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.

Advertisements

Round 374 (and counting)

My Administrative Review request outcome was that I was right – the translations had been included and the printed pdf of the bank letter was acceptable as an original, HOWEVER, they were still unconvinced about the 28 days thing. Their decision was maintained but I could re-apply if I wished.

Here we go again… back to the UK Visas website, fill out the neverending form again, pay another application fee, pay another NHS surcharge (they said they would refund the fee I’d paid for the rejected application, but only at a later date), book another interview in Sao Paulo, flights, etc.

This time, I made sure I travelled back to my hometown and went into the bank branch and had the manager write the letter in English directly, print it on proper headed paper and sign it, and took it away with me. Back to Porto Alegre, fly to SP, go to the interview.

There was another girl sitting in the waiting room at VFS Global with me, and I began talking to her. She had had an application rejected too for similar reasons to mine – seems to be standard. I had been wondering whether my issue was that I was using a small co-operative bank that perhaps wasn’t rated as trustworthy by the almighty British Consulate, but this girl banked with Citibank and still got rejected.

They called me to the desk, I handed my paperwork over and asked if they could provide me with a checklist confirming they had received everything, so I wouldn’t have the same problem of missing documents again. The girl at the desk told me she couldn’t do that. I explained what had happened and asked what kind of reassurance she could give me that documents wouldn’t be misplaced and she just gave me her word. Great. That’s what £800 in admin fees gets you. Awesome admin, guys.

I was ushered back into the small interview room, now familiar with the procedure. I put on the headset and was greeted by a man on the screen. He was much friendlier and more relaxed than the woman that had interviewed me two months earlier. Although much of the script was the same, this round felt easier. I went into the next room to have my picture and fingerprints taken again, and then was released.

On the way back to my friends’ flat, in the metro, I had a good feeling for the first time in years. I thought this time, everything would finally be alright. Just another few weeks of waiting now.

Another visa application bites the dust

Timeline check: this is mid-September 2015. I applied for my PhD in January, was interviewed via Skype in April, got the offer in May and confirmed acceptance of the place right away. I received my CAS statement in August (which made me miss the Fringe), applied for the student visa in the same month, went to Sao Paulo for the interview and then to Uruguay with La Niña Barro. Coming back to the festival in Las Piedras, as Eli and Alex made their way to perform in Madrid, I had to deal with my newest rejection letter.

This time, the reasons stated for the rejection were that the letter from my bank confirming I had sufficient funds as required was not an original, wasn’t provided with a translation, and didn’t actually prove that I had the funds. Here we go:

1 – At the time, I was required to prove that I had had the equivalent to around £15,000 in my account for 28 days. This could be done via a letter from the bank manager confirming this information.

2 – The bank branch I used for this was in my hometown of Santana do Livramento. When applying for the visa, I was in Porto Alegre, 500km away. So my bank manager sent me the letter via email, on a pdf format, to speed things up. I printed this pdf out, which the Home Office took for a copy – except I didn’t actually have an original as such.

3 – I included translations done and signed by a fellow professional translator for all the documents which were not in English originally. My only conclusion here was that the translations had somehow been lost between the desk in Sao Paulo and the Home Office sector in the UK Consulate in Bogota. How does one prove that, though?

4 – The letter from the bank manager stated the date when I opened that savings account and made the deposit (01/06/2015) and the current date (13/08/2016) with the amount in BRL and GBP, stating the official currency conversion as per the Central Bank of Brazil. Assuming visa officers can read and do basic maths, you’d think they would have understood that there are more than 28 days between 1st June and 13th August. Apparently, that isn’t the case.

This should have been, as one my dear friends calls it, the point of resignation. This should have been the moment of surrender and admitting defeat. But I am way too stubborn and I now had secured a PhD and a scholarship at a fabulous institution and I wasn’t ready to let go.

