Jen and I got married in April 2009 at her brother's house in Casino, northern New South Wales; we'd hijacked her father's 80th birthday party. The bride arrived in a canoe to the strains of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. It was a blissful day, but I already knew that I was heading home alone in a week's time, leaving Jen behind. It seemed a very weird thing to have to do.
I suppose I once thought in my innocence that when we were married we would just flit insouciantly back and forth, living a life of perpetual summers. Unfortunately the UK Border Agency had other ideas. You might think, if you read the more unpleasant newspapers, that they welcome you with open arms and possibly champagne, chocolates and a wad of cash, but in fact they take a very dim view of people who have a notion to move to the UK, even if (or perhaps especially if) they already have a British husband. The default position is that you are trying to pull the wool over their eyes until you can prove otherwise.
So for months we had been collecting paperwork to support Jen’s application to come and join me. Jen had to apply in Australia, and I’d lugged it all out there. Birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, divorce certificates, letters from the sort of people who are officially viewed as trustworthy testifying to the strength of our relationship, pay slips, bank statements, credit card bills, itemized phone bills (bit tricky with Skype, eh chaps?), an affidavit showing that my house actually had the number of bedrooms I claimed it did (in case I was thinking of importing my parents-in-law too). We even produced a hardback book to send along with the application papers, bullishly called 1 of 30, containing photographs of us doing stuff together during the first year of our relationship, print-outs of emails, and so on. The forms were long, detailed and tricky. How you would cope if English wasn’t your first language, we couldn’t imagine.
Inevitably, we couldn’t take the paperwork to the Consulate in Brisbane and deal face to face with humans. That would have been way too convenient. Once we had the marriage certificate it all went off by courier to Canberra, including her passport and a very fat cheque. And then we waited...and waited. The pen pushers barricaded themselves behind a Kafkaesque wall of silence while our application was considered. In my fevered imagination the place looked rather like this.
No way of knowing how your application was going, or if you’d made a mistake which would lead to the application being rejected out of hand (and your money not refunded). You couldn’t ring up, or email. All they would say was that it would take anything up to 6 months.
Back in Blighty I obsessively haunted online immigration forums, looking for straws in the wind. It was comforting to know there were others in the same boat, but the pain and frustration at the bureaucratic nightmare people found themselves in was dispiriting. I was pretty certain that it would all turn out OK, but I couldn’t be certain. You could appeal against a decision, but the process was so opaque that it was hard to feel optimistic about that particular outcome. (To be continued...)