Visa renewal time – an unfair system?

It’s been a few months since I posted on my blog, now its 2019 and it’s March already, can you believe it?!

Now that we’re already into the 3rd month of the year, it’s time to start thinking about renewing Berkay’s visa. He arrived at the end of 2016, on the ‘spouse visa’ which enables him to live and work in the UK for just over two and a half years. It cost around £2500 at the time, and when we got it, there was that relief of knowing there were no more visas to worry about for two years! Of course, now those two years have flown by and its time to start gathering all the paperwork, and money, to renew it!

I think visas are one of those things that nobody really understands the process of, until they know someone who has gone through it. I think people assume its easy for people to come to the UK, we’ve all read those newspaper reports about ‘foreigners coming here, getting our benefits’ etc. I probably had those misconceptions before too, to be honest.

Even though me and Berkay have been together for nearly nine years, and he has been living here, working for two and a half years, applying for the extension of his visa is still stressful and full of uncertainty. It’s not just a case of filling out an application form and ticking a few boxes – it’s a lot of work.

When he initially applied for the visa two and a half years ago, Berkay had to pass an English exam. To renew it, he has to pass a higher level exam, which he will actually be sitting this week – that’s not cheap either, £150, so fingers crossed he passes or he will have to keep trying and paying out for it.

Then there’s the cost involved – the application fee is £1033 currently, but this will go up again in April as it does every year. There’s also a NHS surcharge, which has just doubled from £500 to £1000…despite the fact that Berkay earns a fair wage (he found a job within three weeks of arriving in the country..) and pays national insurance like everyone else in the country with a job, he has to pay this £1000 towards the NHS as part of the application, so essentially he’s contributing twice! If any of you reading this have heard people say before ‘foreigners come here to use our NHS for free’ please inform them of this! I can understand if he wasn’t earning and needed to contribute something so that he wasn’t just coming here for the sole purpose of abusing the National Health Service, but when he’s already paying taxes and national insurance every week this seems very unfair!

So, total so far is £2033 + £150 for the English test, assuming he only needs one attempt at passing, but the fee’s don’t end there either… If he applies via the standard service, it can take months and months to get a decision, and they keep his passport all that time, so if there was ever a family emergency in Turkey, or he wanted to travel for whatever reason, he wouldn’t be able to, which leaves the option of paying a further £630 for a priority service, with a faster decision within a few days. So, £2033 + £150 + £630 = £2813, before travel costs to the visa application centre in London, sometimes they charge extra for the appointments where you hand over the documents, also! With the fee going up again in April, we will undoubtedly be paying over £3000 for this visa extension.

Perhaps finding the money to apply is the easy part. We also have to prove our relationship is genuine, with letters of support from friends and family, evidence we live together in the form of letters and bills addressed jointly to us at our address, spread across over the two and a half years he’s been in the country, to show that we have consistently lived together. Luckily, I knew that this was a requirement so I have folders of letters filed under my bed in preparation for this! We also have to prove we have the right to live in the property, with land registry documents, mortgage statements etc, and proof that we meet the £18,600 income requirement, with evidence in the form of payslips, work contracts, a letter from my HR department, etc etc!

Once this visa is granted (fingers crossed!) we will have to go through the same thing again in another two years time, only next time Berkay will have to pass a further test, a ‘life in the UK’ multiple choice exam paper, with general knowledge questions such as ‘when was Hadrians wall built?’, ‘how many members of the Scottish Parliament are there?’ and ‘When did the first Christian communities appear in Britain?’ – questions that seem better fitted for contestants on ‘The Chase’, rather than someone wanting to settle in the UK – I don’t know many Brits that would pass this 24 question test, by getting 75% correct.

As you can see, we have a busy couple of months ahead, getting all this paperwork organised, scanned and written, so that when we are able to apply in May/June, we are ready to do so.  I’m not really complaining about the process, I understand that rules have to be in place, but everyone I explain this process to, unless they know someone who has done it themselves, seems to be shocked when I tell them what it entails. With Brexit bringing out the worst in people recently, I have seen more and more people stating that ‘UK has no control of its borders, no immigration rules, no checks on people entering the country’ – I’m writing this post in the hope that if any of my readers believed this before, or have heard people making these assumptions, please, educate them and tell them you know differently!

It is very frustrating, handing over piles of paperwork to a complete stranger, to judge us based on the evidence they have in front of them, like we are some sort of criminals, and pay them £3000 for the privilege or believing we are genuine, or not.

 

The Frustrating misconceptions about visas.

 If there’s one thing that gets me most passionate, most vocal, and most annoyed, its the topic of visas.

