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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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.

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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.

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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.