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After spending months dealing with endless visa-related bureaucracy, Rob Hamilton calls for re-framing of the immigration debate both here and overseas.
I am Australian, but I’ve never felt comfortable in my own backyard. It’s not that I don’t love the people, culture or values, but these are the same things that I find difficult to stomach half the time. Now, I know a lot of the more sensitive readers are already scrolling to the bottom of the page to comment something along the lines of “If you don’t like it, leave!”
Hold your horses, I’m getting to that.
For two and half years I lived in Norway, where the heavy metal is blacker than Gina Rinehart’s soul. I found both myself and a woman, whom I was never expecting. We made a home and a life together in the heart of Oslo, a place we still call home. But bureaucracy is a cruel bastard. After nine months of visa uncertainty we received a letter from the immigration department outlining the upheaval of our lives and my abrupt removal from Norway.
Three weeks notice is an appropriate time-frame for being evicted from a rental property, not particularly for being flung back to the opposite side of the Earth.
Some people can make long distance relationships work, but I don’t know many couples that live 15,939 kms apart. We could have waved our white flags and walked our separate ways, like I know many before us have, but what kind of life do you live after allowing government policy to dictate matters of the heart? Through this experience I’ve suffered stress related alopecia, countless hours/days/months preparing novel-length applications and trying to comprehend conflicting information from multiple government sources. Resilient optimism is an invaluable skill when playing the immigration game.
It’s not all doom and gloom. After I was ejected from the Schengen Area, I saw family and friends for the first time in years. My partner came to meet them and we saw some breathtaking parts of Australia that even I had not seen before (Ghosties Beach, check it out). Those months around her visit were difficult though. Even with the miracle of Skype, 8-10 hours time difference is testing, especially when you’re auctioning off your life to fund its next chapter. We weighed up our options and set our sights for the UK. No need to learn a third language and close enough in proximity to deal with any issues in the process of finding our way home.
Little did we know how difficult it would be to earn the Norwegian equivalent of a full-time minimum wage in the UK, a criteria for the spousal visa. Our friends banded together donations, big and small, to help us cover application fees and other expenses. To our benefit, we discovered that by moving to Britain we became eligible for a second visa with no associated fees and only available to cohabiting couples living in the EU, but outside of Norway. We still need to throw a party for all of those who donated towards us (you know who you are and thank you).
Just some days ago, the immigration department revised their waiting times from 6 to 12 months, and in some cases 18 months. This is after announcing to the media that their workflow had been streamlined and to expect more efficiency henceforth. Well, I guess the first step is admitting there’s a problem. This is an issue for me, only having 11 months left on my UK visa and us only recently meeting the full visa criteria (two years documented living together). We’re still piecing together our application, part of which includes a marital status certificate from the Australian authorities that cost $200 in total and took two months to acquire. The obstacle course never ends.
I apologise if this hasn’t been your standard thought-provoking and objective piece, rather a candid glimpse into the life of a foreigner trying to find his place in the world. Our situation is not unique. One family in particular is being torn apart as I write this, even though the wife and mother (a US citizen) has held permanent residency for 15 years. All because of a rigid, one-size-fits-all stance when it comes to immigration law.
You would imagine Australia and Norway would be carving each other’s names on a tree by now. Neither received the GFC memo and continued on with excavating wealth exponentially and fighting absurd battles against invading boogeymen. Now spare a moment for the millions of refugees living in limbo between their war-ravaged homes and safe, but unwelcoming (or so governments and media would have you believe), host countries. I’ve experienced less than 1% of what they live through and zero of their balancing act between life and death.
I realise we cannot just open the floodgates unconditionally, but in our futile quest to secure borders, we are robbing people of the right to be with the ones they love.
Sign this petition if you want to get involved in helping re-frame the immigration debate.