For this post I will be using an extended metaphor. To fully understand my predicament you will need to imagine that I am a juggler. A juggler who juggles swords. 5 swords at the same time. Swords that are on fire. Whilst walking a tightrope. Over a pit of flesh-eating crocodiles and lava (don’t ask me how the flesh-eating crocodiles can survive the lava, they just can. Look, they’re flesh-eating crocodiles, ok?)
|See? Crocodiles can totally live in lava. Found at: http://www.funnyjunk.com/comment/anonymous/content/3387212/-5/1/parent_id/20/11|
Have that image in mind? Great.
As my ancestors all came to Australia in the 19th century, I don’t have the luxury of an EU passport. So, unlike many of my luckier friends (who despite growing up with the ABC and SBS and barbies in the sun and summers by the beach and koalas and kangaroos and innumerable other Australian stereotypes, were able to use Italian grandmothers or Greek grandfathers, mothers born in Cambridge or fathers born in Manchester to obtain that holy grail of the modern young traveller: a European passport) if I want to stay and work in any country in Europe, I have to obtain a visa.
So, step number one back in 2010, was to obtain a working holiday visa for Ireland. I decided to go through one of these work programs that give help you with the visa application and give you support once you’re in the country. So far, so good. Despite their rapidly disappearing economy, the Irish embassy promptly issued me a working holiday visa. Sure the visa looked like I had mocked it up on my computer and laminated it at the local Officeworks, but when I got to Ireland in February, the local Garda station registered me no problems.
When I was accepted into the Creative Connections program, I decided to find out how easy/hard it would be to switch to another visa and stay a little longer in the country. Not ever having been one to break the rules, I was not at all tempted by the possibility of overstaying my visa illegally. I inquired and was told that my work visa could be extended by another 3 months (essentially a tourist visa). That was fine. In February this year, I got this extension, no problems. Hence, I am legal in Ireland still, though not allowed to earn money (which I’m not), but only for another 2 weeks. Lets call this visa Sword No. 1.
Around November last year, when Creative Connections found out who our guest artist for the 2012 Midsummer Festival was, I became hopeful that I may be able to extend for another 2 months after this initial 3 month extension. This was because the artist (Mark) was so exciting to work with and it didn’t seem like another 2 month extension would be too hard. So, I approached a group in Cork to get some visa advice and to see if they could help me get an extension. The person I spoke to was very positive and thought there should be no problems, after all, I was Australian! It was only 2 months! I could prove I was planning to go to the UK afterwards! Why wouldn’t they approve it? Let’s call this extension or new visa or permission to stay in Ireland until July 1st Sword No. 2.
Then, we add into the mix, Sword No. 3. As I stated above, I am (and have been the entire year) planning to head to the UK next on another youth holiday work visa. Sword No. 3 has been a real bitch. If you can imagine that Sword No. 3 is not one sword, but is actually many tiny little swords that must all be thrown together at the same time, or everything will fall apart, that would give you a sense of what this application has been like. To get the UK visa, you need to apply online. Once you have completed the application, you need to make a payment. Once you have made a payment, the application is complete and gets sent to the British Embassy. You make an appointment to drop in your documents and the application is assessed. Straight forward enough? Not so, grasshopper. To make the application you need a variety of documents, all of which shouldn’t be more than a month old (Tiny Sword No. 1). There are a list of strict requirements said documents need to adhere to, or they won’t be accepted. Tiny Sword No. 2 is attempting to get the documents from the Commonwealth Bank whilst overseas and trying to convince every single customer service operator I speak to that despite their belief that a print-out from my NetBank would be sufficient evidence of funds, the British Embassy does not share their belief and will not recognise these documents. Due to the busy nature of the British Embassy, often application appointments will be booked up to two weeks in advance, however, applications are only valid for a month after the payment has been made, meaning that a 4 week window to apply essentially becomes a 2 week window (Tiny Sword No. 3), if there are any problems with your documents and the appointment needs to be changed. Tiny Sword No. 4 is that you do not get an automatic refund if you do not get your application and application documents into the Embassy within that 2 week window, meaning that you do not want to make payment and confirm your application until you are certain of your documents. Tiny Sword No. 5 is the re-realisation that the bank documents ALSO cannot be older than 4 weeks, or they will be considered invalid, meaning you cannot order them in advance, be certain of them and then put in an application afterwards (because, by the time you get to your application appointment, the documents are already invalid). But, if you recall, all these tiny swords actually make up a bigger sword, which is the visa application itself, which needs my passport to be processed.
