Told You So 7 – Into The UK (And It All Goes Wrong)
21 December 2010 – I and my FP wife arrive late at night at Bristol (UK) airport. We are cold, tired and hungry. There is (unusually) thick snow – FP has never seen snow before. Our suitcases, crammed with 30kgs apiece, are falling apart.
I had anticipated potential problems with UK Immigration at the airport and had made sure I had readily to hand all the documents and supporting papers we might need. (Just an aside here, but the position legally – in UK at least – is that although you may have a valid visa to enter, the decision to grant entry is for the Immigration Officer at the point of entry to make. He can still refuse entry, or he can grant entry even if you don’t have a visa. All of the information on this, including the law and the UK Border Agency guidelines to Immigration staff is online at the UKBA site.) UKBA is a fairly recent creation which brought together staff from Home Office Immigration Department, Customs, and who knows where else to ‘defend UK borders’. The UKBA guy you deal with at the airport may last week have been a Value Added Tax clerk whose experience is limited to looking out of the window while inputting figures into an adding machine. This is not cynicism, dear reader, this is informed comment on reality.
Well, we had a slight problem but at least I was on home ground. Here, I spoke the language and fitted in to the ‘face’ issue and I knew the rules, and I was not inexperienced in the law enforcement arena. Although I was not in the best frame of mind for encountering bureaucracy I am and was ‘British’ enough to be polite and maintain courtesy. I was reminded of the time a couple of years before when I had entered the UK via an English Channel ferry at Dover. The (English) Pakistani lady Immigration Officer checked my UK passport thoroughly before passing me on to her (English) West African lady Customs Officer colleague for a full search of the vehicle. Welcome to the UK!
Our problem was that the Immigration Officer had never seen an EEA Family Permit before. He was a nice guy, small, middle-aged, specs and all and had probably fairly recently been happily employed in an office checking petty cash receipts. He certainly didn’t want to be standing at an airport Immigration desk close to midnight just before Christmas dealing with the unknown. He got a bit confused because the EEA permit is a multiple-entry 6 month permit and initially told my wife that she would be allowed to stay in UK for 6 months. Had he stamped her passport accordingly this could have been disastrous for our plans. I explained to him that the permit granted her entry (and exit and re-entry within six months) and that she had the right to stay, work, whatever, permanently. I gave him details of his own organisation’s website page and he wandered off, no doubt asking himself why it was his bad luck to be on that desk at that time. He came back and agreed with me and a few minutes later my Filipina Princess and I were outside the airport in the snow, legally in the UK, looking forward to our new life together.
I’d booked an airport hotel and it didn’t take long before we were settled in and had a drink to relieve the stress. The hotel wasn’t that special but was OK (part of an international chain). My FP thought it was wonderful. In the morning we went for breakfast, a not inexpensive buffet affair. We had a long day ahead travelling without much chance for a good meal, but I still had to convince her that it was ‘ok’ to take another glass of juice or ‘go round again’ for more eggs and bacon. The waitresses were genuinely friendly and helpful and called her ‘madam’. She wanted to make the bed and clean the bathroom before we checked out, she would be ‘embarrassed’ if we left the room looking as though it had been used. I explained the realities to her and she seemed to understand.
I apologise if all this seems mere trivia, but I merely recount my experience of (finally) taking my SEA lady into the UK for the first time, and she is not an uneducated Isaan princess but a Filipina with previous experience of travelling abroad (including Italy and Greece as well as HK and Singapore). Her English is excellent – better than many native speakers, in my opinion. As an example, she once asked me the meaning of an English phrase she’d heard (I forget what). I explained, and she said ‘Yes, I understand, it’s an idiomatic expression’. Some readers (me included) hadn’t thought beyond the ‘golden moment’ of the visa being issued or had pleasant dreams of just how life could be once we got our princess to our homeland.
The next day, we travelled west. A long day, cold, with some delays (as usual, immediately before Christmas) but finally we arrived at my son’s house where we were to spend Christmas with my son, his partner and my baby grand-daughter. We were made very welcome, and FP and I had discussed all of this at length and agreed our plans. They’d bought FP a warm dressing-gown and hot-water bottle, stocked up on central-heating oil and coal for the fire so she’d feel warm, and grand-daughter called her ‘Lola’ (tagalog for ‘grandma’). We were set for a great Christmas, and a great life ahead.
I bought a car (pre-arranged), nothing special but a recent small hatchback, so we were mobile. Christmas Eve was spent shopping for mobile phones, her promised Xmas gift of a lap-top computer, warm clothes, gifts, and meeting some immediate family. FP charmed them all and was warmly welcomed. Everything was going well. What could go wrong?
Quite a lot, as it turned out. Pretty soon everything turned to ratshit (or ratchet, as spellchecker would have it), and it didn’t take much to strip the veneer and reveal the realities of the problems seething away below the surface.
To be continued …
When I read through this series and see everything you did for this lady, all the time, energy and not inconsiderable expense you went to, it really makes me angry that I know the train crash is coming soon…