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Let’s Get Angry (Part 2)

For those who just joined us, please read the previous post, which is part 1 of this story.  To recap, I interviewed Alex, an American, and his/her spouse, Sam, a UK citizen, about the dehumanizing process of applying to live together in the UK.  I’m also including screen caps from a video game called Papers, Please, (created by Lucas Pope) as it is scarily relevant to the situation detailed in these two posts.
Q: Alex, at this point I’m going to say, for the record, that you are not a certified expert in law, immigration, foreign affairs, etc. That being said, I want to go back to what you mentioned before. You said you and Sam were prime candidates because you speak English and you are a heterosexual couple. Does this mean people are being rejected on the basis of their language or sexual orientation? As a follow-up: Isn’t that illegal?
ALEX: Well remember that gay marriage wasn’t made legal in the UK until last year. Before that point, I know that immigration was a major point of debate for same-sex couples, as it is in the US. Still, there’s a separate category for them, with its own requirements re: proof of the relationship, joint financial responsibility, etc. I see this entire application process as unduly burdensome and a complete failure at actually detecting sham marriages, and I imagine it’s even more so for couples up against widespread discrimination. This whole process, which for some takes years, is decided by one UKBA agent and his or her mood. S/he cannot say, “Your application is rejected on the basis of your sexuality,” but they can say, “Your application is rejected on the basis thatUK4 you have not provided sufficient proof that this is a genuine relationship.”
Vague guidelines, social prejudice, and public anxiety are what discrimination feeds on. Anecdotally, people from the Middle East and Africa seem to have more problems getting in than people from the US, whether they have the money or not. This is not surprising. These regulations are very recent, and a response to the UK’s cry for pointless immigration caps, usually implicitly targeting Middle Easterners.
Oh, here’s another thing: This system is blatantly ageist. As we’re both young and still in education, we don’t have the necessary qualifications for A) Sam to get a work visa and live with me during the application process, or B) for us to start earning the crazy amount they require. So what they’re saying is, if you’re young and still being educated, fuck off. You don’t deserve a family life.

The whole system, if we assume (highly generously) that it is a good-faith attempt to only let in genuine families, is geared towards educated and qualified people in their 30s or 40s. Not people like us, who don’t generally communicate via email, who can’t get high-paying jobs yet, and who haven’t joined our finances together.  Which, come the fuck on. Just try and get joined finances when Sam doesn’t even live here permanently.

Q: Sam, how much would you estimate you have paid, including visa fees, airfare, etc., in the past two years alone on traveling back and forth between the US and the UK? For the record, you have to travel so often because you can’t get a visa that will allow you to stay with your spouse for longer periods of time, correct?

SAM: Yes, that’s correct. I’m not completely sure about the overall costs because there’s a lot to consider. The flights alone have cost several thousand dollars, but that doesn’t account for living expenses here in the UK. Since I don’t drive and don’t get to choose where I live, transport costs hundreds cumulatively. Food is expensive because I don’t have my own kitchen, thus can’t manage a proper food budget. I need a portable computer for work so we have had to invest a couple of thousand dollars in that. The visa fees are not much in comparison, though I was forced to go to an early morning interview in Belfast for my last visa, which cost considerably more in transport and accommodation.  So it’s hard to measure, but it is a lot.



Q: I suppose I shouldn’t have said “can’t” get a visa that will allow you to stay longer. It would be more accurate to say you aren’t allowed a longer visa, yes?  The difference being that you are an upstanding citizen with no criminal record, so you are not being denied on the basis of your own faults or actions.

SAM: Yes, it would be more accurate to say that. Longer visas don’t exist for someone in my position, in that I’m not studying there [in the US], I’m not working in one of the small number of “shortage” industries, and I’m unwilling to be apart from Alex for the processing time of a marriage visa, which can take up to a year. There are no other options for me.