Sword No. 4 is that I was accepted into a playwrighting conference in Alaska and I have booked tickets to that already leaving from Dublin in June. That is a two week jaunt in the USA and as far as I know the USA tourist visa application has all been approved and its all a-ok. However, the plane tickets are a problem.
Finally, Sword No. 5 would be the things that I am attempting to do in the UK and Ireland that make all the visa swords worthwhile (mentoring program, Cork Midsummer festival, internship etc.), but have also made the other swords difficult to obtain and all of which, let me just stress again, for the benfit of any bureaucrats reading out there, are volunteer work, not in violation of any of my visas etc. etc. etc.
Ok, so now we get to the actual act of juggling all the swords of fire. My current visa (Sword No. 1) expires 4th of May. Not very far away. Despite having my information since last November, I was only able to get an answer about Sword No. 2 from the migrant information centre last week, which was just to approach the garda station and try for another extension. This was refused in both Dublin and Cork outright. In fact, Cork suggested that I shouldn’t have even gotten the first visa extension (which is not true – its standard practice as backed up by a variety of official sources – but its always comforting when you know more information about your visa and the rights you have to stay in the country than the people who are apparently making decisions on whether or not you are able to stay in the country….). My appointment for Sword No. 3 comes up Monday, but they may not approve it in time for me to leave the country, meaning I would have to cancel the application and lose my money in order for me to comply with the requirements of Sword No. 1. If Sword No. 3 has my passport for the entire two weeks, I may not be able to apply for Sword No. 2 and, if I don’t have a Sword No. 2, my application for Sword No. 3 may be rejected simply because I’m not legally allowed to be in Ireland for much longer after the application was submitted.
Is your head hurting yet? Believe me, I got no sleep last night.
SO. Lets say, Sword No. 2 fails, and Sword No. 1 forces me out of the country before I am approved for Sword No. 3. I am then not allowed to be in Ireland, not approved for a visa for the UK in July (and with no country of residence, aside from home, to apply for it from). You’d think this would be the worst it could get, wouldn’t you? BUT, you have forgotten Swords No. 4 and 5! Because I was operating on a belief that it would be easy to sort out my visas, I acted as if I would still be in Ireland for May and June. I have booked tickets to the USA from Dublin, which is, of course, a city I wouldn’t be allowed into if Sword No. 2 failed. Sword No. 5 includes my mentoring program in London, which will be totally useless to me if I can’t get approved for Sword No. 3! It also includes the internship and the Midsummer Festival, which I can’t be involved in if I fail to get Sword No. 2!
The final assessment is? I’m going to slice off my tightrope with a falling cascade of fiery swords, fall into the lava pit and get eaten by a bunch of flesh-eating crocodiles.
That is, I’m going to have wasted a lot of money, been prevented from completing a variety of things that were the reasons for sticking around in Ireland in the first place and possibly need to return to Australia before trying to apply for my UK visa again.
The only thing that is giving me any joy is that I may find myself unexpectedly home again in July, after the conference in Alaska. That and the thought that if I get booted out of Ireland maybe I can go to a Greek island and sit in the sun and go swimming and sing ABBA songs with Colin Firth and Dominic Cooper.
I saw a documentary about Greece just recently and that’s what everyone does, I think.