There have been a lot of stories in the news recently about the Windrush generation and the appalling way in which the British government has treated those brave families, who left their homes to help build a better life for themselves and to enrich our society.
The scandal that followed; an attempt to cover up the way our immigration system has failed so many people so catastrophically, is shocking, but sadly not a surprise, especially for those of us who have to deal with it on a regular basis.
Over two months ago, Rhonda and I resumed the brain-melting, soul-destroying process of applying for the renewal of her and Audrey’s resident visas, a very particular form of torture which is becoming more inhumane and unnecessarily incomprehensible each time.
Our original application was posted to the UKBA on March 5th, but not before we discovered an additional charge which wasn’t mentioned until we printed off the forms…
…so we went to their website and retrieved the two personal IHS numbers required for Rhonda and Audrey to access the National Health Service (despite the fact we have been married for three years, during which time Rhonda has paid full tax and national insurance contributions) only to find they cost £500 EACH!
Another thousand pounds we don’t have, on top of the two and a half grand I had only just managed to finance with a bank loan. And we could only complete the form by applying for the numbers and paying for them online, immediately leaving us a grand short for the actual visa application.
Needless to say, that was a very fraught afternoon.
After several heated phone calls and much stressed-out swearing, I posted a ranting status update on Facebook, concerning the injustice of the system in general and the blatant extortion by the UKBA and Home Office specifically, which yielded a suggestion by my cousin to start a GoFundMe campaign.
I know crowdfunding is popular these days, but the idea of begging friends, family and strangers alike for money has never been a pleasant one, no matter what the reason, but desperate times require desperate measures, so I set one up.
With utter astonishment and eternal gratitude, we watched donations come pouring in from around the world; from family and friends old and new, to total strangers and friends-of-friends, we eventually raised just over £900 of the ambitious £2000 goal I’d set, just about covering the extra fees and returning us to square one.
Fortunately, the bureaucrats hadn’t got around to taking payment, using the card details I had supplied with our application, so I was able to top up my account with the donations and then we just waited for news.
Until, that is, a couple of days later, when I got a call from my bank.
I reproduce here for you, one of my Facebook posts from that day, which for those of you with delicate sensibilities, does contain some rather robust language…
Ok, all you lovely people have overwhelmed us with your generosity and we have finally sent off the application (including my bank card details, so they can take payment when they process the forms) leaving us to wait for their decision, hoping they get round to it soon.
Anyway, I was sitting here, waiting for Rhonda to get home from work last night, when I got a text from the bank;
“Halifax has noticed your Halifax Debit card ending **** was used on 14-03-2018 20:32:31, at ARGOS LTD for £44.99. This payment has not been debited from your account. Please confirm if this transaction was made by you by replying Yes or No. Replying with Yes will NOT cause the payment to leave your account.”
I rang them immediately and, long story short, they told me there had now been three tries at taking money and they would have to cancel my card, otherwise they couldn’t be responsible for blocking any further fraudulent attempts on my account.
The card that is about to be used to pay for the visas!
So, today I rang the Home Office enquiries line (there is, of course, no way to get in touch with the actual visa application department, that would be too easy) and they basically told me that they couldn’t tell me anything definite, but there are two likely options;
1 – They could contact us and request an alternate payment method (I should have a new card by Monday) after which the application will continue as before.
2 – We may have to reapply from scratch, meaning we’ll need to pay for TWO MORE FUCKING IHS NUMBERS. (they “should” refund the first ones, since we didn’t use them)
All this, AFTER Rhonda and Audrey’s current visas have expired.
So there you have it; the nightmare continues.
All of which brings us up to the last week or so.
Things really couldn’t go any more wrong, that would just be ridiculous…right?
Because next come the biometrics; all that personal data which must be reaffirmed each time a visa is renewed.
Here are the bullet points of that fiasco:
– We need our identity documents to apply for the biometrics in person.
– But the UKBA still have them, so I wrote (and rang, and emailed and filled in online forms) to have the documents returned to us.
– The UKBA send us a letter telling us we must apply for our biometrics in ten days or our application will be rejected.
– I ring to explain in great and patient detail (and email and fill in online forms) to “escalate” our request; during which time NOT ONE PERSON says anything about not requiring identification for biometric registration.
– We finally get a package of documents back from the Home Office, minus Rhonda and Audrey’s passports, but including a letter which calmly tells us that, because we haven’t registered our biometrics in time, they now consider our application invalid and that my wife and daughter are now “liable for removal”. That’s the polite term for deportation, in case you’re in any doubt.
– I ring and have a markedly less patient but equally detailed conversation with an immigration robot drone and am informed that we; must make an appeal to the Home Office by post, or apply again, although they are incapable or unwilling to tell us which would be the correct procedure.
– They will refund the price of the visas (less a £50 “administration fee) but apparently not the £1000 IHS charge.
– Rhonda has written to our local MP who has promised to help if he can, as well as sending an appeal letter to the Home Office, asking if we can simply reapply for the visas and biometrics and that they excuse us our unintentional (but perfectly understandable) clerical error.
So now all we can do is wait, anxiously and with no way to tell if we’re going to get a knock at the door, signaling that my family is about to be torn apart.
On top of all that, Rhonda and Audrey were supposed to be in America right now, to welcome their new grandson/nephew into the world, a trip which is currently impossible even if we could afford it (and the government hadn’t retained their passports) because with their immigration status in limbo, they’d never be allowed to return.
And, to really put the rotten cherry on top of the poisoned cake; last week’s bank holiday was ruined by the need to call the police again on the world’s most obnoxious neighbours, who once more seemed intent on very noisily killing each other.
Despite the fact that half the neighborhood was standing outside spectating, or that several other residents had already reported the violent screaming and crashing noises coming from the upstairs windows of our building, neither the police nor their absentee landlord seem prepared to do anything. He even had the fucking cheek to tell our landlady that, “I’m not throwing them out, they’re good tenants, they always pay their rent.”
Leaving us with three options; put up with it, move out, or I let Rhonda have the baseball bat she’s been asking for and then take Audrey for a long walk while her mum dispenses some rough justice.
Option three doesn’t seem a very sensible idea at the moment, given our politically precarious position, so I hope my upcoming summit with the Environmental Health people gives us an alternative avenue to explore.
Which, I hope, goes some way to explaining why I have neglected some of my blogging duties in the last couple of months.
I am hoping that the possibility of long summer days in the garden, away from most of life’s distractions, will allow me more time to blog, promote the newly republished edition of The Wrong Stuff and get back into the swing of all things authorial.
But life does have a habit of getting in the way, so you’ll have to bear with me.