The next couple of days were hell again, while I considered all my options. One of my closest friends in Edinburgh was getting married soon, I thought about just going over to her hen do in Belfast, staying until the wedding and then heading back to Brazil and think about what to do. That would cost a lot of money, though. I thought about just starting a new application right away, but the taste of injustice was still bitter in my mouth. Finally, after another two sleepless nights, I sent a formal complaint to VFS Global, the third-party company which handles applications in Brazil, stating that I had delivered all my documents with their respective translation in person at the desk in SP and my rejection letter said the translations weren’t included with the application. I also complained that when I received my documents back, my diploma and passports displayed marks of folding and wrinkling, which showed the lack of care with which they had been handled. My third and final complaint was that the rejection letter detailed my right to request and Administrative Review following the enclosed instructions and using the form attached, but these were not in the envelope I received. I concluded asking to register my complaint against poor services which I had paid a lot for and would cause me to disburse even more, as well as delay the start of my research studies programme. Thus, without being certain that I was following the correct protocol, since the instructions weren’t actually sent to me and the information online was conflicting, I downloaded a form from the UKVI website and posted it to the UK Embassy in Colombia to file for Administrative Review, since apparently, this could not be done via email. The Admin Review process would take up to 28 days (obsessed) and the Brazilian postal services went on strike the day after I posted my form, so at this point, I really had no idea of what would happen.

ukvi-bullshit

LOL

I informed the RCS that this had happened and they were very supportive and understanding, saying they were happy to wait for the Home Office’s reply to get me started on the PhD. The saga must go on…

La Niña Barro in Uruguay

After our brief stint in my hometown of Santana do Livramento, we took LNB to Uruguay, to participate in Muestra Perimetral, an international showcase of theatre in the towns of Las Piedras and Ciudad de la Costa, near Montevideo.

perimetral2015

We were there in winter and for those who always picture South America as a year-round warm continent, you should not underestimate the southern Uruguayan climate. Temperatures were below freezing for the week we were there and our accommodation had no heating and limited hot water. I do recommend checking out the festival – we had a fantastic time overall and made so many interesting connections, but if you do, bear that in mind and bring extra layers and warm blankets.

To me, one of the most exciting things of taking part in that festival was hearing the different kinds of Spanish spoken around the breakfast table. There were participants from Spain (my girls, obviously), Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, and Mexico (there were Brazilians too, but I was only counting the native speakers of Spanish there) and the linguistic range was so rich! It was not just the accent, but huge differences in idiomatic expressions and slang words, or simply everyday colloquial language, a real feast. One of my fondest memories was when one of my Spanish performers was struggling to explain the meaning of something to an Argentinian actor and I intervened to help them, as those are two variations of Spanish I am very familiar with. The Argentinian actor then felt the need to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that they were both native speakers of the same language, but they needed a Scottish-dwelling Brazilian to ‘translate’ for them. It really was fascinating stuff.

It was also very touching to share our work with all these colleagues and with the community in both towns where we performed. There are always people who cry a bit at the end  of the piece, but in Ciudad de la Costa I saw a girl sobbing uncontrollably, which made me wonder what buttons we might have pushed. Again, like with the reactions we got in Livramento, it’s when I see these things that I am reminded of why I do this. And I confess to choking up a little when I introduced the show and thanked the wonderful people at Teatro Acuarela and La Sala for giving me that opportunity to show my work in my homeland. That made an Argentinian playwright wind me up, saying I managed to show I was human after all. This is a guy who had known me for 3 days and already realised that I have a complicated relationship with my own emotions. Bloody writers.

It was a great and intense week, sharing our work and lives with other creatives from various backgrounds in a remote area of the world. Friendships were formed and we hope to see some of those people again and potentially collaborate in the future.

I travelled back to Montevideo with Eli and Alex, and from there they followed on to Buenos Aires, Bolivia (in a somewhat eventful journey), and Spain. I got my bus back from Montevideo to Rivera, where cruel reality awaited. The envelope sent from the UK Consulate lay on my bed, unopened. It was 5am when I got in and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I left it until the morning. The envelope contained my passport and other original documents and a letter informing me that my Tier 4 Student Visa application had been rejected. But you’ll have to wait for my next blog post to find out how I handled that.

Studying in the UK – part 02

I flew to Sao Paulo the day before my interview.

