Americans Watch Out!

I have an English boyfriend and after long-distance dating for over 6 months, we decided to live together. We both just graduated from college and while you might think that an English-speaking, college educated American wouldn’t have too much trouble finding work in the UK, the opposite is true. The UK has special programs set up for people from basically every country EXCEPT the U.S. to come and work there.

If I were from Canada or Trinidad, or even Romania, it would have been no problem, but as it was, I did not qualify for any of their work schemes. To get a work permit you have to find an employer in the UK who is not only willing to hire you, but fill out paperwork on your behalf stating that they tried to find an EU citizen to do the job and were unsuccessful. There is competition for every job these days, so I find this requirement ridiculous, and as I do not have any specialized skills or training other than my two B.A.s this was not an option for me.

Fortunately I found the BUNAC program which was straight-forward and easy (although a little expensive) which allowed me to enter the UK and then look for work. I was allowed to work for 6 months.

At the end of my stay, I left the country (which you are meant to do) and as I could not extend the BUNAC and did not qualify for any other work visa, I decided to go back as a visitor. My boyfriend and I did not want to be separated from one another again so we agreed on a budget we both could afford, with him paying for most of our bills and expenses so I could stay in England without working.

Americans are supposed to be able to enter the UK and stay for up to 6 months as a visitor without a visa, however, when I got to immigration the officer was not convinced. He separated me from my boyfriend and questioned us, even asking me personal details about him, I guess so he could verify we were actually a couple. I had to wait for an hour before being fingerprinted and searched, then another three hours before they interviewed me (I guess they were letting the pressure build, waiting for me to “crack”) then I waited another two hours to find out I would be sent home after two days of “compassionate leave” to collect my things.

Now I am at home in the U.S. trying to earn enough money for a plane ticket back, as well as the $140 visa fee – this time I’m taking no chances and obtaining a visitor’s visa before I try to go back.

The bottom line is, I was entirely within in the law. We did employ a lawyer in England to try and get the decision overturned, and she assured us I had done nothing wrong and should have been admitted to the country, but the immigration office still said no. They refused to overturn one man’s decision which was basically an indictment, based on no evidence, of my personal character that I would attempt to work illegally or overtstay my visa.

My advice to you, if you plan to visit a country for more than 2 or 3 weeks, no matter what the government website says, get a visa, or at least have your bank statements and proof of what you will be doing while you are there and when you are leaving close at hand. You may think you are within the law, you may think that as an American you won’t have a problem – but you could be wrong.

A little extra preparation and the cost of a visa is well worth avoiding being detained, treated like a criminal, and then being kicked out of the country. I still feel the physical effects of the stress and grief I went through as a result of this treatment and being separated from my boyfriend.

Do yourself a favor and be on the safe side.