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Op-Ed | Americans Rejected for UK Visas

Earlier this year, US academic Dr Elizabeth Ford told us about her experience of being refused a Visa renewal to remain in Scotland where she has lived for 8 years. Here, she updates us on her situation:

Published on October 10, 2019


Elizabeth Ford Elizabeth Ford

The United Kingdom’s immigration policy is destructive, expensive, and cruel. It is born of a racist policy to keep out poorer, darker-skinned people, and take advantage of wealthy white people who can afford the various exorbitant fees. Since I first wrote for this publication in July, many things have occurred in my own fight with the Home Office. My lawyer filed an application for administrative review to buy time while we figured out other options. This application was, not unexpectedly, refused. The options remaining were to apply for a judicial review, which was also unlikely to succeed; apply on human rights grounds; or apply for a Tier 1 Special Talent visa.

My lawyer has been in favor of the second option since our first meeting. Because of the utter pointlessness of my visa refusal — I’m not taking anyone’s job; I don’t even have a job, and there aren’t any for me to take — as well as my eight years’ residency in Scotland and my unique contribution to the understanding of Scottish cultural history, he believed the case would be winnable in terms of public support. The downsides to a human rights application are that it is risky, could take up to a year while pending, leaving me in limbo in the United Kingdom and unable to travel or work, and the Home Office fee is a staggering £2050. In his office, and on the street, I was able to believe in this vision, but practically speaking, it simply does not work: it is too expensive and lengthy for an uncertain outcome and likely better for my lawyer’s career than for mine. Additionally, academia is a worldwide market and so permanent residency in the United Kingdom is not necessarily helpful.

The third option, the Tier 1 Special Talent visa, is a visa essentially for unemployed artists or scholars, who have reason to be in the United Kingdom. The applicant applies for endorsement to the relevant scholarly society, and upon endorsement, then applies for the visa. Endorsement does not guarantee that the visa will be awarded. This is the path I intend to pursue, via endorsement from the British Academy. Although the immigration minister said I had to apply from the United States, thus requiring a plane ticket, it is significantly less costly than living in Scotland for up to a year with no obvious means of support, a high fee, and an uncertain outcome. But, because this is also not a sure thing, and because the Home Office is notoriously dysfunctional, my belongings are being shipped.

This entire situation came about because of the United Kingdom’s arcane employment law. In order to be employed and have the coveted Tier 2 visa, the job in question must pay at least £30,000 and I must be the only person who can do it. This is an improbable combination for an early career academic — in fact many job applications have automated dialogues regarding right to work and discourage me from applying, and in one notable instance an institution told me I was their first pick but because I had no right to work, I could not even be invited for an interview — but, because I care about my career and know that I need continued access to resources in Scottish libraries, I pursued the Tier 5 Charity Worker visa via the Katherine McGillivray Get a Life Fund. It was when I attempted to renew this visa in order to take up my fellowship at the Bodleian that the Home Office informed me leave to remain had been granted in error the previous year, and they were correcting it by refusing my application.

This to the letter enforcement of the rules, even on the grounds of their own admitted mistake, boggles the mind. What purpose to the public good does it serve to invite me to leave the country, after I have paid to live there for the last eight years, costing the public absolutely nothing? After I have researched, reconstructed, and written three books about a significant and overlooked aspect of Scottish musical life? I have had the privilege of choosing where to live, and then, because of a paperwork error, had that privilege revoked.

Since the various articles in The National and The Guardian, I have been recognized many times in Glasgow, in Edinburgh, and on the plane back to the United States. I have received messages of support from strangers, discounts in shops, and horror stories about immigration from people who somehow think telling me about their colleague who was arrested and put in solitary confinement will serve a purpose. I have not slept since mid - July and being back in my parents’ home and away from this is a major relief. I have also been subjected to a great deal of online abuse that stems from the basic ignorance of the populace who apparently want these policies. I decided to involve politicians and the media because stupid policies only change through public awareness: Vote, if you can. Be informed and articulate, and engage with policy, people, and politicians. These conservative policies that pander to the knee-jerk little England types affect the people a small country most needs. Who else is there to enrich and promote the musical culture of Scotland?

I no longer desire to live in the United Kingdom. As a historian of eighteenth-century Scotland, it’s a problematic concept as such. This incident has confirmed exactly what I have always thought about the United Kingdom: it has no interest in people, how policies affect their lives, or Scotland. It is in the best interest of Scotland, and the United Kingdom at large, that I be there; but why would I remain in a place that has made it abundantly clear that I’m not welcome ....at least not until I earn over £30,000? An independent Scotland, however, would (will?) be an entirely different story and something I hope to see within the next five years.

Dr Elizabeth Ford’s research looks at the cultural history of music in eighteenth-century Scotland. Her PhD thesis (Glasgow, 2016) won the National Flute Association Graduate Research Award. Her monograph on the flute in Scotland will be published by Peter Lang Press in 2019, and her edition of music for recorder from the Montagu Music Collection, Boughton House, will be published by Septenary Editions in November. Her complete edition of the sonatas of Edinburgh’s greatest composer, William McGibbon, is available from A-R Editions. She was the 2018-2019 Daiches-Manning Memorial Fellow in Eighteenth-century Scottish Studies, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh. In 2019-2020, she will hold the Martha Goldsby Arnold Fellowship at the Riemenschneider Bach Institute, and the Abi Rosenthal Visiting Fellowship in Music at the Bodleian Libraries... if she can get a visa...

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