Getting to the place where I needed to hand in the documents was fairly easy from where I was staying. UK visa applications are not handled by the British Consulate directly anymore, but by a third-party contractor, which I am sure is one of the reasons why the process is longer and more expensive now (incidentally: there seem to be a lot of people making a good deal of money out of this whole thing, like legal firms and other companies and freelancers offering specialised visa application services). This company is located in a highly posh business area of Sao Paulo called ‘Brooklin Paulista’, on the ‘United Nations Avenue’, adjacent to a designer furniture shopping centre (I don’t know why I find all of this kinda funny).

I checked in at the reception desk on the ground floor, but I wasn’t allowed to go to the office until my specific appointment time, so as I was about 20 minutes early, I went for a wander around the shopping centre to see things I will never buy. When the time came, I went back to reception and was given a visitor’s pass and allowed to go up in the lift to the 18th floor, where the VSF Visa Application Centre is. There were two offices there, one processing visas for Canada, and the other, for the UK. I walked into the latter, where a nice lady at the door in security uniform asked to check my appointment confirmation and then instructed me to take my documents out of my bag and leave bag, phone, and all other personal belongings in a locker (at least this one was free, unlike the ones across the street from the US Consulate). Following that, I was ushered to a bright, smaller room with two attendants sitting behind bank clerk-like desks and a line of chairs. I was told to sit down and wait for my name to be called.

I stood up and went to the attendant who’d called my name and gave her my documents – a hard copy of the application form I’d completed online, a copy of my CAS statement, a letter from my bank manager confirming I had the funds to support myself for the first year and its translation, and my passport. She asked me whether I had booked my flights yet and I replied that I hadn’t. Then she asked me when I was meant to start my course, I said induction was scheduled for the 21st September (exactly a month after this day). She scribbled some things down, ticked some boxes, and asked me to take a seat again and wait to be called for the interview.

About 10 minutes later, she emerged from behind her desk and asked me to follow her into an even smaller room with a desktop computer set up with headphones and a mic on a small table. The attendant left the room and I sat down, put the headphones on and said hello to the lady on the screen, speaking to me from one of the Home Office cubicles in Sheffield. She introduced herself and explained that this would be a short interview, then asked me to confirm that I was in good physical and mental health and fully aware that my answers would be recorded. I did so, and without a smile or any small talk, she began the interview. She asked me to confirm the name of my intended place of study and when I said the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, she looked puzzled. Cue her faffing about for a couple of minutes, presumably trying to find information about the place, asking where in the UK this ‘conservatory’ was. I wondered if whenever they get someone who isn’t aiming for London, they get confused. She eventually found it on her list and proceeded to ask me why I’d chosen this course. I began: “well, I attended Open Days at other…” and then she interrupted me, saying she didn’t need my life story, just straightforward answers. Taken aback by the sudden rudeness, I replied that I wanted to pursue an academic career and develop my practice further. Her next question was whether I had considered other places of study, which made me a little bit angry and I started my answer with, “as I tried to tell you 30 seconds ago, yes… I attended Open Days at other universities”. I don’t think she liked that. It might have been stupid to give her backchat, but come on…

The interview went on for another few minutes with more roundabout questions such as how this course would benefit me and why it had to be this one. She concluded the chat and asked me to leave the room. I sat outside again, with a terrible feeling that I’d fucked it up. Clerk girl came back and ushered me into another small room, where she took a picture of me and my fingerprints. She explained that everything would be sent to the UK Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, where all South American applications were now processed, and I would be getting emails informing me of the progress of mine. After that, I was done. I collected my belongings from the locker and left.

I was feeling tired and discouraged, but on the way back to my friends’ flat and to Porto Alegre later on the same day, I tried to not think too much about it and focus on La Niña Barro, which was going to a festival in Uruguay in a few weeks’ time and I would only get the visa decision after that.

