Calgarian would-be backpacker experiences UK work visa headaches

RECENT CHANGES IN UK VISA APPLICATION PROCESS CREATES ADDED BARRIERS FOR TRAVELLERS

Egan thumbWith a folder full of government-issued identification and personal documents in one hand and a Tim Hortons double-double coffee in the other, Olive Brough, 20, made the three-hour drive to Edmonton, Alta. from Calgary to get the biometric scan required for her United Kingdom migrant work visa.

Brough has been working on the application for her UK youth mobility visa — a version of the traditional migrant work visa — since Sept. 1, but to her dismay, she started the process one day too late, after some significant changes were made to the visa application process.

The UK Border Agency changed the name from the working holidaymaker visa to the youth mobility visa, and rules for the application process on Aug. 31.

The changes include adding extra steps such as the biometric scan, a 12-page character questionnaire, and the presentation of all expired and current passports.

Brough has found the new process to be tedious and frustrating.

“Now the application has to go through New York first, and they go through the same extraneous process it takes to get a green card.”

After finding out the process had changed, Brough was furious.

computer
Because of all the arduous changes made to the UK migrant work visa application process, backpacker Olive Brough has spent countless hours on the Internet trying to make sense of it all.
Photo by Jodi Egan

“I felt like shooting my computer and then throwing it into the back of a truck and driving it over the cliff into a lake and then setting the lake on fire,” she said.

A migrant work visa, Brough says, makes all the difference when backpacking abroad for extended periods of time.

“I just write on the bottom of an application, ‘Am able to work in this country,’ and I can get a job.”

Struggling to find the reasons why

The reasons for changes made to the application and acceptance process is elusive to Brough, but she has speculated about the possible causes.

“It might have something to do with their in-the-toilet economy,” Brough says.

She wonders if migrant workers might be taking over jobs from English civilians, adding to the accumulating unemployment rate.

Brough, keeping up with English news, speculates that the UK Border Agency has been too relaxed with rules and regulations in recent times, and are now trying to rectify the problem by complicating the process for migrant workers.

This speculation might be justified due to recent stories that have surfaced about a UK entry clearance officer who had allegedly been taking bribes in exchange for hassle-free entrances into the UK for Nigerians.

In addition, another recent scandal involved UK home secretary Theresa May, who allegedly authorized via email acceptance into Britain for passengers on certain private charter flights and exclusive jets without passport or visa checks.

Egan inforgraph
Unemployment rates in the United Kingdom have risen steadily since the 2008 financial crisis, and travellers like Brough feel that could be a reason for changes in the work visa application process.
Illustration by Jodi Egan

The UK Home Office refused to comment on these issues, but Polo Guilbert-Wright, UK Home Office press officer, confirmed the changes made to the visa from their previous status to a Tier 5 youth mobility visa.

The youth mobility visa now applies to people from certain countries who would only like to “come and experience life in the UK,”according to the UK Border Agency website. Canada is one of the chosen countries.

The applicant must be between the ages of 18 and 31 and have a minimum of $2,500 CA. The maximum amount of time allowed in the UK with the visa is 24 months.

Travellers may only apply if they score enough points in the required fields such as funds, nationality and age.

A constant traveller, now grounded

The plan Brough originally had was to leave for England on Nov. 7, which in her mind was more than enough time to apply for and receive her visa, considering the longest period she has had to wait for a work visa in the past was 11 days.

Brough’s last travelling adventure was an 18-month stay in New Zealand, Fiji and Australia in January 2010. For that trip, Brough’s application process took only one day to complete, and 10 days to receive her New Zealand holiday work visa acceptance.

When Brough moved to Australia after six months in New Zealand, the process to attain an Australian work visa was even shorter: a staggeringly-short 20 minutes from start to finish.

Passport
To a long-term backpacker like Brough, the only thing more important than attaining a work visa is the passport used to attain that visa.
Photo by: Jodi Egan

Because of the changes for the visa requirements, Brough cannot leave until after Christmas 2011, stifling her early plans of renting a house with her boyfriend who currently resides in southern England.

Chloe Ralph applied for her UK working holidaymaker visa in June of 2011, before the elaborate changes, and said the process was “stressful but easy.”

When Ralph applied, her date to leave Canada was Oct. 28, but the visa took only a couple days to complete and a few weeks to arrive, less than half the time it took for Brough’s later application.

The visa, though fairly easily attained, proved to be an issue for Ralph for different reasons.

Ralph’s traveling plans have changed because she received a well-paying job in Vancouver, B.C., not something easily left for a family visit to the UK. Because she is no longer leaving for England, Ralph is worried she won’t be able to apply in the future for a work visa because of reapplication regulations.

Ralph, like Brough, says that of all the work visas she’s applied for, the UK work visa is the most difficult and time-consuming.

Brough says that not only is the application process stressful, but the applicant has to worry about which websites are legitimately government-run, or at least government approved. Because Brough wasn’t aware of the changes to the visa application, she made the mistake of giving $300 to a website devoted to scamming applicants for “easy approval.”

“It took 23 days for the website staff to contact me after I paid them, and by that time the visa had changed. Now it’s taken me another two months to get the application through,” says Brough.

And unless the office in New York, and then the officials in the UK accept Brough’s application, she is stuck here indefinitely.

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