Want me, Britain, want me

So as I mentioned before, I left my purse on the bus earlier this week. Stupid. Lucy told me to blame it on pregnancy brain. I will. It took me a little longer to realise that my Foreign National Identity card from the UK Border Agency was in it. Crap. Stupid by a gazillion. I don’t normally keep it in there but it happened to be in there because I’d used it for something.

For those who aren’t all that familiar with the British immigration system, that’s a biometric identity card now issued to foreign nationals applying for leave to remain here. I got it a few months after I married my lovely British husband and decided I should probably stay in the same country as him.

And I don’t have a problem with it. I understand that immigration needs to be controlled – though one might argue that the government has more to be worried about with immigrants from other EU countries who can claim certain benefits than with non-EEA nationals like me who have no access to public funds. But alas, that is another topic.

What I always find hard, though, is feeling a little bit like a criminal going through the process or at least like I’m begging to stay here – just a teeny weeny bit.

This is how it feels when I come through border control on my own. When I’m with Laurence there’s absolutely no problem. But come through on my own and I get interrogated, even though the papers are there, intact. A nice way to come back from honeymoon in Italy, I might add.

I felt this way when they took my finger prints for my first biometric card and I will feel this way again should I have to resubmit my finger prints for the replacement.

I understand why it has to happen and we were aware of all this when we made the decision to marry. To be honest, this is low on the list of difficulties involved in a mixed nationality marriage. Knowing that wherever you raise your children, they’ll be far away from at least one set of grandparents is a tad trickier.

I eventually calmed down from my initial reaction to having to wait 30 minutes on the phone to the UK Border Agency yesterday. Listening to the same music they’ve been playing while keeping people in a cue, for at least the last six years, made me shout into an empty room: “This country doesn’t want me!”

Once that bit had passed, I settled down and thought about why I was so upset. And I think it’s just that this is a blatant reminder that I don’t belong. Not yet, anyway. It’s not that I think belonging is that important generally but clearly, on some level, it is.

And I wonder if it’s because after six years of living here, getting married here and now preparing to have a child here, I want to belong somewhere. Existing in the space between isn’t as easy.

Image: Javier Micora


8 Comments

  1. March 4, 2011 / 11:38 am

    I know exactly how you feel. I never had to carry the biometric card, but for a long time, I felt like an outsider in this country. I couldn’t even open a full bank account because I wasn’t on the electoral register. And it always felt strange landing in Heathrow, going through border control and wondering if I should join my family as they went to join the queue for British nationals, or if I should slug it out in the slower-moving queue for other nationalities. After a few years, though, it stopped mattering to me, to the point that I couldn’t be bothered to apply for British citizenship even when I was already eligible for it! I eventually did it, anyway, and I must say I was very pleased when I recently received a form from our local council to fill in if I wanted to vote by post. 🙂

    • March 4, 2011 / 12:46 pm

      Yes, it also took us a while to decide that I should try to go through border control with Laurence and I’m so glad we worked out that I can. At least I can, as a Commonwealth citizen, vote. Otherwise, I think I’d feel even more alien by having a limited political voice. I don’t know if you felt like this but when I’m able to apply for citizenship, it will purely be a matter of convenience!

  2. March 4, 2011 / 1:30 pm

    Oh I feel for you! I must say in my experience, landing in Heathrow, immigration has always been slightly more pleasant compared with the smaller airports. I think perhaps what changed the most for me, was having a child here, flights were easier (getting to board first), getting through immigration was easier too (they tend to let you go first with young kids), and people are just more pleasant when they see children I think. You won’t have long to wait for that experience 🙂

  3. HerMelness Speaks
    March 4, 2011 / 1:35 pm

    We are a blended family (from more than one country) so I understand and can empathise (and also applaud the naked honesty and elegance of this piece).

    In times like these, it sometimes helps to remember that no-one can make us feel anything, we are in control of that.

    God bless. HMS

    • March 4, 2011 / 1:44 pm

      “no-one can make us feel anything” – too true! I also like that phrase ‘blended family’. I think that fits us in so many respects.

  4. Lorymanriquehyland
    March 4, 2011 / 9:11 pm

    Border controls in the UK are tough. I’m now an Irish citizen, but was for several years I was travelling around the UK and Europe for work on my US passport. I once got stopped in South Hampton airport (think it was, something small down that way anyway) and was interrogated for a LONG time about what I was doing in the UK , about my business, about where I was having meetings, etc….and I had no intention to stay! Anyway, I know what it feels like to be an outsider and to be in a blended family.

    • March 5, 2011 / 12:52 pm

      Your interrogation experience sounds about right though! My experience with Dublin border control is that they’ve been a lot nicer.

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