 

 

 

Studying in the UK, the Tier 4 Saga – Part 1

Quite often, I get asked about the procedure of applying to study in the UK by non-EU friends who are considering doing the same, so here’s a post about that. First of all, bear in mind that it’s quite a long process, you’ll need to plan almost a year in advance, particularly if you’re thinking of trying for a scholarship too. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but back in 2006 when I applied for the first time to do my undergrad, the visa part was really quick – I posted all my documents to Rio on a Wednesday and got my passport with the visa back on the Saturday after that. The timeline of events was roughly the following:

  • February 2005 – began looking for drama courses in Scotland, found out about the (then) RSAMD, requested information pack
  • April 2005 – received prospectus, decided to apply even though the only option was Acting. Signed up for a video audition
  • June 2005 – sent application with shit DVD audition
  • August 2005 – got rejection letter
  • September 2005 – realised there were other courses and other universities to consider. Found about about UCAS (all by independent googling)
  • November 2005 – applied through UCAS to five universities: Queen Margaret University, University of Glasgow, Strathclyde University (all in Scotland), Aberystwyth University (Wales), and one in England that I can’t remember for the life of me
  • January 2006 – got unconditional offers from all 5 unis
  • February 2006 – after much deliberation between Aberystwyth and QMU, accepted the latter (big mistake, but that’s another story)
  • July 2006 – applied for visa, booked flights
  • August 2006 – moved to Edinburgh
  • September 2006 – started course

So you see, that spanned over a year, and this was when things were simpler with the Home Office and not taking scholarship applications into account.

Now, I’ll be honest with you – the way things are turning ugly in the UK with its increasingly xenophobic policies, I do not recommend studying there at present. I have told some Brazilian friends to consider other European countries instead, particularly because most of them are interested in postgraduate courses, and you can find find those taught in English across Europe. In addition, some countries (like Germany) offer free postgraduate courses, whereas in the UK you are looking at forking out around £15,000 per year as an international student, and considering they have banned things like the Post-Study Work Visa, it really isn’t worth it for newcomers. The only reason I insisted was because I had already had a life and a professional trajectory in the UK. If I were assessing the possibility now, I would choose elsewhere to go.

But let’s say you are as stubborn as I am and want to go ahead with this idea – here’s my latest timeline:

  • November 2014 – while on a tourist visa in Scotland, decided to do a postgraduate course. Attended an Open Day at Edinburgh University/Edinburgh College of Art. Didn’t like the options offered by either. Googled other universities, decided to get over my rejection trauma and write to the RSAMD, now RCS, again. Asked to meet with the Drama PhD coordinator.
  • January 2015 – applied for PhD at the RCS and MSc at Glasgow Uni (these applications were done directly to the respective institutions through their website, UCAS only handles undergraduate applications),went back to Brazil
  • February 2015 – received unconditional offer from Glasgow
  • March 2015 – invited to skype interview for the RCS
  • April 2015 – accepted offer from Glasgow just to be sure, had skype interview with PhD panel at the RCS
  • May 2015 – received unconditional offer from RCS and institutional research studentship, deferred offer from Glasgow
  • August 2015 – applied for Tier 4 Student Visa

Now here’s the catch. As you know if you have been following this blog, I couldn’t apply for the visa sooner as I desired, so this was already a bit tight. And unlike the glorious days of 2006 when everything was simpler, now the procedure is much longer and more twisted. So, after paying a deposit of £1,000, I was finally sent my Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) by the RCS, halfway through August. You won’t receive this any sooner than 3 months prior to your course starts and then you have to use it within 6 months. I was obviously in a hurry, so I logged on to the UK visa application website as soon as I had it to fill out my lengthy application (seriously, I had to list ALL the countries I’ve visited for the past 10 years, with dates – thank fuck for saving my old passports and keeping track of bookings on gmail), pay for the visa application (USD 515.00), plus the new NHS health surcharge (USD 840.00). Once that was all done, I had to book my appointment to hand in the documents and attend an interview in Sao Paulo and book my flights (another R$ 870.00, plus money to spend on local transport and food in SP – thankfully, I have excellent friends there in whose couch I could crash). I sent the application on the 13th August and booked my interview for the 21st (so this stage alone took longer than my first visa application).

Like I said above, if you really want to do this, bear in mind that it is a long and rather expensive process. So much so that there are loads of businesses making a mint out of handling applications and selling guidance – the whole UK visa application thing has become quite a lucrative enterprise across many levels, considering you don’t even deal with the UK consulate anymore, it’s all done through a third party, which I’m sure is partially responsible for the added bureaucracy and hike in fees.

