Saturday, February 18, 2017

Reflections of an Immigrant

Yesterday we went to London to deal with the dreaded American passport dilemma. We have seven people in our family. Four members have two passports each. Let's do the math, shall we?

3 + 2(4)= 11 passports to renew, all at different times unfortunately

We are planning a trip to the US in April, and we've been working quite hard trying to get our permanent residency established and our two American-born children's passports back in order to go. That has required A LOT of paperwork--including letters from every school and doctor's surgery they've ever been to, with records of attendance and appointments. Considering they've been to six schools between them over the last six years, that was not the matter of a simple phone call.

So in the midst of all this we realized that the American passport of Second Eldest Daughter, who was born in the UK, had expired. Hence an urgently-booked trip to the American Embassy in London to deal with it.

Cue the 4am wakeup to make a 9:30 appointment in London, and then the endless bureaucracy of getting into the American Embassy, which is on par with Fort Knox, and understandably so. We queued in the line for non-US visas for ten minutes just to get in the building before we realized we were in the wrong line.

Then many more lines, for security, to enter the Citizen Services area, to register in the Citizen Services area, to pay for the passport, to pay for the courier envelope, to hand in the application, and finally, finally, the last line to approve the application. Two hours later we emerged, blinking and dazed, into Grosvenor Square.

But I will say everyone was very efficient and friendly, far more so than the last time we had to go to the Embassy in London (we usually go to the far smaller Consulate in Edinburgh), which was in November 2001, and let me say, it felt like you were entering a maximum-security prison, and you were a prisoner. Understandably.

And despite the many hoops we've had to jump through lately, not to mention the many cheques we've had to write, I'm very grateful that we have the opportunity to live in the UK as US citizens, especially when I consider the state of immigration today.

Two days after the Brexit vote my husband and I were sitting in the visa office in Solihull with about 20 other immigrants applying for permanent residency. We all sat there quietly with our applications on our laps--hundreds of pages of paperwork showing the jobs we've had, the taxes we've paid, the fact that we are not eligible for any government benefits, such as child benefit, while employed in the UK--while a large-screen TV blared experts' opinions on the Brexit vote and the immigration 'problem'.

It was incredibly poignant and sad to sit there with polite, gainfully employed non-UK citizens who have added so much to this country and listen to people on TV describing how we're all a problem. The immigration system isn't perfect in any country, and of course it can be abused. But it is a wonderful, wonderful thing for many people, including me.

The last thing I will mention is that all the people working in the visa office, some of them immigrants themselves, were incredibly polite, friendly, and efficient. It made the laborious process much, much more pleasant!


  1. What an interesting post. I had no idea it was so complicated. Also, I can imagine the security at the embassies is very tight these days. What an experience. If I'm not being too bold to ask, how did you and your family decide to live in the U.K. And how did you find work?
    Our ex-pat dream had been to settle elsewhere for many years ( and I have to say the political climate in the US right now makes it even more appealing). We are too old to think of that now but I love to hear about others experiences.

    1. It was somewhat decided for us! My husband did his graduate degree in England when we were first married, and after 8 years in the US, we decided to move back to the UK because we felt more at home there. We're able to work through a visa based on UK ancestry--basically, you have to be a Commonwealth citizien with one British grandparent, which I am. After 5 years you can become permanent residents, and then after one more year, citizens. It's never too late to become an ex-pat :)

    2. Thank you for explaining, I have Cumbrian ancestry but it's many generations removed. Alas. When we traveled around England years back we ran into some Americans in pubs who had clearly settled there and we wondered about it then.
      Researching it a little it seems we need a certain amount of income ( not investments) so we would not be a drain on the health care system. I can understand that.
      I enjoy your books and blog very much so I will love vicariously through your posts. At 60 I don't think we will be moving across the ocean but I sure wish we'd attempted it 30 years ago! 🇬🇧