Visas, ah, bane of my life. Our whole life is determined by visa applications and the result of them, the verdict reached by someone sat a desk in an office making assumptions about our intentions and relationship. I can deal with that, it was a choice we made, a life we chose to follow when we met each other and started our relationship, although recent changes in the law have made things more difficult, it’s still something we just have to accept.

What I do find hard to deal with, and what really frustrates me more than anything is people’s ignorance.

4 years ago, we applied for a visit visa for Berkay to come to the UK for a 3 week visit over Christmas. I was living with him in Turkey, he had a full time job, was a student, had money going in and out of his bank account every month, rented a house, had family ties and we had letters of support and a sponsor (a member of my family) in the UK. The visa was refused, because they didn’t think he’d return, despite the hundreds of pieces of paper we supplied as evidence that he would. We applied again a week later with even more evidence and got the visa granted, and he’s had two more granted since then, but knowing the time, effort and cost of the whole process just for a week’s holiday makes it really hard to accept ignorant comments from people such as:

“Turkish people rip us off paying £13 for the visa”
“This Evisa is so hard, I don’t even have a printer, It’s too much effort to print it”
“England should take a leaf out of Turkey’s book and charge people to visit”
“We have property in Turkey we should be able to visit when we want”

Now, where do I start to address these comments? These people have no idea. To put it into perspective, this is the amount of paperwork my partner had to show in order to convince the entry clearance officer that he was a genuine visitor to the UK…
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Just some of the things we had to show to convince them to give Berkay a visa for his 3 week holiday included a 20 page form, list of all his family ties, proof he was a student, proof of address, rent contract, 6 months bank statements, a letter from his boss stating he had a job to return to, insurance papers, police check, a 5 page letter explaining why he wanted to visit, a letter from me, proof I exist, photos of us together, a planned itinerary + expenditure, a letter from one of my family members who would be his sponsor, proof they exist, proof of address, bank statements, job status and a letter stating Berkay could stay with them for the 3 week holiday.

Can you imagine having to show all of the above just for a 2 week holiday to Turkey? If us British people had to show all of that to visit, we’d never bother to leave the country! Doesn’t it put it into perspective, it’s not really that much effort to log on to the evisa website, submit a few details and press print is it? That’s not even considering the fact that that can be done from the comfort of your own home (unless you haven’t got a printer..) To apply for a visa to the UK, Turkish (and most non eu-nationals) have to travel hundreds of miles away to their nearest British visa application centre. For us, it was Izmir, 4 hours away from Fethiye, and 4 hours back again – an 8 hour round trip. Some people even have to travel to different countries to apply. Plus the running around involved in getting all the documents from the many different people and places, and printing, photocopying and translating them all into English. Compare that to the effort it takes to fetch your passport from a hidden drawer somewhere in the house and enter your name, date of birth and verification code on the evisa website…. there really is no comparison, is there?

As for the £13 fee, the fee for Non-eu nationals to visit the UK is £80, plus the bus/train/car journey to the visa application centre, and the fee back again to collect the decision 2-3 weeks later or the fee for the courier to deliver it by special delivery instead. There’s also the fee to print, photocopy and translate the documents… so the £80 fee turns more into a £250 fee. £13 doesn’t look like such a ‘rip off’ afterall, does it?

The last point was something that I saw posted on a Facebook group recently. “We have property in Turkey we should be able to visit when we want without visas” – well, in theory perhaps, but when the situation is turned around and family’s in the UK are separated from their non-eu partner at Christmas because they are unable to get a visit visa for a holiday, people say  “you should have thought about that first, you made your bed now lie in it”, does the same principle not apply then? Why buy property in a foreign country and then complain you can’t visit as often as you’d like due to visa restrictions?

A lot of people also seem to assume that the difference in difficulty and price is because of the fact that ‘foreigners visiting the UK get nhs and benefits’ .. really? If it was safe to do so I’d post a copy of Berkay’s visit visa on here which clearly states on it “no recourse to public funds” which means no benefits, and no free healthcare. He had to purchase travel insurance before travelling to the UK, just the same as we purchase travel insurance to cover us for medical issues when abroad.

I think a lot of people truly do not realise just how difficult the process is for non-eu nationals to visit the UK. We are blessed that Berkay has been granted 3 visas, but that doesn’t mean he will be granted future ones, there is always the possibility of refusal and all that wasted time, money and effort. It’s something we, and millions of other people just have to deal with, but please do spare a thought next time you complain about the visa process for visiting Turkey. It’s not a rip off, it’s not a lot of effort and it’s not that the Turkish government has a vendetta against British holiday makers at all.

Instead, be thankful that we have British passports which allow us visa free and/or fairly easy travel to most countries in the world, and be thankful that Turkey doesn’t have a reciprocal agreement and invoke the same requirements for a visa as the UK, because then most of us would probably never have visited the beautiful country in the first place.