Scholarship-wise, most institutions will have some programme to offer (like mine), but you might want to consider your own country’s government (CAPES, in Brazil’s case, for example, which you are unlikely to get at PhD level without a track record of academic work done in Brazil) or the British Council’s Chevening programme (which applies to restricted fields of study and is only available for Masters level). Generally speaking, though, you will have to have been offered a place at your chosen university before applying for a scholarship, so plan accordingly.

I shall update you on how the rest of my application process went on another post, but I hope these tips have been helpful. There are loads of other websites with information on studying abroad, you just need to take some time to read through them and have a clear idea of what you want.

 

Have you considered…?

Yes, I have. I know, I know, you’re just trying to help and I’m being rude. But trust me, I have investigated all possible routes to go back to Scotland legally. No, I have no intention of doing it illegally. I want to go back to continue my work in theatre that I started in 2006 (yes, I’m counting from 1st year as I got involved with extracurricular activities pretty soon), not to hide in someone’s basement living in fear of the racist vans.

After failing twice to get an Exceptional Talent visa, I looked into other categories. Other Tier 1 and 2 (work visas) that I could potentially get included the General/Skilled Migrant and Entrepreneur visas. The General work visa is a massive catch-22 situation: I can’t get a job that fulfills all requirements because I don’t have a work permit, and I can’t get a work permit unless I am offered a job that fulfills all requirements. The main requirement being a £21,000 salary. I love explaining that to friends that work in different fields. Those who work in finance, business management, teaching, etc. don’t think it’s a big deal. The ones in the arts scream in despair that it’s too much money. There aren’t many jobs that offer that level of pay in the arts, and the few that do will have hundreds of people applying. Tough. But what about my other occupation, as a translator? Can I not just get a job doing that? Money-wise, if I dedicated myself to translating full-time for a UK-based agency, I would probably make that in a year. The problem here is that most agencies work on freelance contracts, and the Home Office really doesn’t like that word. That takes us to the Entrepreneur visa. I have a theatre company registered as a business in Scotland, but unless I have £200,000 invested in it (or a £50,000 grant), I am not eligible for this one. Remember that bit about not managing to make £20k a year? Yeah. That’s the Entrepreneur visa out of the picture too.

No, I don’t have a boyfriend, girlfriend, or just a really generous friend who makes £27,000 a year and wants to marry me either. Yes, it is all about the money. I’m not being shallow, the Home Office makes the rules. I’m not comfortable putting such a burden on someone else’s shoulders and the additional stress is too much. I’ve read and witnessed enough stories of people torn apart and to pieces because of this one – epic ordeals, long and expensive legal actions, humiliation, resulting in heartbreak and terrible damage to their physical and mental health. I’ll steer clear from the Spouse/Family/Unmarried Partner visas too, thank you very much.

No, I can’t prove any European ancestry, sorry. It’s quite evident that at some point someone moved from Spain or Portugal to what is now known as Brazil, carrying my family name and white(ish) skin with them, but that was so many generations ago that I can’t even find them. Spanish and Portuguese colonisers weren’t as good at keeping record and sticking to tradition as the Italians and Germans, so it would be almost a miracle to find out which of my great-great-great grandparents came from where. My dad didn’t even have the same surname as his brothers, all born to the same father and mother and I still don’t know why that is. So no, unlike most Brazilians with permanent residency in the UK and beyond, I can’t acquire a funky second passport with a EU stamp.

I’m left with two choices: the Tier 5 – Temporary Creative Workers Visa and a new Tier 4 Student Visa. Biting the bullet and becoming a postgraduate student is very tempting at this stage – not only for immigration purposes, but I’ve been told over and over again that I should invest in further study because it’s the thing to do these days. I need to consider institutions, courses and funding, though. Alternatively, I can try and get involved with a temporary project that will help me get a Tier 5 seal of approval. This is late November, 2014 – still taking advantage of my visitor visa, I decide to stop looking at long-term solutions and buy time instead. To be continued…

A Spanish Preview and a Nervous Flight

We reached the end of our rehearsal period and scheduled a preview of La Niña Barro for family and friends at Las Cigarreras, to run the show in front of an audience before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe. After much negotiation with the venue and a tad stressful tech run, I’m happy to inform it went rather well. It also went very fast. I think we were all inevitably anxious about test-driving this piece we’d been working on for months, working through broken limbs, family illness and immigration problems, and all that bottled up energy suddenly came out on stage and the girls rushed a bit. It still went well.

