If you ever want to see me go into a full freak-out, melt down, dry-heaving banshee of a woman, ask me to navigate you to Croydon.
Croydon is the home of a much larger, much more intensive immigration center. Unlike the sunlit hills of Solihull, it is an efficiency-driven machine with guides at every corner and floors denoted by bench color.
Getting there, however, has too many options. One option which goes against the GPS and causes, at best, the closest thing I’ve had to a complete nervous break-down. Mercifully it ended with us being 30 minutes late and the guard at the door saying in the softest voice to a woman who would’ve disintegrated otherwise, “No worries, these things happen. You’re here now.”
The disintegration possibility was due to our current visa expiring tomorrow and the looming possibility of a very expensive trip home. In order to avoid this we signed ourselves up for 7 solid hours of stress, heightened to amazing levels by trying to drive through Greater London during rush hour. The goal was to turn our paperwork, photos, supporting documentation, and whatever necessary body parts in to ensure our application was accepted and our visa was extended two years.
The first time I experienced this the UKBA was having rolling strikes, which moved our initial appointment to a very empty office in the north. This time, the UKBA was in full swing, meaning that security checks, guides, and representatives were rampant, alongside the It’s a Small World of applicants. Three floors were allocated. You were given a floor and told to live there, clinging to a 3-digit number which defined your entire existence. Since there was so many of us this meant that every 30 seconds a number would be called for someone to go to some desk, which had its own number and a big glass wall between you and them. Reading was nearly impossible, as every 5 words I would hear the cheerful pre-recorded voice beckoning someone to go meet their fate.
The current visa application for a Tier Two + Dependent is over 100 pages. So imagine, if you will, a room full of benches and people sitting nervously with 100 page manuscripts stating why it would be really nice for the UK to let them stay there. Around me there sat the occasional representative, who was calmly going through material with even more stressed out people than myself. I distinctly recalled, though again I was breathing sheer fear at the time, one of them questioning every class the woman ever took while in college. Another stood with a completely unraveled woman at the window, saying over and over, “We can’t do that, her visa expires on Sunday.”
And all the while a little clock in the back of the room goes tick, tick, tick.
They must train the UKBA staff to cope in natural disaster environments considering the amount of stress that exists in those waiting rooms. Perhaps that’s why there are the big glass walls between us and them. I don’t know. Perhaps they know that one day the stress level will get so high we all start popping like confetti cannons. No evil motives, just the amount of time, work, and money gets to the room of applicants and it’s the first internal natural disaster caused by man and stress. Spontaneous human combustion. Maybe they’re banking on it, keep immigration down.
Anyways, you wait a lot. Granted, if you mailed in the application you got to wait a lot more, but in this case it’s all condensed. When you go in they give you a handy flow-chart that explains all the steps, which is nice, except the flow chart should show the mythical time area where minutes feel like hours, and an hour feels like 30 hours, especially after that nifty “police check” which – even though I’m completely clean – makes you wonder as the time slowly goes by… “Did that burnt-out headlight I got in 1999 end up on a police record? I swear I paid the ticket and presented insurance at the administration offices like I was supposed to. Oh God, they’re going to deny me the right to stay in the UK over a burnt-out headlight. Oh God, Oh God, Oh God…”
And then you hear your 3-digit number and jump 10 feet out of your chair where you are instructed to sit while they enter your information. In the case of Croydon, the benches you sit on lean so far back you perch on the end so you can converse with your case worker. The case worker is friendly, kind, and has to enter the information into the computer at a blisteringly slow pace, because, well, it’s a government computer under government process. So there is a lot of dead time. You sort of slide back on the benches and look at all the other people who are sitting at the benches with you. I thought about waving friendly to all those who were with me, but I feared the confetti cannons, so mostly, I just sat and tried not to explode myself.
And when the words came, “It’s fine, I’m processing everything now and will be back with your letters…” it’s like a clear bubble of calm surrounds your little bench. And when you rise up, letter in hand, it’s like you can levitate above the bench and float out the door. Or, in our case, run because we had 3 minutes left on the parking meter.
So, in short, I’ve used up my allocation of stress for 2011. I’ve heard that the government is considering allocating more stress after April 5th, but I have no intension to apply for any more.