Monday, January 25, 2016

Obtaining a UK visa: no, they don't "have it easy" at all

Dealing with immigration is exhausting. It's literally exhausting. I don't mean you think you feel a bit run down or whatever - your body goes into full sensory shutdown, your muscles ache, your migraines are never ending and you develop all new forms of lethargy that you didn't previously think existed.

It's just a drain, man.

UK spouse visas are in the news due to an impending tightening up, and a common opinion is "Good, they have it easy". I'm here to tell you that this couldn't be further from the truth. Below is a very condensed rundown which doesn't go into the real nitty gritty, because honestly, you'd be here all day.

Setting the scene: someone in the UK wants to end up with someone from outside the EU. Ideally, they want to live in the UK. If you're from Europe and move to the UK, your spouse can be from anywhere in the World - Brazil, Africa, America, whatever. Doesn't matter. You can come to the UK from Europe with your non-European partner and that's basically it. Job done. Okay, there's a bit more to it than "show up and live here" but it's certainly not like the below process, to the degree that people from the UK are actually doing this to avoid the boobery outlined below.

That's because if you're from the UK, and your spouse is from outside the EU - you're screwed. You'll have to run a five year gauntlet of headaches, paperwork, problems, a total ban on any form of public funds, the most ridiculous assortment of "do this / don't do that" you could imagine, questions on application forms which are almost designed to fail by virtue of asking for things which many companies and banks don't even issue anymore (hello, self printed wageslips which aren't accepted, paperless bank accounts which also aren't accepted and landlords / housing associations who don't issue letters under any circumstance).

GETTING STARTED

Should you be lucky enough to get the visa in the first place - and after applying, it can take months to get a decision - you'll find out completely out of the blue. You just receive an email saying "A decision has been reached", and then you have to sweat it out waiting to see what the result is a few days later when the parcel with your passport in arrives. They're supposed to tell you when the documents are on their way back to you, but guess what? The courier can (and did) just show up, then vanish taking the documents with them leading to more delays. You can also find some of the original documents are missing from the bundle, and after chasing them up and making appointments to collect will realise some of them are still missing.

Once you HAVE a positive decision, you then get 30 days to resolve your affairs and leave the country to head off to the UK. That's it - 30 days. Who can tie up bills, payments, apartment rents and everything else in their home country in 30 days before leaving it forever? And that's before you realise they have to pay a SUPER EXPENSIVE one way flight in 30 days or less. If you don't manage to fly to the UK within the 30 day time limit, things can get complicated - and expensive, of course.

Oh, and don't forget the part where you suddenly have to box everything up and arrange shipping. I hope you don't like sleep!

I'm not entirely sure why this absolutely insane discrimination against our own citizens exists, but here's just some of the changes over the last couple of years to the visa route in question:

1) The hardest part is obtaining the initial entry visa. This has always been the case. However, it used to be that once you'd done the hard part and forked over the cash, that was it - you could remain for 2.5 years and then apply for indefinite leave. You'd have to pay for that last part of course, but that was it.

2) That all changed. Figuring "we can make more money from it like this", now you'd have to pay for the initial 2.5 year spouse visa, and apply AGAIN for a renewal to last another 2.5 years. At the end of the 5 year stint (assuming you don't lose your mind and crack up over the possibility of doing something which invalidates the stay over those long 5 years or suddenly get caught by some retroactive nonsense, or lose your job at the EXACT moment you have to reapply and be under the £18,500 salary requirement), you THEN have to pay for the indefinite leave to remain.

In a nutshell, it's gone from 2.5 years and two payments, to 5 years made up of two separate 2.5 year visas and then the indefinite leave to remain payment.

Of course, this is all terrifyingly expensive which I'll get to later.

The run-up to applying isn't helped by the fact that the UK visa pages tend to be a circular mess of confusing links, baffling descriptions of documents required, a helpline which requires you to hand over credit card info and be billed for time spent on the call before they'll even talk to you and a set of requirements which are....astonishingly vague, for the most part.

You would THINK that the visa application form would say "Want to come here? Then provide this" and be done with it.

Nope.

What actually happens is, you get a general outline of what's expected but then it's up to you to effectively fill in the blanks. Yes, we know you need 6 months wage slips and bank statements. But proof of relationship stuff? Documentary evidence? Eh, that's all left to your discretion. You don't HAVE to spend five days of your life printing out four years worth of emails, phonecalls, SMS, VoIP chat logs, social network screenshots and printouts of photographs - but it helps.

Probably.

Other aspects like "Overcrowding" are a big deal. A horribly strained set of criteria are used to establish if your intended living space meets size and room guidelines, and although some immigration advisers will tell you that this information isn't needed, most people do it anyway just in case. Before you know it, £200+ has gone down the toilet on a four page house survey. £40 has gone out the door DHL'ing three sheets of paper overseas due to them insisting on having your most recent wage slip and bank statement AND letter from an employer being no older than 28 days at time of online application.

You know what documents don't magically tend to show up within a few days of one another, thus making the 28 day thing a source of endless headaches?

Wage slips and bank statements and letters from employers.

Meanwhile, the person overseas is blowing money on things like TB tests which have a finite amount of time ticking down before they expire and you have to go do it all over again. My favourite was the language test which cost upwards of £150 (I think), which basically amounted to walking in a room, sitting down and having a conversation. "You've passed!"

