Friday, 13 June 2008

How to (not) get a UK visa

Like many Australians, I have family roots in the UK. My mother is actually still a British citizen, which entitles me officially to a "Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode" in the UK. I've had one of these in my passport, ever since I got my very first passport. I've never actually lived there, but it does give me the right to stand in the shorter queues at Heathrow, and it's kind of cool to think that I could just pick up and move to the UK any time I want.

Now I've renewed my passport (one of my 101-1001 goals), it seemed only sensible to renew that bit of paperwork, too. Here's how it worked for me. I'll also give you 1998 for a comparison.

The Procedure, 1998
* Take old and new passports to UK High Commission.
* Wait in waiting room for 15 minutes.
* Helpful gentleman at counter says "Oh, a renewal. No fee then, love."
* He puts a new sticker in my passport, stamps and signs it, and I'm on my way.

The Procedure, 2008
* Take old and new passports to UK High Commission.
* Discover from gate guard that they've moved the visa office out to Brindabella Park.
* Ask the gate guard for directions, discover that he's so new to Canberra he doesn't even know where he is himself. Commonwealth Avenue is a mystery to him.
* Go home, check on the website.
* Discover that there's a whole mass of forms available there, and the new procedure is to fill them out first and take them in.
* Fill out lengthy online forms, including the funky bit where I say I'm not a terrorist. This is really deep security, because of course terrorists would never lie.
* Print forms, sign them, acquire photo.
* Worry a little that it's the wrong from, because it's an application, not a renewal form.
* Following instructions on the website to take paperwork to visa office, drive out to Brindabella Park in their posted opening hours.
* Be informed by security that they will see nobody without an appointment, and no, I can't make one from there.
* Go back home. Search website for contact to make appointment. Find none.
* Call High Commission, select option for visas, get recorded message telling me to go to the website.
* Select option to return to menu and get operator. Call times out on hold.
* Call again to get operator; get through. Am given 1-300 number to call.
* Call the 1-300 number, get recorded message saying this call will be charged at $9.90, have credit card ready.
* Roll eyes, swear, fetch credit card. Plenty of time to do this as I'm on hold for 15 minutes.
* Speak to intensely polite call centre person who responds not an iota to my mildly expressed frustration. (And it was mild and friendly, I'm not stupid!)
* During conversation, learn that I have filled out the right form. There is no renewal form; you have to reapply every time now. And it costs $486.
* Try to make appointment. None is available on the day, so I try for next Friday, a full week away. She offers me 9.00am.
* Knowing how unbelievably awful the traffic to BBP is, I ask for a later one, such as 10am. There are none. It's 9am or 9.15 am. I settle for 9.15am.

That's where I'm up to. Who knows what might happen at 9.15am next Friday? But one thing that might happen is that I stand them up. After all, I can't call to cancel the appointment without paying another $10 for the privilege. And this new procedure means that there's no great advantage to me doing it now. If I ever do decide to move to the UK, I can deal with the bureaucracy then. Should I pay close to $500 for an idle sense of freedom to move somewhere that I don't really want to live, and shorter queues at Heathrow immigration? Perhaps not.

No comments: