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American Told to Leave UK in 14 days after Home Office Error

Elizabeth Ford, an American living in Scotland, has been told to leave the UK in less than 2 weeks due to a Visa error by the UK Home Office. Here, she tells us how the decision has left her feeling “unwelcome” and “foreign” in the country she has called home for 8 years
By Elizabeth Ford
Published on July 25, 2019

Elizabeth Ford Elizabeth Ford

I first came to Scotland in 2007. My childhood reading had been heavy on Scottish folklore and the Child Ballads, so the Idea of Scotland was firmly planted in my mind. I was in Edinburgh for 18 hours, and knew that Scotland was where I needed to be. I have never felt more at home anywhere else.

I now have lived in Glasgow since September 2011 when I came from the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in Scottish music at the University of Glasgow.  I earned my Ph.D. in 2016, and have since been in Scotland on a DES visa, and a Tier 5 Charity Worker visa, sponsored by Katherine McGillivray's Get a Life fund.  During this time, I have set up and managed a research network at the University of Glasgow on eighteenth-century arts education, held the Daiches-Manning Memorial Fellowship in Eighteenth-century Scottish Studies at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, and edited the complete works of William McGibbon, the most famous composer and violinist in Edinburgh prior to 1750.  I have presented at the Scottish Flute Fling, and represented Scotland at conferences and events around the world.  My research won the National Flute Association's research award for being the first of its kind on the flute in Scotland.  In June, I submitted my book manuscript on the history of the flute in Scotland, and this will be published this year by Peter Lang Press.  I am a regular feature article writer for Piping Today.   In 2019, I will be the Abi Rosenthal Visiting Fellow in Music at the Bodleian, to further my research on the chamber music of James Oswald.

On Thursday, July 18, while representing the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh at the International Congress on Eighteenth-century Studies in Edinburgh, I received an email from the Home Office informing me that my visa application for the renewal of my Tier 5 visa had been refused because leave to remain had previously been erroneously granted.  I was told I have 14 days to get out of the country, apply for a review, or apply for a different sort of visa, or I would risk removal.  I was shocked and offended by this, and that their error was now my problem.

The Home Office is, of course, notoriously incompetent, and every time I have had dealings with them I have felt a sense of trepidation that it would only be a matter of time before my number was up and my life was fouled up by their dysfunctional number crunching.  This decision is an arbitrary application of a rule, retrospectively, to correct a previous unexplained error they made.  The the Tier 5 visa site reads as if it is renewable from within the country indefinitely--presumably otherwise my sponsor wouldn't have been able to obtain a renewed sponsorship number for me. Upon query by my MP's office, this is not actually the case. The visa is only issued for a maximum of 12 months, and is extendable if the original leave granted is for less than that. A few pages later, however, the same document says that the visa is available for 24 months.

When I read this email, I immediately felt foreign, and unwelcome, and strange.  These are not feelings I have ever associated with my life in Scotland.  I was suddenly unwelcome and undesired here, I who have followed every process for visa compliance to the letter, and who has actively worked to promote the richness of Scottish cultural history.

A Tier 5 Charity Worker Visa does not allow me to earn money, but because of the opportunities I have professionally in Scotland, and because of the extremely precarious nature of academia and the importance of early career researchers to make the most of their opportunities and contacts, I have been willing to put up with it, especially given the dearth of better visa options for someone who is, as yet, unemployed. Employment law requires non-EU nationals to be the only person in the world qualified to do a job, and it must pay in excess of 26000 pounds. This is a bit of a problem for an early career academic, as jobs are few and far between and entry levels salaries not that high.  Returning to the United States would cut me off from the active professional research and arts community of which I am a part, and make it exceedingly difficult to pursue my research agenda which brings world-wide attention to Scotland's cultural history.  But, because of an error on the part of the Home Office, I am to leave the country I consider my home.  I have little faith in the review process, though I will pursue it as the best of a lot of a poor options.

I know that I would have a place in an independent Scotland, and this is a vision I fervently support, although I am not allowed to vote.  I don't think any historian of eighteenth-century Scotland could not support independence! Not only is this fiasco a legacy of Theresa May's hostile environment, it's an implementation of the Brexit-minded English voters who don't have a clue about Scotland, and that their inherently xenophobic policies affect even Americans.

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