One more storm…

I got notified by email that a decision had been made about my latest visa application, but the email did not say whether the outcome was positive or not. I would have to wait until I got my passport back to find out. Time was ticking, I had already missed the official induction and first few weeks of my PhD programme. I was in Porto Alegre with my mum and my sister, waiting.

I had been provided with a tracking number for the package containing my documents, including my current and expired passports, and the answer to end my agony. I would check the Brazilian postal services tracking system every day, until this one day when I logged on and the status of the package was showing as DELIVERED. Except that I didn’t have it. I rushed downstairs to check the letterbox, only leaflets from restaurants and bills. So I did what a sane person would do and rang the Brazilian mail customer service, a generic number to a central in Sao Paulo. The attendant on the other side helpfully informed me that the package was showing as delivered in their system, which I obviously knew, but kept trying to explain that I didn’t get it. Delivered where, then? I don’t know, madam. Ok, can you give me the contact details to the Porto Alegre distribution centre, please? Sorry, madam, I’m not authorised to do that. Great. Next stop, Google. I called the main distribution centre in Porto Alegre, they said they didn’t have it and gave me the number to another distribution centre. I rang that many times and no one was picking up.

This was a Saturday, so the chances of sorting this out over the weekend were looking increasingly unlikely. I was narrating the saga to friends online, who justifiably wondered how many things could still go wrong with my attempts to move back to Scotland. At this point, I started thinking that either the postie would still deliver the package on that same day, or they had delivered it the day before to a neighbour. I had been out most of the day with my family, so that was possible. I also thought that if that was the case, said neighbour would have given the envelope to me by then, but hey… Saturday mornings.

While I waited, I began thinking… if this envelope was lost, I would have to report 3 passports lost (including the expired ones), ask QMU to re-issue my BA diploma, report my US visa lost and apply for a new one, and then try to find out somehow whether or not I had been issued a UK visa and apply for a new one AGAIN! And get a new passport, obviously. Meaning that would result in a whole year wasted. Granted, it looked like this could be the Brazilian mail system’s fault, but I couldn’t help thinking that all the hassle could be avoided if the UK hadn’t given their visa business to a third-party agent and operated in a similar line to the US, who deliver passports to your nearest consular unit and you just pick it up from there. I never thought I’d speak highly of the USA, but there. Although I only applied for a visitor’s visa with them, my experience was way better.

It was approaching 11am and still no sign of the mail. I was planning to start knocking on doors soon, deeming that an acceptable time. I began to assess my neighbours and the likelihood of them holding my envelope hostage: my favourite neighbour was a retired Art lecturer across the hall, who knew I stayed up late and had my number, so even if he had received the envelope but had to go out or something, he would have sent me a message about it. Next door, a guy I never spoke to much, who seemed a bit odd but not crazy. He wouldn’t have any reason to withhold the package. Downstairs there was an empty flat, a girl I’d never seen, only heard about, and another guy who had passed me in the hall the previous night and said hello – presumably, if he had the envelope, he’d have mentioned it/given it to me then.

I decided to go and camp out downstairs, waiting for the postie. Art lecturer across the hall went out, I told him about the drama, he said he had received a parcel he’d been expecting the day before, but nothing for me. I kept on waiting. Guy next door went out with his dog, said he hadn’t been at home either so he hadn’t received anything on my behalf. I waited some more. Eventually, a random car pulled over and a guy wearing normal clothes came to the front gate holding an envelope. I ran towards him and lo and behold, it WAS MY FUCKING ENVELOPE! Given that this guy was clearly not a postman in service, I believe there was a genuine fuck-up somewhere in their delivery system. But all that stopped being important because I dashed upstairs to open the envelope and find all my documents intact and MY SHINY NEW UK VISA in my current passport! Words can’t describe the relief that overcame me. It was only buying time, but I was finally going home.

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Bristol with an L

After my visa refusal in April last year, I decided I was going to Edinburgh for the Fringe anyway, just for a visit, as there’s absolutely nowhere else in the world I’d rather be in August. Prior to my trip, I started hearing horror stories about people who were seeking entry to the UK as tourists but were refused and deported. I’d read a couple of them online, via the Manifesto Club, and the third one was told by a friend. His niece went to London to study English for a month and wasn’t refused entry after all, but only after she answered a number of pointless questions about her family and their lives in Brazil. Subsequently, the immigration agents called her dad and asked the same questions and the answers had to match. Needless to say, I was terrified I wasn’t going to be allowed to visit my friends in the city I’d lived in for 6 years.

I proceeded to gather as much information as possible and be prepared to be grilled at Edinburgh Airport. I think I’ve memorised the whole of the UK Home Office website by now (it was still the UK Border Agency then). I pre-warned my friends picking me up that it might be a while until they let me through, and that there was a chance of not actually being allowed in.