Q:  I’d like to ask a general question, similar to what I asked Alex. What are some thoughts you want to share? Anything that comes to mind. Especially anything that you feel the general public should know.

SAM: Well my experience of talking to other people about this is how little they understand it. Most are constantly surprised that I’m forced to be apart from my partner of 6 years, my spouse, because of this. It’s not simply that the process is time-consuming, expensive, and complicated, though it is certainly all of those things. It’s also thatUK6 it’s deeply violating in a very personal way. Our relationship isn’t really ours anymore, it’s wholly dependent on the demands of total strangers who don’t and will never know us, yet want access to the most intimate details of our lives so they can judge whether or not our love is real. We’re expected to play the part of what a couple should be in their eyes, a role that is not only painfully restrictive but also constantly changing, without warning.  I feel like people need to be aware of how painful this is, and how much worse it must be for those not lucky enough to be in our position, supported by friends and family in a lot of ways.

Q: This may seem like an obvious question, but for the record: Do you love your spouse?
ALEX: Obviously. I love him/her deeply. I didn’t even consider marriage before her/him.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary wants to make it harder for British citizens and those settled in the UK to bring their spouses, civil partners and indeed other family members to the UK.

 Sam: Yes, very much. S/he completely changed my life, and made me want to spend my life with him/her when no one else ever has.
Once again I beg you to share this blog post and/or the previous one.  My heart goes out to the various divided families that are struggling to live with each other (and stay with each other).  The previous post includes links to websites where you can help by donating to this cause.  I am going to post them here as well.
Thank you so much for reading and for bearing with me as we diverge from the fun, light-hearted path this blog usually takes.  We’ll be back to Mini-Bex shenanigans soon.
A special thanks to Sam and Alex for taking the time to share their story with me and with my readers.  It is my hope that this blog post and the above websites will help to make a difference, not only in Sam’s and Alex’s lives, but in the lives of many others.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Games, Immigration, marriage, Politics, Travel

Let’s Get Angry (Part 1)

Since we’re on the subject of video games, today I’m going to do a little bit about a game called Papers, Please, created by Lucas Pope.  In this game, you play a border agent in a fictional country who is tasked with inspecting people’s documentation and either admitting them or denying them.  Of course you also have your own family to feed and shelter, but what happens when someone comes by who doesn’t have the right paperwork?  Do you admit them when they tell you they’re just trying to see their son?  Or their spouse?  What about if they look female (to you) and their passport says they’re male?


The reason I bring this game up is because it’s supposed to be historical, but in actuality the events of Papers, Please are unfolding right now for real people. Click here to view the game’s trailer and/or to buy the game, and here to see the Zero Punctuation game review.

Throughout this post, you’re going to see screen caps from Papers, Please, but that is not what I’m going to talk about.  This post is about a real-life issue: The UK is forcibly separating families.




For this post, I conducted an interview with an American citizen, Alex, and a UK citizen, Sam.  They’re married, but they aren’t living together yet.  Instead they are going through the arduous and soul-sucking process of applying to live together as citizens in the UK.  To protect their identities, their names were changed, and all identifying information has been altered or omitted.

Interspersed throughout the interview transcript, you will find excerpts from some websites that detail the immigration issues more fully.  I warn you that this blog’sDivided Family of the Week” posts will tear your heart to pieces.

Because of the sheer volume of information I’m trying to include, I have divided this post into two parts.  Both parts will be long, but I urge you to read them in their entirety.  The things I’ve learned in just a few days…  It’s cruel and unusual, and we have to try to stop it.  This is America’s problem as much as anyone else’s.  It’s American citizens (as well as citizens from many other countries) who are being forced to live apart from their spouses and families.  So please read, and share!  I have never asked this of you before, readers, but please share this post.  Get the word out there.


Q: How long have you and Sam been together as a couple?

ALEX: Since March of 2010, so almost six years.

Q: Can you tell me about when you started the process of moving to the UK, with the aim to become permanent residents? [Note: Sam was born in the UK, and is a citizen.]

