The spouse visa came through, eventually, and Jen arrived at Heathrow on August 19 2009, almost four months after we got married. We settled into a life of wedded bliss in Cornwall. Jen had a job – more of that later. There was a damp cottage and a neglected cottage garden to wrestle into shape. Rather amazingly, as a citizen of the Commonwealth (more of that later too), she was entitled to vote, and did so in the 2010 General Election. Her intervention was not enough to prevent David Cameron from becoming Prime Minister, or indeed our constituency from turning blue.
At the back of our minds, however, was the fact that we were still on probation, only halfway through the process. The visa was valid for 33 months, at the end of which, if it hadn’t been converted into Indefinite Leave to Remain, Jen would be booted out again. We had to fix it so that she could return to Australia for a long stretch without losing her right to come back again. We still had to show that the relationship was permanent, not some Green Card-style scam to come over here and steal our benefits. So our friends had to get used to being photographed with us in the pub, at gigs or when we met for meals or walks, and appearing on Facebook. The evidence was squirrelled away against the day when the Relationship Police knocked on the door.
Then there was the Life in the UK Test, which, our masters fondly imagine, assesses how ready you are to live a full and happy life in Blighty. It’s a multiple choice affair, with such essential stuff as:
‘Which TWO of these are names for the Church of England? Methodist; Episcopal; Anglican; Presbyterian.’
‘Is the following statement TRUE or FALSE? “Ulster Scots is a dialect which is spoken in Northern Ireland.”
‘In which year did married women get the right to divorce their husband? 1837; 1857; 1875; 1882.’
To be fair, the test has apparently been updated since Jen took it, if an article in the Guardian is any guide. The questions are now about Stonehenge, Lord Nelson and the Union Jack. But the online practice test hasn’t been updated – I’ve just failed it yet again. One Christmas, when Jen’s Noah and my Will and Rachel were with us, we had a Grand Family UK v Australia Citizenship Contest, pitting the UK test against the Australian version, which is an altogether more down-to-earth affair, as you might expect. We all failed the UK test, and we all passed the Australian test.
Armed with an expensive study guide, Jen did a lot of swotting and took a trip to Plymouth, where she passed the test. Just to be difficult, the rules said that the 50 quid fee could only be paid in cash. (You can now pay online; on the other hand, you now can’t register for the test by phone – you have to have an email address.) Just to be even more difficult, you only get one copy of the certificate, and duplicates aren’t available, so if you or someone else (the UKBA, say) lose it in the process of applying for your ILR, the whole house of cards collapses and you have to start again.
Come September 2011, and we were in Cardiff with a mountain of paperwork, having decided on the fast-track £80-extra option (on top of the £900 or so it cost anyway), which got you a more-or-less instant verdict. Feverishly checking and rechecking at 6am the day of our appointment, we discovered that there was stuff missing. I no longer remember what it was, but it involved photocopying. Amazingly, the night guy at the Premier Inn opened up the office and actually did the copying himself, which earned him a big tick on Trip Advisor. He was probably used to neurotic people worrying about paperwork in the small hours.
We dropped the stuff off at the appointed hour, and then spent two very nervous hours mooching around Cardiff, which is a good place to kill time in, luckily. I even found a second-hand bookshop. The call finally came, and we beetled back to the UKBA, to be told by a very nice and very Welsh lady that we’d pulled it off, and Jen had permanent residency. Even then, there was one last moment of terror when she said that, strictly speaking, some of our evidence (payslips etc) was a month out of date, because we’d had to postpone the appointment. But having checked with her supervisor, she was prepared to overlook it, such was the quality of our application. Did she say that? Probably not. She probably meant because it would be ridiculous not to.
So we left Cardiff on a cushion of air and got on with our lives, with no clouds on the horizon. There was the little matter of the Citizenship Ceremony a couple of years on, an engagingly bonkers affair involving a man with a very large sword and Jen swearing allegiance to the Queen (and writing yet another cheque, for £851). The Leader of the Council reminded us that not only was Jen a citizen of the UK, she was a citizen of Cornwall too; he spoke as if Cornwall was a separate country. In many ways it is...