Like every Kiwi who has lived in London over two years, we have a bit of a story to tell about how we managed to stay. In fact, you can almost guarantee when meeting expats over here, conversation will invariably come around to visa arrangements. It’s something that bubbles away in the back of all of our minds whether we have a renewal date looming, or have just come through the battle fields of visa application.
As my current visa is due to expire very soon (in August), it’s something that has been on my mind a little more often lately. My visa story is very much intertwined with my relationship. It’s based on my relationship that I have been able to stay in England for as long as I have. I talked a bit here about how Ben and I have followed each other around the world, and had some enforced periods apart due to visa and travel.
To catch you up: I went to Japan to teach English after university. Ben followed me after 6 months or so and stayed for a year. As his visa was coming to an end we were thinking about the next steps, I knew I didn’t want to stop travelling. I was filled with wanderlust after seeing what I had of Asia, I knew I couldn’t go home yet. Europe was calling.
I grew up listening to my mum and her friends recounting stories of their travels in and around Europe in the early 80’s. Tales of seedy men in Morocco, smuggling jeans into Russia, early Contiki tours and Kiwi hubs in South West London with intrepid travellers posting on notice boards looking for travel buddies. I wanted to experience it all.
As Ben has a British passport, it was a no brainer for us to head to England next. So Ben headed off to set us up and I followed, in what turned out to be months after due to a family wedding in NZ.
As my mum, and countless other antipodeans before me and after me, I came to England on a two year working holiday visa. Two years went by in a flash and we quickly decided we didn’t want to leave when my visa was up. So we started exploring options to stay. This is where the really helpful network of Kiwi friends came in. Someone always knew of someone who had done it before and could get us lots of advice.
In the end the best option for me was to apply for an ‘unmarried spouse visa’. This means I could stay in the UK as a family member of a British settled person, i.e. Ben.
We put together mountains of paperwork…
…and I do mean mountains!
- You had to prove that you were in a genuine relationship.
- That we had lived together for the two years prior to apply for the visa.
- That you meet the financial requirement, which for us was £18,600
- And that you meet an English Language requirement. However coming from NZ meant I was exempt for providing evidence on that point.
But for everything else we needed solid proof.
We spent about three months preparing for the visa, gathering documents from NZ and ordering things here. As everything has gone paperless it can be a bit of a hassle to get original payslips and bills and in many cases we were charged for them.
As we were doing it for the first time we had an immigration lawyer check over our application to see that we hadn’t missed anything or made any silly errors. I was really glad we did this for peace of mind as it is not something we had done before and …. it costs a whole lot of money to re-apply
We bundled it all up….Then trekked down to the Home Office in Croydon for our appointment on Valentine’s Day. Woo! Romantic! We had decided to make our application in person as we had travel plans over the summer that I didn’t want to risk missing because our passports weren’t back. So that meant, we would find out whether we were successful on the day.
We arrived in Croydon overly early as we were nervous and thought we would have a coffee or something to calm ourselves once we got down there. Unfortunately Croydon is not a place you want to spend too much time in, we found a dingey mall, not yet open and a Costa Coffee shop on the main road. So we sat with our coffees looking out over grey buildings and greyer drizzly skies and started to wonder why we were making this application in the first place…
When the time came for our appointment we passed through airport style security at the entrance and then queued to sign in. The whole process was a lot of being called up, queueing and then waiting. We signed in, handed in paperwork, my biometrics were taken and then it was time for the decision.
We were sent to a cafeteria style waiting room with a ticket number and told to come up when we heard our number. I forget what number we had, but let’s call it 100. It took about an hour for the numbers to get close to 100… We started to pack our things and prepare to go up.. I was wired. I kept thinking worst case scenarios like, I was going to be denied and sent straight to Heathrow.
Then the numbers went past 100. 1021, 107, 115. My stomach started sinking… This could only mean bad news right? 121, 140. I started looking around at the others whose numbers had been skipped, were they over stayers? Were we all being deported today? 144, 153….
100!!!! I looked at Ben, well, this is it. We walked up to the decision desk and the officer handed me an A4 piece of paper and said we were successful. I had to ask her again as she delivered the news so casually I didn’t realise it had happened. After all the waiting I felt like I need the news to be delivered to a chorus of trumpets and fanfare.
We got it! 2.5 more years in London. We took these fuzzy pictures once we got home to commemorate. Yay wine! I definitely needed that.
This was all two and a half years ago now, so it’s time for me to get an extension.
This time we’re doing it ourselves, via the post. So my passport will be sent away for a few months. Fingers crossed it all goes well I’ll have another two and a half years to live in this amazing country.
What has your visa experience been like? Tell me about all the nerves and the paperwork… Soo much paperwork!