Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How to renew your student visa

1. Make an appointment with the Immigration offices. It will cost you more, but this way, you will think, at least it's all over in one day, and you'll have more control over this disempowering experience. You will be wrong: to illustrate this point, your first appointment will be cancelled with no reason and you will have to change your plans to get a new one.

2. Take the train fron London Bridge station going to Croydon. Do not expect to see the bridge or the river; instead expect concrete landscape, the constant downpour of text and numbers on huge screens, the confusion of loudspeaker announcements. As the train pulls out, look right and see a medium-size bill board:

Legal Shop Online: Write your will for just £9.99

Wonder for a brief moment about the morbid nature of the commuting experience, and then look back to see if the sign was really there, only too late, it's gone.

3. Upon arrival to Croydon, walk out of the train station and turn right. Notice a drunk man lying unconscious on the right hand side, his bottle next to him, his bottom exposed. Notice another man pull out his mobile phone and, laughing, he takes a picture of the drunk man. Look to the grey skies, and turn right again, to Wellselly road.

4. Proceed through 1960s land: an eight-lane road with high rise buildings on both sides. Shopping malls, hotels. It's grim, and it could be anywhere. Since you had been to the UK for a while you know it usually doesn't look like this. Notice the space exploration theme: first you pass Apollo house, and then, your destination, the concrete-blocks-protected Lunar House.

5. From here on you will have to follow the winding path of the bureaucratic maze, that is at the heart of the British State's system of control. Where other countries put armed police, here they use ribbon-separated queues and a convoluted system of lifts (Did you sit on the red or blue seats? Red? Then it'll be the third lift on your left). This cluttered order through chaos was once the secret of ruling a third of the planet.

6. As you wait for your appointment, you will find yourself too nervous to go over your draft chapters. Instead, stare at the screens. Short informative clips are provided, to teach you to Save Energy at home! Keep distance while driving! Don't leave your baby in the bath by herself! Don't forget the cooker on! In addition, you can learn about the history of Croydon - home of Nestle UK, and the London's first airport - and about the facilities: a "multifaith reflection room", baby changing rooms, and a pay phone (all mobile phones must be switched off).

7. Finally your ticket number will be called out. You will sit on a plastic chair, slightly far from the counter. A glass wall separates between you and your interviewer, and you will have to lean forward, uncomfortably, and shout for her to hear, and for other people behind you in the hall to hear as well: shout your current employment status. Shout that you hope to complete this degree by next September. That you had recently moved house. That your brother brings you money when he comes to visit, twice a year. That you are going through divorce.
'Passport and application form please!'

Your interviewer will most likely not be of a white English background. The immigration service seems to be the most ethnically- and racially- diverse public service in the UK, and this is no accident. The children of the colonies are now the zealous guardians of the former Empire.

8. Do not ask you interviewer: How does it feel to have people's futures in your hands, in application forms and passport photos, in bank statements and letters of proof? How does it feel to have the power to join lovers and break families, to give hope and to shatter dreams? You will be too wise to ask her. Instead, fix your gaze on the red button next to the interviewer's microphone. The button says PANIC ATTACK, in crafted lettering that you will not be able to define in exact terms.

9. The interview is over, and now you have two more hours to wait for your passport. Wander round and read the signs in the hallway, and in the corridor, encouraging you to leave feedback if you are 'unhappy with our service'. Yes, the people deciding your future are providing a service, and you are a customer. This place, the headquarters of population control, is no more than a 'Public Enquiry Bureau'.

Fill in one of the feedback forms. Under 'other suggestions' write:
A World Without Borders.

1 comment:

peter said...

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