As the plane landed in Edinburgh, I started to cry. My heart was pounding, and it was all a concoction of feelings ranging from happiness at being back and fear of being sent away again. I filled out my landing card, waited in a long queue and finally arrived at the desk. A lovely, really polite lady was my immigration officer that day – one of the reasons why I always preferred to connect somewhere in continental Europe and then fly straight to Edinburgh rather than to London, where people who work at airports seem to be miserable and sadistic. She took my card and passport, asked me where I’d flown in from. “Paris” – And are you here on holiday? “Yes” – Where are you staying? “With friends, and here’s a couple of letters to confirm this” – Are your friends Brazilian? “No, they’re both Scottish” – Ok, how do you know Kirsty? “Through work” – And how do you know Jennifer? “Uni” – So you lived here before? (checks out my last visa, still on passport) “Yes, for 6 years. Had a student visa for 4 years, then a post-study work visa for another 2, which is the one you can see there” – Ok, good. Have you ever had any issues with Immigration before? “Yes, and I know that this is why your computer’s beeping” – Can you tell me about it? “I’ve applied for a Tier Exceptional Talent visa and was refused” – Why was that? “Because I’m not exceptionally talented” – (smiles) What did your refusal letter say? “Ehhh, no, love” – Pardon? “They didn’t give me a reason, they just said no” – Are you sure? “Yes, I am. I actually ended up filing a Freedom of Information request to the Arts Council of England to get more detailed feedback, which was still vague. Look, I could tell you the whole story, if you want, but let’s just say I also contacted the British Consul in Rio and she said herself she wasn’t clear how this visa worked” – I see. So what did you study while in Edinburgh? “Drama and Theatre Arts. Got a First. Want to see my diploma? I have it here” – No, thanks. And now are you living in Brazil? “Yes, I am” – What do you do over there? “I’m working as a teacher and translator. Here’s a letter from my employer” – Oh, good, thanks. And do you live in a rented property? “No, I own a flat with my sister” – Ok. So is that why you requested an Exceptional Talent visa, for your work with languages? “Erm… no. For my work in theatre” – Oh, so have you done that sort of thing before? “Yes, I’m a director and producer. I worked in theatre throughout my 6 years in Edinburgh” – That’s lovely. And are you staying for… 3 months? “Yes. Here’s a copy of my return ticket” – It’s an awfy long time to see friends, isn’t it? “Miss, I lived here for 6 years. I have a fair amount of friends to visit. But I’m not spending all 3 months in Edinburgh, I’m also going to Portugal for a wedding, then I’ll come back to fly out from here” – Ah, ok. When are you going to Portugal? “Just after the Fringe. Wedding is on the 14th September, I’m a bridesmaid” – (smiles) That’s nice. So, you said you’re working as a teacher, but how can you go away for 3 months? “I don’t work at a regular school, it’s a language school for business people. We tailor our courses according to the students’ needs, so there isn’t a regular calendar of classes” – Ok, I get it. Look, have a seat over there, I’ll need to take all this with me in there and just cross-check a few things. (goes off for another 20 minutes) – Right, Miss D’Avila, let me explain this: I’m allowing you through, but there is a stamp with a code here meaning that when you come back from Portugal, you might be asked to produce all this information again. Is that clear? “Sure thing. Well, thank you”

Almost an hour later, I’m allowed in.

Toni Nealie is a writer from New Zealand who lives and works in Chicago, and has had her fair share of immigration trouble. I completely identify with her feelings, thus described: “Being viewed as a potential threat diminishes you, fractures a personal landscape, peels off pieces of bark until you are raw. You begin to suspect your own legitimacy, your place in the long, snaking lines of mainly brown people waiting for their numbers to come up. Are you trying to sneak through a keyhole into a society that doesn’t want you? are you in the shadows of illegality? could they deport you? could they make you disappear?”. Her heartfelt narrative of her own airport trials can be found in full here. It really is a bizarre situation to be in.

When I stepped out of the airport and was taken to Cramond Island for a picnic with my friends, I felt like it was the first time I’d breathed in almost a year. And I had a wonderful month and a bit in Edinburgh, and then took a train to Bristol to see a long-lost friend and from there I flew to Lisbon.

I arrived in Lisbon with another thick stack of photocopies of everything I reckoned I’d need to be allowed in the country. I was a tad more concerned, because my friend getting married was Brazilian, but I had all her details, including her residency number. Not having a copy of the actual wedding invitation was another thing making me nervous, and I was kicking myself internally for forgetting to do that. I waited in a queue for 40 minutes and then arrived at the desk. [following dialogue was in Portuguese] – Good evening. “Evening (hands over passport)” – Where are you flying from? “Bristol” – See, when you say that word in English, you pronounce the L at the end, don’t you? “Yes…? Bristollll” – Ha. That’s funny. (stamps passport) Welcome to Lisbon.

Yep. That was all.