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The Home Office in action

I have spent twelve of the last sixteen years of my life living as a foreign citizen in the United Kingdom. I have spent this time on a mixture of student visas, the “UK ancestry” visa (which allows citizens of Commonwealth countries with a British grandparent to live and work in the UK) and for the last two and a half years as a permanent resident (or with “Indefinite Leave to Remain”, as the British immigration jargon has it). My immigration status has always been pretty uncontroversial, I have never been a drain on the resources of British taxpayers (quite the opposite, given the taxes I have paid). This has not stopped the Home Office from insisting that I jump through a whole variety of bureaucratic hoops, answer a large number of impertinent questions, and suffer an assortment of petty humiliations with a fair amount of regularity. The level of competence of the Home Office in administering all this has never been high – when I was studying at Cambridge, it was well understood that the usual way of renewing a student visa involved sending your passport to the Home Office, and then applying to your country’s embassy a few months later to replace a lost passport before making a quick trip to France to get your paperwork processed at the border on the way back – but in recent times (the start of which coincides quite closely with the Labour Party coming to power) the frequency with which hoops must be jumped has increased and the fees that must be paid to jump through each hoop have become ever higher.

However, last week, my need to deal with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office came to an end. At an in truth rather touching ceremony at Wandsworth Town Hall, I affirmed my allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second and was naturalised a British citizen. This does not affect my Australian citizenship, and I now have dual nationality. A couple of days later, I did what most new citizens do fairly quickly, and sent off an application for a British passport. The fee that is payable in this instance is not nearly as high as that payable when renewing an immigrant visa these days, but must none the less be paid. The passport application form came with another form on which I could fill out credit card details to pay the fee. The form stated that I could check the current fees on the website of a different section of the Home Office, the recently renamed Identity and Passport Service, or that I could alternately leave the amount blank on the form. The amount of the fee is not printed anywhere on either of the forms: this presumably makes it easier for the Home Office to increase the fees repeatedly without the trouble of reprinting forms. If I did this, the Home Office would charge the correct amount to my credit card and there would be no delays due to the possibility of my incorrectly sending the wrong amount. I therefore left this blank. On Tuesday, I noted that the approximate amount that I expected had been charged to my credit card, and I was set to receive my new passport within a couple of weeks.

However, yesterday I received a letter stating that my passport application could not be processed because I had not paid the correct fee, and this would not be done until I sent an additional £3. What apparently happened was that someone received my form, filled in an incorrect amount, and then somebody else noted that I had paid the incorrect amount and sent a letter to me demanding more money. If I had filled in the form with the correct amount in the first place, this would not apparently have happened. I was able to rectify this today by calling the enquiry line of the Identity and Passport Service, explaining the situation, and giving them my credit card details again so I could be charged the additional £3. My passport will hopefully still come in a couple of weeks, but it has been delayed by this and I have been inconvenienced. The enquiry line was an 0870 number, for which the charges are high and the called party receives a portion of the charge for the call, so I have paid a small amount of additional money for this, too.

This is all mildly amusing, but there is perhaps a moral. Theoretically, when I became a citizen, one thing I gained was the right not to suffer the petty humiliations and bureaucratic hassles and incompetence from the Home Office that a non-citizen goes through just to live here. I would personally argue that such humiliations and hassles are no more justified in the treatment of non-citizens than they are in the treatment of citizens, but the population as a whole does not generally seem to agree with me, and politicians seem to believe that there are electoral points to be gained in actually increasing and enforcing such hassles.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps this is just a demonstration of the nature of our government and our bureaucrats. It is not hard to see the ID card as little more than a way to extend the humiliations and hassles that non-citizens receive to the time after people become citizens, and to extend them to the native born as well. The Home Office body that will implement and enforce the ID card and associated database is of course the Identity and Passport Service. It is not terribly encouraging that my first interaction with this Service after becoming a citizen involved their making an error for which they blamed me, charged me, and inconvenienced me, even though I had done everything correctly. I suspect we should all get used to it.

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14 comments to The Home Office in action

  • I’m glad you mentioned the citizenship ceremony.

    My wife did one of these a few years ago when they first came in, and it was somehow quite moving, in that it made you realise that being English doesn’t mean anything more than you want it to mean, which is for me is Quite A Lot but not The Be All And End All.

    And at the same time it was totally meaningless, purely symbolic and a waste of a good afternoon. Which is also a large part of English tradition. I was nearly moved to tears.

  • Nate

    Isn’t the Queen also the head of state for Australia? If so, as an Australian, I would have thought “allegiance to the queen” would have been the default. (????)

    hmm…I don’t know exactly where I’m going with all of this…it just seems odd to be a citizen of a country that recognizes the same head of state as another and having to get recognized citizenship.

    Anyway….all my puzzlement aside, congratulations on becoming a citizen.

  • The legal situation is that the Queen of Australia and Queen of the United Kingdom are now two different crowns, and that they happen to be held by the same person. So although I already owed allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II in her capacity of Queen of Australia I did not owe allegiance to the same person in her capacity as the Queen of the United Kingdom. This is the usual way that the situation is legally looked at these days, but we did not make a sudden jump from the situation where the Queen held a single crown to this – it sort of evolved gradually before ending up here.

    Interestingly (or not), the governors of the six Australian states are not appointed through Canberra but are appointed directly by the Queen, acting upon advice from the Premier of the state in question. These state governments are older than the federal government in Canberra, and the position of governor in each state is older still. Once the states had been granted independence by Britain (which in a technical sense only happened due to the passage of the Australia Act of 1986 – prior to that the appointment of state governors in Australia was technically ultimately subject to advice by British ministers, and thus the crowns of the Australian states had probably not been separated from that of the United Kingdom) then one interpretation of the situation is that the Queen actually wears another crown as head of each Australian state, and so she has seven separate roles in Australia. Even if this is true (and not everyone will agree with this interpretation) this is of little significance, as the concept of citizenship of a state does not exist in Australia, as the federal constitution grants the right to pass laws concerning citizenship exclusively to the federal government and it is therefore not possible to owe allegiance to the Queen of New South Wales, if such a person does indeed exist.