The day after our preview, I was even more of a nervous wreck. I would be flying to Edinburgh that afternoon, a few days before Eli and Alex. I also spent an extra £90 on my flight to go directly from Alicante, avoiding a London stop. You see, all the horror stories I’ve heard happened at London airports, so I avoid them if I can. In my experience, Edinburgh immigration officers are much more polite and understanding (i.e. they will treat you as a human being). Besides, if I have any problems in Edinburgh, I know all it takes is one phone call to have half the city at the airport to help me (I’m not being smug, I just honestly know A LOT of people).

Despite taking measures to curb my anxiety, I can’t help feeling massively nervous every time I fly to a different country now, and I think this feeling will linger for a long time. But flying to Scotland, back to Edinburgh, is so meaningful to me that it provokes butterflies akin to those you are meant to get at the most special moments in your life: your 15th birthday party (if you’re a Latin American girl – if you’re not, wikipedia explains what this means), getting your exam results, your graduation, your wedding, that sort of thing. So I am in this state of mind when Carlos and Eli drive me to the airport in Alicante, on a very warm Sunday afternoon.

I’ve done the online check-in but need to take my suitcase to the counter. Before they can check in my luggage, however, I need to go to Jet2’s sales counter so they can start verifying my authenticity before I even leave the Schengen zone. The attendant asks to see my reservation and my passport and then, flicking through the pages, asks me: “just to confirm – you don’t have a visa for the UK?”. I say I don’t, but that I’m coming as a tourist, so I don’t require one. He looks me sideways, types stuff into his computer, looks at my passport again, asks me how long I’m going to the UK for. I reply that I will be there for 2 months and offer to show him my return ticket from Madrid to Porto Alegre, explaining that I just haven’t booked my return from Edinburgh to Madrid yet because I’m waiting to hear back from a couple of events I might be attending. He finally agrees to stamp my boarding pass and let me finalise my check-in. Eli just shakes her head in awe that I have to go through this.

I say goodbye to Eli, go through security and finally board the plane, but the pressure on my chest only gets worse. The plane lands and there I am, completed landing card, passport and my folder with a stack of paper to prove that I have no intention of illegally settling in Scotland. The queue wasn’t too bad, I got to the counter much more quickly than the last time – maybe because this time I arrived a few days before all the festival malarkey kicked off. Now, I wasn’t sure whether my passport would make the alarm bells sounds or not this time. My old passport expired at the start of the year, so this was a new one. I’d been refused a visa on my old passport, but I didn’t get to apply for the actual visa on this one, having only been refused the Arts Council endorsement. Turns out the refusal is actually attached to your name, not to your passport. The lady who served me at the immigration desk looked at her screen for a few moments while flicking through the pages and then smiled and asked if this was my first time in Edinburgh. I said no and proceeded to telling her my potted life story and visa saga, showing documents as they were mentioned, including the letter from the Fringe office confirming I was bringing a show this year. This allowed me to ask for an Entertainer Visitor visa, which differs from a Tourist visa only in the sense that I was allowed to take payment for the performances we did at the Fringe. She took all the paperwork from me and went into the back room, asking me to wait. She came back in less than 10 minutes and stamped my passport, explaining that I was allowed to stay for up to six months. She then asked me if I would be looking for a job during my time in Edinburgh and I said I intended to, but did not have ay interviews lined up yet. She stressed that it would be fine for me to go to interviews, but I was not allowed to take up employment on this visa, I would then need to change to a Tier 2 or Tier 5. I reassured her that I was well aware of that and had no intention of working illegally. She gave me my stamped passport back and wished me luck with a smile.