ALEX: Initially we hadn’t considered moving to the UK, because I thought it would be best for us to be in the US, in terms of my career. But as we learned more about what it would take to be a [JOB TITLE] here, plus the wait times to get a US spousal visa (more than one year we would have to be apart), we started to consider the UK again. Turns out it makes much more sense, as it’s a more straightforward path to [CAREER] for me. On the surface, it looked as if the visa process is easier, as the wait times are shorter. So we decided to do that.

For several months, we scraped together savings and spent as little money as possible for what we thought was the financial requirement: a savUK1ings of £16,000 ($22,700). Turns out, that was not the case. The requirement was upwards of £60,000 ($90,000) in savings, just to live with my family. And we had to hold that absurd amount for six months in a bank account, untouched. We’re preparing our application, which already exceeds 50 pages in a 3-ring binder, and it still isn’t enough proof that we’re not in a sham marriage, or lying to the border authorities in some other way.  And, in what felt like a slap to the face, we also read that we shouldn’t burden the UKBA (UK Border Agency) with “too much evidence,” lest they tire of hearing about our situation and reject us.


Immigration laws leave an estimated 33,000 people unable to remain with spouses in Britain as they do not earn enough to satisfy visa requirement.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/09/couples-protest-18600-minimum-income-rule-foreign-spouse-uk

Q: My next question was in this vein.  I wanted to ask you to list the various obstacles you encountered since beginning the process. Is there anything you’d like to add, since you already began the list?

ALEX: Yes. This is a significant financial and emotional burden. We’re stuck between the xenophobic immigration practices of two different xenophobic countries. That means that Sam regularly has to leave me here alone to fulfill his/her US visa requirements, and it’s never a given that they’ll let her/him back in at the border.

Obviously the money is a huge thing. We could be spending that monUK2ey, right now, setting up a life in a country we both love.  But what they don’t see is the huge emotional toll. It’s not right to be separated as newlyweds, particularly not for arbitrary reasons and indeterminate amounts of time.  I have PTSD. This leads me to have terrifying panic attacks in my sleep. I’m lucky to have someone like Sam, who’s willing to do whatever it takes, in the middle of the night, to calm me down and allow me to sleep peacefully. When s/he’s not here, I have to face it alone.

The rules were introduced on 9 July 2012, and every year dozens of couples who have been separated from their partners and children gather outside the Home Office to protest a law which means around 47% of Britons do not earn enough to fall in love with a foreigner.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/09/couples-protest-18600-minimum-income-rule-foreign-spouse-uk

There’s also our education and careers. We’re both ambitious people. I have a clinical Masters degree, and I’d like to progress to a doctorate. It’s an intensely competitive and high-paying field, and I can’t wait to actually begin working in it. Sam wants to write professionally, and to support us by working better than minimum wage jobs while I’m in school. But we can’t start any of that right now. We have to wait, often separately, wasting time in pointless and underpaid jobs even when we have the money and academic drive to not do that.

The UKBA does not give you any specific guidance as to what documents to provide in order to prove that A) you have a “genuine and subsisting relationship,” B) you intend to live together as a couple in the UK, and C) the money you have is from a legit source. From the experiences of other couples we’ve read about, they will reject without asking for clarification, leading you to go down a (highly expensive) months or years-long UK3appeals process.  So in this process of gathering information that varies from seemingly pointless (utility bills) to highly violating and personal (love letters, emails, Facebook chats, a year of bank statements of the person who gave you a monetary gift), you start to think of yourself as a criminal.  You start to have thoughts like, “Wow, we didn’t join our finances before marriage. I guess that’s a legit reason for them to reject us.” I do this hundreds of times every day. “Oh no, I didn’t save every scrap of paper Sam ever wrote to me on.  I guess I don’t deserve to live with him/her. How stupid of me not to have set up this relationship for success.” Or if, Heaven forbid, I threw out bills that were several years old that had both our names on them. “How could I do that? Why am I trying to defraud the UK?”