Yes, you've passed the getting fleeced test with flying honours. Well done!

ONLINE PAYMENT HEADACHES? YOU BET...

When you apply for the initial visa online, even that can be a disaster because they combined the system to take payments for the NHS surcharge (more on this below) and then the visa (originally, they were separate services and you could pay for them at different times).

You now have to pay for the NHS surcharge first when doing the visa application online, as a standalone payment, then take the number they give you and enter that when paying the visa fee immediately afterwards. If you don't have the NHS number, you can't pay for the visa.

You know what happens when you try to make an NHS surcharge payment for £600 for a service your bank has never seen you pay before? You tend to have your card blocked.

You know what tends to happen if you then try to immediately pay the £1,300 odd fee for the visa in the timeout threatening session?

You almost CERTAINLY have the payment blocked.

This leads to a merry dance of card switching, bank phoning action while trying to make sure you didn't typo any of the dozens of fields sitting in front of you.

Everywhere you look, there's an additional fee for something.

And that's before you get to the wonderfully silly NHS charge.

THE NHS SURCHARGE

See, it doesn't matter that the person coming here will be paying for their NHS via their taxes just like the rest of us. For no real reason at all, they now get double dipped and have to pay a standalone NHS fee which amounts to £600 for 2.5 years of cover.  If you don't pay the NHS fee online, you can't apply for a visa because you need the NHS number at visa application submission time.
The pricing for the NHS charge confused many immigration firms who stated it would be £500 at launch, only to discover they were out by a hundred quid.

The reason is, as far as I can tell, that the UK visa is SLIGHTLY longer than 2.5 years by like a couple of weeks. As a result of THAT, anyone paying "only" £500 would be technically not covered by the charge for those few weeks. So they round it up to £600 to cover those last few weeks. If you didn't renew or had to leave, I guess you'd have paid over the odds for services you then wouldn't be using which is a bit annoying. (Please note, this is what I assume is happening - I asked 3 different immigration firms why the fee is actually £600 instead of £500 and this was the best guess answer).

So before you tally up any figures at all, anyone who stays the full 5 years is already out of pocket by £1200 for reasons which will forever remain a mystery.

In fact, your time is generally spent in general throwing up your hands every time the word "Immigration" comes on the news and crying out WHAT ARE THEY STIFFING US FOR NOW, DAMMIT.

Case in point: at the end of the 5 years, there's an English test. Of course, you'll be paying extra for that. This was a perfectly okay way to do it, but now there's a new English test sandwiched in the middle of the stay. You'll be paying for that, too.

Everywhere you look, it's death by a thousand paper money cuts.

Everything you do, or need to do, is permanently shrouded in a veil of "Debilitating anxiety that something will go wrong and / or be rejected at application time".

EXPENSIVE RENEWALS

It can theoretically take "up to" 10 months for a renewal to take place. That's almost running up to half the length of your stay. So of course, the fear is to get it in early, despite probably not having enough documentary stuff to hand for "evidence" at this stage (ask me again sometime about the fun and games involved in getting a bank account, when you don't have a NI number, but need some other thing to get the NI number to get the bank account, but...)

Think about this. That's the best part of a year sweating buckets on something that's ridiculously important, upon which a whole pile of things hinge. But, you know, whatever. Sweat it out, and fork over a lot of cash for the privilege of doing so.

Alternatively, you can go do it same day, in person, and throw in something like a £400 odd "premium charge". Why? Because pay up or take a hike, that's why. Oh, and the cost of the visa is currently going through the roof.

"The cost of the visa will rise from £2,141 to a maximum of £3,250"

Seriously, look at that nonsense. It's expected to peak at around £2,600 odd, but by the time next year rolls around I'd be amazed if it hasn't approached insane levels of "Money please".

So.

That's what - anything "up to" £3,250 for the visa, I'm guessing that doesn't include the £600 for the NHS fee renewal, there's the inevitable £400 odd premium same day service (because nothankyou.jpeg to the 10 month wait), an expected £200 odd for a house survey, whatever health tests they may want, the language test (not sure how much this will be yet but based on prior experience let's go with £150 odd) and - most likely - £600 or so pounds for a decent immigration advisor service (which I recommend using, because holy crap).

£5,000+ for a visa? What the actual fuck.

As a final closer: non EU partners in the UK do NOT receive benefits, and are barred from "public funds" for the duration of their stay alongside having to effectively pay an NHS tax of £600 as a further barrier to entry. If you show up in the comments banging on about jumping into the dole queue / getting houses for free or getting cushy medical treatment without having to pay a penny, I will banhammer you into outer space.

For everyone else, take a ticket and join me in shaking your head and saying "What the actual fuck".

It's my current favourite phrase.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Forget the Surrinder Singh route, being separated from your spouse is a breach of your human rights and an immigration solicitor can help you appeal to the Home Office, I know two couples who did that and despite not meeting the financial requirements were granted leave to remain. My wife's visa come through quickly and they accepted printed out pay slips but you're right, it's a ridiculously expensive process

Unknown said...

Too true, my wife is in the 1st 2.5 year chunk of the visa process and every pronouncement is greeted "oh dear God, what now". I particularly winced at your NI comment- brought back some fun memories!

Anonymous said...

What a mess. Stay strong.