NB: Preview and pre-flight nerves aside, this was a fast and pleasant experience, if compared to last year’s visit, or to this story of a Malaysian photographer who was in a very similar situation but wasn’t so lucky – arriving in London two days before I arrived in Edinburgh this year

.DSCF5277

Windmills and Visas

(This is not a post about Holland)

In October 2013, the UK Home Office published some small changes to the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa, adding the ‘Exceptional Promise’ subcategory. That gave quite a few of us outcasts a teeny weeny smidge of hope. Instead of convincing the powers that be that you are a BAFTA-winning director, now you have the chance to prove that you have the potential to become one someday. Ok, then. They also split the process in two: first you apply for endorsement from a “competent organ” (in my case, the Arts Council of England), and only if you are endorsed you apply for the visa itself. On the one hand, this made the process a bit fairer, as you only pay half the fee when applying for endorsement (that’s £420 – yes, this is half), and the other half only at the second stage of the application (so you don’t lose £840 in one go, like I did in 2013 when my first application for this visa was refused). On the other hand, the process became longer and slower.

Now, I am stubborn. And I’m a lover of lost causes, someone who functions on high levels of hope and denial. Don Quixote is one of my favourite stories (maybe because we have some stained glass windows depicting Quixote, Sancho and Dulcinea in my parents’ house and I grew up looking at them) and I have always been fascinated by windmills and wind turbines. Therefore, although I knew that this would become a quixotesque saga, I decided I was going to try again.

Recapping: I came back to Brazil from my last European trek (Edinburgh > Bristol > Lisbon > Paris > Metz > Basel) at the end of September and then had two Scottish friends visiting and went travelling a bit around South America with them (Buenos Aires > Colonia > Montevideo > Cabo Polonio > Riveramento > Porto Alegre > Cambará do Sul > Torres > Capão Novo). Then I went to Brasilia in December for a residency with my hero Eugenio Barba. It is now January 2014, when I sit down to work on my new visa application.

I analyse the guidelines and what is needed. Reviews, features, anything that shows you’ve been given attention from the media. National and international. This visa is aimed at people who are moving to the UK for the first time, which is not my case. I have media clippings related to my work in Scotland since 2010, already organised. I add clippings from Brazilian newspapers about the project I did in my hometown(s) in 2013. Now, it’s one thing to get national media attention in Scotland, and another thing to get national media attention in fucking Brazil. Scotland is smaller than my home state, and I lived in the capital. Brazil is a gigantic country, and I live in its southern borders, a forgotten place. As cool as my project was, and as much attention as it received locally, it wouldn’t make national news, it’s insane to think it would. So I just added what I had from local newspapers. The only other thing I could attach to make a stronger case was an email exchange with the editor of Performatus, an ejournal about theatre and performance, confirming that our project would feature in a book curated by them about interesting performance pieces that happened in Portuguese-speaking territory between 2010 and 2013. I thought it looked good.

Ok, next: awards and nominations. I just used the same as last time, as I haven’t been nominated for, or received any new awards in the past year. Sorry.

Then: three letters of recommendation. They say these will carry more weight, and one of them must be from a UK individual or organisation. These referees must be carefully selected. Last time, I had lovely letters from ZENDEH and the Forest , but they weren’t considered ‘international enough’, as per my first rejection. So I asked for letters from the Centre for Integration of the Mercosul, which represents the International Relations course of the Federal University of Pelotas, in Brazil, with whom I worked in Explorers; from my friend Jen as the UK individual, an extremely competent theatre director and writer whose studio theatre has been getting a lot of attention in Edinburgh; and from Eugenio Barba & Julia Varley, representing the Odin Teatret, possibly the most global of theatre companies, and who are celebrating their 50th anniversary as a theatre in 2014. This looked like a very strong and promising line-up.

Finally, and this is NOT a requirement, just something that occurred to me as a harmless thing to do and potential bonus points: I asked everyone who had ever worked with me and wanted to help to write me a short testimonial. Obviously, not everyone did, but I ended up with a good compilation of 20 pages and a really warm heart.

I worked on this application from the first days of January until mid-March, and I posted it (yes, in this day and age we are still using postal services for that kind of thing) on St Patrick’s Day. And then we all waited.

 

DSCF4097

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.