You’re not allowed to be human in this process. You have to be a relationship-tracking automaton, and a very wealthy one at that. And even then, they might reject you, as in the case of a couple being rejected for literally knowing the UK’s immigration laws and citing them in their application.

Almost every day, we remind each other that we’re in the best possible position (after the “investor tier” which can casually drop £1 million into the UK economy and be granted the privilege of staying). I speak English and am UK-educated. We’re not in a same-sex relationship. I’m not from a politically inconvenient country. I can afford a lawyer, and this application (which costs around $10,000, in addition to the savings requirement). There are infinite reasons people can fall through those cracks, and can thus be denied the right to family life. That’s an explicit right, by the way, under both UK and EU law. But the reassurance that we’re top-shelf applicants, perhaps, doesn’t keep us together. It doesn’t keep Sam here to help me sleep and to play with our dog and to just enjoy our marriage. And it certainly doesn’t get me any closer to starting my second Masters course, which I may miss because of their processing times, which I hear are backlogged by about 6 months.

Immigration rules in the UK in force from 9th July 2012 make a mockery of family values and violate the sanctity of marriage in causing the separation of families, keeping our citizens in exile and forcing British children unnecessarily into a single-parent upbringing.

Source: http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-us.html


Q: Sam, I know that you are a UK citizen. You were born and raised in the UK, correct? Was there ever a dramatic change in your feelings about being a UK citizen in your life? Either a negative or positive change, or have your feelings about your country always been the same?


SAM:  I was born and raised here [in the UK], and spent almost my entire life so far here. There has not been a dramatic change in my feelings about the UK, but rather a gradual one. I was generally ambivalent about it as a child and teenager, but was always involved politically and took an interest in my community in a lot of ways. It was always my home and while I knew it had problems, I felt like it was worth trying to make better. Over the course of the last few years, however, since I’ve been involved with Alex and spending more time in other countries, I increasingly no longer feel secure or welcome in the UK. I get the sense that having a partner from another country is some kind of violation, that I’m being punished for loving someone not from here.


Q:  Let’s expand on that. Alex has already talked about how this process has affected her/his life and his/her emotional well-being. Can you talk about how you’ve been feeling since the process started?


SAM: Anxious.  Partly out of a constant sense of uncertaintyUK5 over our future that is just part of the process, partly out of concern for Alex, who struggles with some health problems that make it hard for her/him on his/her own. Also frustrated by the way that our lives, especially careers and family life, have been put entirely on hold during this time. We’re recently married, yet have been totally unable to really start our lives together or enjoy our relationship because we’re forced to be apart.  The process is deeply lonely, because we’re both always pulled apart and never allowed to know if we’ll be able to see one another again for months, or potentially even years.

Q: I don’t want to pour salt on any wounds, but what will happen if the UK rejects you as a couple?


SAM: I don’t know. It’s impossible to know or plan for. We might be able to take a different path, but there’s no guarantee of anything.

[End of Part 1]

Obviously what’s happening is tragic, so I’m going to answer the question that might be on your mind: What can you do to help?  Glad you asked.  Click the links below.  Donate your time, resources, money.  Whatever you have.  Help to stop the UK from treating people like trash.



The conclusion to this interview will be posted early next week.  Until then, I once again urge you to share this post.  Let’s start getting the word out there.


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Filed under Foreign Policy, Games, Immigration, marriage, Politics, Travel

The Storymatic

For my birthday I received a wonderful gift from my friend, Micah.  It’s called The Storymatic, and it’s essentially a card game/writing exercise generator.


This game can be found at a place called Marbles The Brain Store, which may or may not have a location near you.  Click that link to go to the website and explore around.  Click on the picture of the Storymatic to get a link to its page so you can order one for yourself!

