

I have gone back through all the records I have and wracked my brain to think of all associated costs. I have not been able to find the specific figures for everything, so I’ve made best guesses in some cases. I’m sure if I wanted to, I could find the proper facts, but I’ve already spent about an hour researching what I COULD find, so I think that’s plenty.

All in, I have spent approximately £15,000 on visas and all associated costs in the past 9 years. The true total is probably much higher than this because I’ve probably forgotten some bits and pieces that should be included.

The biggest chunk of that is actually the cost of my Masters degree. International fees for an MSc in Design and Digital Media at the University of Edinburgh were around £10,000 in 2007/2008. Some might say that’s not a directly related cost to citizenship, but it actually is because it got me a post-study work visa and I wouldn’t still be here without it.

Post-study work was one of the 5 visas I’ve had over the past 9 years. Visa fees alone (not including the citizenship application, as it’s not technically a visa) make up for about  £2,300 of the total.

Other costs included in that £15,000 include any travel I had to do in order to get visas, including one set of return flights to the US, legal fees for advice, checking service and biometrics appointments, Life in the UK test fees and materials, passports, pictures, and all the other little things that go along with this volume of paperwork.

And MAN is there a lot of paperwork. I still have copies of most of it.

I should also note that the route I took to citizenship literally does not exist anymore. Some of the visas I’ve held have changed or disappeared altogether. For the ones that do still exist, many of the rules around things like timings and income requirements have changed drastically, often right after I obtained them under the previous rules. I got in under quite a few wires. And I have had a lot of luck and a lot of help.

It has not been an easy or cheap endeavour, and the costs above are only the monetary ones. There is a lot of stress and emotion involved in all of this, even for the most straightforward of cases. It’s actually really hard to represent what that portion of the experience is like to people who haven’t been through the system. But people who have been, REALLY know.

There is a camaraderie among those of us who have gotten to know the head-spinning ins and outs of the UKBA/UK Visas and Immigration processes and ever-changing rules and regulations. And I am more sympathetic than ever towards anyone going through any kind of immigration process anywhere in the world. No one does this lightly. You have to really, really want it. It’s not for chancers or freeloaders by any stretch of the imagination. You need to be completely on top of it. It’s a difficult road and it sometimes feels like you will never have to stop proving yourself. It’s an exhausting and occasionally Kafkaesque way to live.

As of this Tuesday, that’s over for me. While not without it’s faults, I still believe the process was absolutely worth it. But now I can spend my money on exercising my new British passport (when it arrives)!

(And if you know someone going through any stage of this kind of process, for Pete’s sake, give them a hug or a drink or a ‘Hang the fuck in there’. It’ll be well-appreciated.)

Citizenship

Forth bridges

Bridges! Those are good metaphors for getting citizenship, right? Right.

My plan, for a while now, has been to sort out my British citizenship as a Christmas present to myself this year. That’s a very shiny present, considering the cost. I would have loved to have done it earlier, so I could have cast a real vote in the Referendum, but Indefinite Leave to Remain put a hit on my bank account, and I’m still paying for Africa, so in the interest of financially sound decision making, citizenship had to maintain its later position on the List Of Things To Do Next.

This is important to do before heading off on any big adventure, for logistical reasons, and also because dammit, it’s been a long time coming and I want to make my home as official as it possibly can be. I am COMMITTED.

The logistics bit is mainly about time. When you apply for citizenship, you can only have been out of the country for a certain number of days in the year leading up to your application (and a larger number covering the 5 leading years). Any multi-month gallivanting I may want to do will probably scream past that number, so for me, it’s out of the question to take any such trip without a British passport firmly in hand.

I think it’s really weird, by the way, that I’m going to be the kind of person who has two passports in the very near future. It’s so fancy.

Getting that passport and the status that comes with it is about more than convenience though. For one thing, it allows me to vote. I vote in major US elections, but I’ve always done it by absentee ballot. And obviously I’ve never voted HERE. It’s kind of weird to make it to 30 without ever voting IN the country that claims you. So that’s pretty important to me. Citizenship also means I have the full rights of, well, a citizen, which means access to public funds should I ever need them and the full protection of the state in general. I’ll also be a citizen of the European Union, which means I can live and work anywhere in it. I don’t intend to move to the continent, but permission to do so is a nice thing to have in your arsenal.

Outside of all the practical stuff, it is actually important to me that I’m a citizen of my own home. I’ve been here 8 years now and I feel like I’ve proven my dedication to this place. I’ve lived in Edinburgh longer than any other place I’ve ever lived, and for all my post-college life. If I had to move back to the US, I’d be lost. It’s a different world. Not a bad one, but a little foreign to me in the bizarre way that only expats probably experience.

I’m also ready to be done with the visa process. I am WELL acquainted with the UKBA (now UK Visas and Immigration, actually). I’ve had many, many different visas. Some that don’t even exist anymore because of how often the rules change. I’ve done mountains of paperwork, spent tons of money, and had an awful lot of stress on my plate. And I’m just a white girl from America so it’s been relatively straightforward for me.

It’s easy for me to forget that most people don’t have to think about these things. When someone asks me how I got to stay or what one has to do to get a particular flavour of visa, I start reeling of info like it’s the most common of knowledge. Like my brain can’t compute that this is not just how everyone experiences the world. Lucky for them, it’s not. It does prove though, that you’ll pretty much do anything for something important to you. The visa stuff over the years has been a hassle, but I never once considered giving up on it, even in the most grim moments. (I even had a lawyer for the most recent round! A great one at that. Helping me learn that, no, you can’t ALWAYS do everything on your own, and you don’t have to. Experts exist for a reason.)

Anyway. Fighting for my place here has never been an option. And it’s not something I’d let go of easily.

My current visa is Indefinite Leave to Remain (One Visa To Rule Them All), so I don’t really need to get another one. I could stay on it forever. But I’m not interested in that kind of limbo. I’ve taken my Life in the UK test, I’ve poured a significant chunk of money into the system, and I’m ready to make it official. All that’s left is one more form, a few character references, some new (bad) passport photos, and about £1000. (And let’s be honest, probably a fairly significant waiting period. My ILR took 3 months.)

Once I’ve got it, I’ll do a bit of searching through my records and try to figure out exactly how much money I’ve spent on the process in the past decade. Facts and figures! I’ve not kept track so it’ll be an enlightening exercise. But whatever the number is, I will feel it was worth it.