    And this is all gloriously surreal.

  • Daveon

    The other side of this issue. I needed to replace a passport because I was getting my US visa and was running out of pages in the 3 year old one I had.

    I needed to to do this before the Visa Interview and went for premium processing. I phoned them, got a time and a day to turn up at Victoria. Arrived to find a scary queue.

    Got in the queue. The doors opened, we got in, we got seen in about 15 minutes. They took my payment by Debit Card and told me to come back in 4 hours.

    4 hours later I had a new passport.

    I listen to the horror stories of people in the US trying to get passports and renewals and shudder.

  • Henry

    I know your pain. My FLR(M) application was rejected twice. The first time was because the downloadable forms on the Home Office website were not up to date, so I submitted an older form. They turned down my application and told me to resubmit with the new form and pay the balance for the increased fee. The increase in the fee was the only change in the form.
    My up-to-date application with top-up payment on the fee was rejected because they couldn’t comprehend the fact that I’d paid the original fee and then (as directed) the balance to cover the increase in the fee.
    In the end, despite the fact that I had done as instructed well ahead of schedule, I ended up submitting my application for a third time having overstayed my previous visa by 2 days (due to their clerical errors) while waiting for them to process my refund after having paid the full amount already.

    All I can say in their favour is that they didn’t seize on my 48 hour overstay to keep my money and tell me to return to my home country to apply again.

    I haven’t decided if it’s worth the hassle and expense of the citizenship process to upgrade from being a permanent resident when I’m able. After this I’d rather not give them any more money than I have to.

  • 4 hours is a record time. The promise in Malaysia is same-day service, but 4 hours? Damn, that’s fast!

  • ResidentAlien

    We were living outside the UK when my wife’s British citizenship finally came through. We were instructed to go to the nearest British consulate for her to swear the oath of allegiance. The consul had never done anything like this and he was very excited about it all; he bought a bottle of champagne and decided that my wife needed to recite both the religious and non-religious oaths.

    A few weeks later we got an embarrassed phone call from the consul. He explained that as he was just an “honorary” consul he was not empowered to administer the oath – we should have gone to New York for that – but he would see what he could do. In the end, my wife swore her (third) oath in front of the consul from New York who was down on the island on vacation.

    A wonderfully British shambles – from the clowns who think they can administer the most complex ID card system in the world.

  • nick g.

    Sorry to go off-topic-
    Midwesterner- the book was called ‘Slave Nation’. I forget who wrote it, but it is now out of stock here in Australia.
    As for citizenship, in 1996 I had lobotomy (became an Aussia citizen), and our ceremony at Sutherland was all political correctness- no mention of Her Majesty, just an oath to the Commonwealth. I was frankly disappointed. You might be amused to learn that Bob Katter calls naturalisation ceremonies de-wogging ceremonies, a term I’ve always liked.

  • permanentexpat

    Why the surprize?
    Look where you’ve chosen to live.

  • nick g.

    In the heading, is ‘in action’ meant to be 2 words, or just one?

  • ‘when I became a citizen, one thing I gained was the right not to suffer the petty humiliations and bureaucratic hassles’

    Yup. There’s your mistake.

  • Wot?

    I went to the UK on an ancestry visa, an Entry Certificate, meaning I had a grandparent born there – the other being a Certificate of Patriality meaning a parent was born there.

    I spent 23 years in the UK, and was given the ‘unlimited leave to remain’ stamp on my very first entry to the country. I was officially a permanent resident from day one. From that day on, until three days before I left, I never had a single contact with the home office, other than the occasional trip through passport control after having gone off somewhere.

    In fact, on one occasion visiting Denmark, I left with a brand new Australian passport, never been stamped in, and forgot to bring my old expired one which had the leave to remain stamp in it. On my return, with no evidence I had any right to enter the UK, I anticipated problems at passport control. At best I hoped to be allowed in on a short term visa, giving me the chance of a few days to sorted things out.

    Back at Heathrow I walked up to the officer at passport control, explained that I was really a UK resident, I just lacked any evidence to demonstrate it. Explained that I was an idiot and that my old passport, in the drawer at home in Streatham, had the correct stamp. He replied – Ok, I believe you, and stamped the new passport with “Indefinite Leave to Remain”.

    No paperwork, no fuss, no nothing other than my word for it.

    I applied for British Citizenship three days before I left, and received a letter, in Oz, nine months later, containing a certificate signed by that fair approximation to female genitalia, David Blunkett, confirming my new status as a British citizen and subject of her Britannic Majesty.

    Again, no ceremonies, no oaths, no fuss, no nothing.

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    Went through the ILR process myself a couple of months ago. Paid extortionate fee for “premium service”, even had an appointment time, turned up to Croydon, only to find an enormous queue and obviously no real prospect of keeping the appointment time. It was a 4 stage process of document check, payment, assessment, passport endorsement. Each stage had an approximate 45 minute to an hour wait, with the exception of payment, for which there was no queue (4 document checkers & 6 payment clerks!!). It was a tedious experience, but my case was straighforward and my paperwork in order, unlike some of the poor unfortunates I saw pleading with officialdom to let them stay.

    So now I am 10 months away from UK citizenship… mind you I still beat my English girlfriend through immigration yesterday coming back through Heathrow from Rotterdam, the convenience of Iris (until everyone has to do it).

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