The rules of this game/exercise are simple!  And there are many variations in the rulebook so you can include other people, or just write a little story for yourself.  In this case, I went with the go-to method of story prompting.  The box contains a set of gold cards and a set of copper cards.  First you choose two gold cards.  Those two cards become your main character.  Then you draw two copper cards which set up the story you’re going to tell.  The two “rules” are that you can’t kill your character (because that’s too easy!) and you have to have your character change in some way from the beginning of the story to the end.  In other words, give him/her an arc.

So let’s begin!

My first gold card…

aging clown

And my second gold card…



Let’s uh…let’s see what the story prompts are.

First copper card…


Second copper card…

hospital waiting room

So I have an aging clown who is also a pirate.  An Aging Clown Pirate.  And the story has something to do with a fever and hospital waiting room, which fortunately fit together a lot better than clowns and pirates do.  Jeez, they didn’t make this easy on me.

Okay.  Story time.

Gorkel the clown’s arthritis was acting up again.  It was compounded greatly by his omnipresent seasickness.  When he’d been kidnapped as a child from the island of Lorgane, he never thought his pirate captors would be so entertained by juggling.  It was this skill that had kept him alive, and yet now it was beginning to hurt more and more to toss swords and twirl batons.

“Gorkel!” the captain bellowed from within his quarters.

Gorkel winced and nearly dropped the apple he’d been doing tricks with.  His real name had been Gordon, but the captain didn’t think that sounded clownish enough.

“Yes, Cap’n?” Gorkel said.

The ship had changed hands twice since Gorkel had been kidnapped.  The original captain had retired to the Bahamas, and his successor had been killed by the current captain to whom Gorkel was now speaking.

“I’m thirsty,” the captain rasped.  “Fetch me some water.”

Gorkel obliged, gritting his teeth.  For years, decades even, he’d dreamed of escaping.  But he had always been too cowardly to try anything.  He ran to fetch a cup and dipped it into the water barrel.  Then he hesitated, staring at his watery reflection as it wavered beneath him, as surely as his confidence wavered whenever he thought of escaping his life of servitude.  There was a way he could…but no…he couldn’t…

Could he?

When he returned, the captain was visibly red in the face. 

“What took you so long?” he barked, snatching the water from Gorkel’s hand.

He tipped his head back and downed the drink in one gulp.  Then he slapped the cup back into Gorkel’s chest.

“I’m bored.  Go find something to juggle.”

Gorkel left with the cup and returned with his crate of juggling supplies.  The captain looked on with mild interest as various objects flew through the air.

“You know, I thought my predecessors were crazy for keeping you on board,” he mused, “but I have to say, I’m starting to see their reasoning.  Nothing like a loyal clown to liven up the…the…”

The captain’s words died as he swooned in his chair.  Gorkel let the batons he’d been juggling clatter to the floor.

“Cap’n?  Are you all right?”

He ran to the captain and steadied him.  Sweat was beading on his forehead, and when Gorkel tentatively touched a hand to his face, he drew back quickly.  His skin was burning.

“Set sail for a hospital!” Gorkel called out to the men.

It took them hours to reach a hospital, as ships were not the most expeditious modes of transportation. 

After explaining the captain’s condition to the nurses, the crew was forced to sit in the waiting room while the doctors did their work.

“I’m gonna go out for a pack of cigarettes,” Gorkel said after a few minutes.

“But you don’t smoke,” replied Briney Joe, one of the crewmen.

“Maybe the captain will want some when he gets better,” Gorkel said, knowing full well he wouldn’t.

He strode out of the hospital, took a breath of fresh air, and started walking.

By the time the doctors discovered the poison in the captain’s system, he’d be long gone.

The End

Well that was supposed to be a silly story, but it didn’t turn out that way did it?  Still a darned fun exercise.  I recommend the game to anyone who has a creative itch that needs scratching, or a way of entertaining a moderate number of house guests.



Filed under books, Humor, writing