Indefinite Resident

She can stay!

Not that I’ve been thinking of asking her to leave, but the UK Border Agency has now pronounced their official blessing on my dear wife.

As many of you know, Lisa is an American citizen and unlike me and my six babies she does not have the benefit of dual citizenship. She first came to Scotland on a two year visa which expires this month. Back in November she began the process of establishing an “indefinite right to remain.”

As you’d expect it is not an easy process and requires multiple proofs of identity, residency, marriage, finance and a wide variety of other documents only a government bureaucracy could dream up.

In addition she had to sit a citizenship exam for which she was provided a hefty manual on British history and culture. It was a tome, but she faithfully made it through the book and is now qualified to lecture at the nearby university, at least she ought to be.

The exam itself was an interesting experience. She was put in a room at a computer console with about 25 other hopefuls, of whom there was only one other white person, the rest being of eastern and African descent. Having worked her way through numerous practice tests the actual exam was a breeze and she finished in about fifteen minutes.

What she did remark upon was how difficult the exam would be for those who speak English only as a second or third language. As is the case with many higher examinations, the same questions are asked in different ways, making simple rote memorization an unreliable method of preparation.

After the exam she gathered reams of paperwork to send along with her application. She sent plenty of extra stuff to cover every angle, and her application ended up being almost as thick as the study manual, and was perhaps a parting shot to the Border Agents whose days are filled passing judgment on hopeful applicants.

The cheek of the process is that, while she has now been granted the right to remain she is not a citizen. Her visa expired at two years, but she is not eligible to apply for citizenship until she has lived here for three, meaning she can stay, but has no right to vote, or receive social welfare benefits or any of the other goodies available to full citizens.

In order to become a citizen she must go through a similar process next year and, this is the sticker, pay a fee almost as grand as the one she has paid for the right to remain.

Lisa is in the fortunate position of being an educated English speaker with resources sufficient to meet the heavy financial and time demands of permanent residency. But, there are many who lack one or more of these gifts and who must find the citizenship process incomprehensible.

Hundreds of these poor souls end up in a holding pen in Strathaven (STRAY-ven) not far from Hamilton. It is a detention centre, not unlike a full scale prison, for those awaiting deportation. I have never been there, but one of my colleagues has and she relates it is a bizarre experience. She was invited as a chaplain and asked to conduct religious services, but to a congregation like no other.

“There were African Pentecostals, Egyptian Coptics, Catholics, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims and many others whose faith I could not indentify. In addition the population is forever changing. Some people come and go almost overnight, while others languish for months at a time. Some of them have been denied political asylum and are gravely worried about returning to their home country, while others tell stories that raise more questions than answers.”

Many of these poor souls will no doubt have failed their exams or been unable to provide adequate documentation of their legal residency status or simply don’t have enough money to pay for it all.

Another vexing issue is Britain’s membership in the EU. Their membership allows citizens of any other EU country to immigrate to the UK and receive all the benefits of citizenship with none of the requirements Lisa has fulfilled. Many of these speak only broken English and have few if any skills to bring to the job market. Even worse, their foreign driver’s licenses are deemed acceptable by the UK government, even from countries where there is no required driver training at all.

Don’t get me started on the licensing requirements Lisa and I have had to endure. Suffice it to say that none of our 25 years of driving experience was recognized. We were both required to pass theory and road tests to receive our UK license, and we were both treated like pimply-faced teenagers in the process.

I will be the first to admit that the training was extremely valuable and prepared me well to meet the challenges of driving the British road system. I am a much safer driver as a result. But, I worry about the number of EU residents who have had little or no instruction and are simply given the “green light” to drive, especially those who cannot read the often complicated English road signs.

Needless to say we are all pleased that Lisa can officially and legally stay in Britain. I need a wife and our children need a mother, but Britain needs people like Lisa too. She is a healthy, law-abiding tax payer who is willing and eager to contribute to the common good of our new nation. She ought to be granted full citizenship.

For now, I suppose she’ll just have to remain indefinitely.

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