Monday, August 31, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions #1 --Why aren't you a British citizen yet?

I've had the idea for this post for a while now, and it seemed like it would be appropriate to share around my three-year anniversary of moving to Wales! I get questions all the time from friends, family, and acquaintances about my immigration status in the UK, as well as questions around whether Josh and I are planning to stay Wales for the foreseeable future. Around UK election time I would get involved in political discussions and people were often surprised to find out I couldn't vote. A lot of people, American and British alike, seem to assume that by marrying Josh I've been granted British citizenship, or vice-versa--that by marrying me, he gains some sort of immigration status that would make it incredibly easy for us to move to the United States together. Neither of these scenarios is the case! I thought I'd do a post laying out my immigration journey until now and into the future as an immigrant in the UK.

It is worth pointing out that the immigration routes available to me, as a non-EU citizen, are very different to those available to EU citizens. This post is not meant to serve as a guide to anyone looking to immigrate into the UK, there are many different routes dependent on lots of factors in your personal circumstances. This is just to discuss what my experience has been, so if you're curious, read on!

When Josh and I got married I was still on my student visa, but applied to switch to a Further Leave to Remain (FLR) visa, which is what I'm on currently. There are financial requirements that must be met in order for a FLR visa to be approved; there is a base rate if you are applying independently and higher rates if you have any dependent children. The financial requirement states what income level the visa sponsor (in my case, Josh) needs to have been on for the past 12 months prior to applying for the visa. These rules are in place to ensure that someone who moves to the UK on a FLR visa is able to be financially supported. So when we got married in December 2013 I applied for my FLR visa right away, and was notified that it had been approved in February 2014. There was very little chance it wouldn't be unless we'd messed something up in the application, because we met the financial requirements and had provided all the evidence and I don't have a criminal record, but it was still such a relief to finally have that news and have my passport back!

I am just over halfway through the period that this first FLR visa covers. It lasts for 30 months, which means that next summer I will have to re-apply. The reapplication process should be the same, unless the requirements change between now and then. There's a lot going on politically in the UK at the minute in terms of immigration laws, much like in the US, and it is becoming much more difficult to meet visa requirements for everyone from students to professionals to significant others. Even the financial requirement we had to meet was new in the past few years and has been incredibly controversial, so there's no telling what could change before my next application. However, assuming everything stays the same, I will be applying for my second FLR visa next summer, which will last me another 30 months.

The next step after my FLR visa is to apply for indefinite leave to remain. Indefinite leave to remain (ILR) is basically the stepping stone between being a visa-holding immigrant and becoming a citizen. You must have lived in the UK for 5 years before you can apply for ILR, and this 5-year period cannot include time spent on a student visa, so I will only be eligible to apply for ILR when my second FLR visa expires. After a year on ILR, I will be eligible to apply for UK citizenship!
I will not have the right to vote in the UK until I am a citizen--so at the earliest, 2019. Although I find it frustrating that I am working, paying taxes, and making a life in this country and can't have a say in the government, I understand the complex issues that would exist around granting immigrants the right to vote --but that's a discussion for another post!

If Josh and I wanted to pick up and move to the United States next month, we'd have similar issues to deal with as we do here in terms of visas. I would be his sponsor and I would have to meet similar income requirements within the US, which would mean me having found a job in the US and, practically speaking, mostly likely moving over to start that job while he applied for his visa. So in reality, what makes the most sense is for us to stay in the UK--at least until I have my British citizenship. If we were to leave and return, my existing time spent in the UK would not count, as all these time periods for eligibility must be continuous. If we stay until I can become a citizen, it means that we can stay here for the rest of our lives without having to worry about any immigration-related issues, but it also would mean that if we ever decided to move out of the UK and wanted to move back, we could easily return with both of us as citizens.

I've had a couple of conversations lately about how much immigration laws do affect the decisions you make when you're in an international relationship. Despite the fact that we are now married and living in the same country, this is something that still affects the decisions Josh and I make for our lives, and will continue to affect things for the foreseeable future, and I wanted to take a chance to talk about it to make people more aware of these circumstances.

I am hoping to do a series of "Frequently asked questions" posts on here about questions people often ask me about living in Wales as an American immigrant. If you'd be interested in reading this and have any questions you'd like answered, please feel free to leave a question in the comments!

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