Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Sh*t Journalists Say (more or less)

Ah, memories. Oddly, it doesn't include slamming down the phone/storming in and spewing forth the kind of profanity that would make a sailor stand up and salute. Ah well, maybe that's for the next vid. This was made by the good folks at Stuff Journalists Like.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Saturday, 21 January 2012

ILR Superstar (Indefinite Leave to Remain success at Solihull)

We recently received Indefinite Leave to Remain through an in-person appointment at the Public Enquiry Office (PEO) in Solihull. For others looking down the barrel of this rather stressful, expensive process in bewilderment, here's our experience.

My husband was a work permit holder and I his dependant -- both Americans. We used Form Set(O). His five years were almost up and that meant we were required to apply for ILR. Annoyingly, you can only do this 28 days before your WP expires -- not a day sooner and no later. Which doesn't leave you much time to reorganize your life and get out of the country if it's denied, but them's the rules, folks.

Fortunately, our case was very straightforward. That fact did little to keep me from stressing out for months and over-preparing, but in the end that was probably a good thing because I discovered a couple little things that were necessary but not noted anywhere in the application.

We decided on the in-person appointment because we wanted our passports back the same day. This cost an eye-watering £2,025. We have no travel plans at the moment, but we couldn't imagine being unable to leave the country (possibly for a few months) if we needed to for some reason, not to mention it would just be really stressful waiting to find out if we made it.

Like I said, our case was very straightforward and we easily met qualifications, but the scary bit was the fear that we would not include some vital document and it would be denied on a technicality. The forms aren't as clear on exactly what's required as they could be.

Solihull PEO

We had a 9:30 appointment and were instructed to arrive a half hour early. We came up by train the day before and stayed at a nearby B&B.

The PEO is in a row of office buildings called Dominion Court at 41 Station Road. The sign is a not-very-obvious placard by the door -- you won't see it from the street. There's a small vestibule outside the entrance, and people are let in one application group at a time to go through airport-like security (though you don't have to remove belt and shoes, as I've seen some others state they did). One man asked to go through our bags and to see our application, while a security guard walked us through those scanner thingys and then used a wand if the scanner had beeped. We had to empty our pockets into a tray and put cell phones in as well. We didn't have to wait to go through security, but by the time we were leaving for good shortly after noon a line had formed in the vestibule. We booked early morning after I'd read many forums advising to do so, and I think that was good advice. The office gets more backed up as the day goes, and the best bet to get in and out in the same day is to schedule an early appointment.

Speaking of scheduling, I did that online. I made an account in my husband's name with the UK Border Agency. I had tried to call and book an appointment a couple months beforehand, and was told they only booked 6 weeks in advance. Using that info, I started looking at the online booking 6 weeks before the first date we were eligible to apply for ILR, checking just after midnight when a new day was added onto the booking system. Make sure you calculate this date correctly, because if you come a day sooner than 28 days before your WP expires, I don't think they'll see you. Also, if you have dependants, make certain to book an appointment with dependants even if they aren't coming with you to the appointment (though it seems pretty clear they really prefer all dependants to attend, and if they don't, the missing person should send a letter with you explaining why they aren't there -- no one will tell you this if you call the hotline with questions unless you specifically ask if you need to include a letter, you'll just be told only the main applicant is required and they won't think to mention the letter bit).

Solihull was hard to book. I checked it and Croydon as my two options in the online system, and only once did I see an opening at Solihull, and I grabbed it. Several times I saw some for Croydon, but passed them over as I'd read in many forums that Solihull was better -- mainly because in Solihull they look over your application and documents before they take payment (which proved true in my case), whereas in Croydon they reportedly take payment first. This is non-refundable, so once they take the money, if they find you need more documentation or you just don't qualify for ILR, you're out a huge chunk of cash. That alone sold me on Solihull.

We were given a number and sent to the waiting area, which was large and clean. In addition to a men's and ladies' bathroom, there was a disabled bathroom that doubled as a baby-changing room. As for disabled access, the office seemed accessible and surrounding streets did have lowered curbs. No stairs are required to get into or around the office. A car park is directly in front of the office, though I didn't note who could park there of if there were disabled spaces -- but at least anyone with special needs could be dropped off directly in front of the office. I think there was a pay car park around the corner (not certain as we didn't bring a car, but I saw a digital sign up the block stating spaces were available).

We had arrived at 9 for our 9:30 appointment and were called back for our interview at 9:20. Which documents to bring and how many is a very big part of this application, and it's a little fuzzy in places. Here's what my ILR caseworker asked for:

-Our passports (for me, that included my old passport in my maiden name because it had my visa in it, and a marriage certificate to prove name change because my new passport is in my married name)
-my husband's Work Permit (I don't recall anything in the application specifically asking for this; I think I brought it because I had read others were asked for this -- turns out we were too, even though many other things required on the application were *not* asked for -- so this was one instance where my over-preparing paid off)
-Employer letter (this listed my husband's salary and that his job is continuing, among other things. I'll put a copy of the letter in a separate post. It also included the SOC code for my husband's job, and the caseworker commented that it was good I had that, and that many people don't include it. We did not include an employer letter listing absences because he had less than 180 days in total, and no single trip of more than 90 days).
-Life in the UK test pass letters
-three months of payslips
-Two bills, one from each of the past two years, to prove residency/cohabitation (I used two council tax bills as that has both our names)
-A completed application form (of course)

The caseworker looked through everything and scanned our photos before having us go to another window to pay. We used credit card and had called the company in advance to let them know we'd be making the charge so that it wouldn't get denied for some reason. We also brought a couple of extra means of payment in case it was denied anyway (Tesco is our fav card to use to collect points, but they are bad to stop payment even on small amounts that seem "suspicious". Like shopping more than once a day in Boots -- um, doesn't everyone do that?) She also gave us our scores from the Life in the UK test -- we both got 23! Meaning we each missed just one question.

She then told us to come back in 2 hours, keeping the same number we'd been given for the initial interview. Directly across the street are several restaurants; the only one that clearly seemed open in the morning was The White Swan (a Wetherspoon pub). A block up are the shops of city center and Torchwood shopping center. We set up shop in Starbucks and read.

We got back by 11:30, but our documents weren't ready until a little after noon -- so that part actually took more than 2 hours, so you can see they were already getting a little backed up. We were given back all of our original documents except for the employer letter and had a new "settlement" page in our passports.

I have more tips and notes about the whole process, but I'll get into that in another post. Hope this helps someone!