October 19th, 2013

me: ooh!

On repatriation and “It’s easy: Send them back.”

Like all facile solutions, "sending them back" sounds great when you aren’t in a position where you need to think about it much. Ensconced in your own country, embedded in your own culture.

The people who are in a position to think this idea through are usually the ones staring at the pointy end of it. I have been one of those people multiple times over the course of my nine years in Britain, until I became a citizen this year. I have had ample time to consider it from a very personal point of view.

I’m an economic migrant. I come from a wealthy superpower. I have moved to a wealthy superpower. Both superpowers have the same lingua franca. I am a skilled, highly qualified and healthy worker. You would think I’d had an easy time of it.

I have not, as anyone with access privileges and a desire to click on the “immigration” tag will quickly discover. Every time I’ve had to go through the process of renewing my right to stay in the UK has been a special little slice of hell. It was stressful, it was expensive, it was time-consuming and most of all, I was terrified of being rejected. After only a short time here, I knew this was where I wanted to live and work. The culture suited me. The work ethic and environment. The healthcare system (long live the NHS). There was also the matter of a certain gentleman referred to herein as the bloke. I was established here. I felt like I belonged.

And yet there was the worry that somewhere on that 150-page form, I might’ve made a fatal error and a harassed, overburdened immigration officer would have to deny my right to remain. On one renewal occasion, the points system was in flux and thus I was unsure whether my ample (by “average salary” standards) income would be sufficient for me to qualify. I had to wait three months to find out if I was going to be allowed to stay.

Sadly, no one else will be able to duplicate that experience. I say “sadly” because the Tier 1 (General) migrant category no longer permits applications from highly skilled workers who take home an annual salary of less than £150,000. I make less than a third of that, as will pretty much anyone in academia at my age with my skills and qualifications unless they happen to have rocketed to professordom. It’s basically impossible to come here as a skilled migrant unless you’re either already rich or working in finance.

Before I get too far off track, though, let me get back to my original point. I have thought, many times, about going back to the States to live, and frankly the thought horrifies me. I don’t belong there any more. I would suffer as much, and likely worse, culture shock on being forced to return “home” as I did when I moved here. I’m sure I would adapt - I’ve been adapting and succeeding or failing to various degrees for most of my life (moving from Hawai’i to the mainland US was the worst), although I feel I’ve done best in Britain. But it would be deeply unpleasant and damaging, not to mention totally pointless given that I have a partner, a child and a good job in this country.

There are those, I know, who will read this and say, “But we’re not talking about you when we say, ‘Send them home’.” My response? Yes, you are. I’m an immigrant. I may be the type of immigrant you happen to like on a personal level, but the law doesn’t work like that. Those poor harassed, overworked immigration officers that I mentioned before don’t get to apply their personal judgment to individual cases. They get to apply ticky boxes. I was fortunate enough to be able to fill in the right ticky boxes at the right times. Not everyone is, and just because they can’t, doesn’t mean they deserve to be sent away. Many of these people have grown roots here, just as I have, and it’s been a painstaking and loving and wonderful process for them. They have jobs. They’re skilled workers. They have friends and sometimes even family here. They want to stay. They contribute to the diversity, health and economy of the nation. And a lot of them face worse than “difficulty in readapting to their culture” on their return. So please. Have compassion. Stop saying, “It’s easy: Send them home.”

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