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Thanks, Grandpa Wild

Thanks, Grandpa Wild

I don’t remember how I heard about the UK Ancestry Visa, but it was when I was working in London for a month on the 2012 Olympics, hearing my local coworkers talk about their weekend trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, etc. So my desire to take advantage of an easy live/work visa thanks to my Grandpa Wild’s birthplace was fueled by jealousy and wanderlust. I gathered the paperwork I’d need back then, thinking I’d want an escape after my brother’s death, but it took me another six years to want to break out of my comfort zone after that profound destabilization.

Finally realizing I was ready to proceed was the first major decision that kicked off a series of seemingly endless major decisions, so I plan to explain here some of the more complex or interesting logistics I’ve faced as I approach The Big Move. The logical place to start is with acquiring the visa itself — a process that both made me feel lucky to have such an “easy” method of living and working in another country, and made me feel like the universe was conspiring against me to make my life difficult.

One thing I learned was that other people’s experiences are only so instructive. Specific processes change over time, and some seem to differ depending on where you’re applying from. So keep in mind this was my experience in mid-2018, applying from Vancouver.

Am I eligible?

The requirements for the Ancestry visa are reasonably straightforward. You need to be a Commonwealth citizen who has a grandparent, living or dead, who was born in the UK (you or your parent can be adopted and still qualify, but step-relationships don’t qualify). You have to apply from outside the UK, be able and intending to work in the UK, and have enough money to support yourself and any dependants. You don’t need to have a job lined up already. It allows you to live and work in the UK for up to five years, which you can renew for another five years. At the end of the five or ten years you can choose to apply for indefinite leave to remain and eventually, if you want, citizenship.

If you have a parent born in the UK your path is easier. If you have a great-grandparent or beyond who was born in the UK, your ancestry won’t help you get you a visa, but there are other visa categories you could check out.

The devil is in the details, of course. How much money is enough money to land with? How do you prove you’re able and planning to work? Google was my best friend through this, leading me to visa services, expat forums, and the guidance document on the UK government website, intended for the officers who review applications. None of them offer concrete answers, but visa services and other applicants provided estimated amounts to have on hand and for how long, and advice on documents to provide to prove your employability, among other things.

If you have questions, it seems like UK immigration charges you to answer emails or phone calls, and others suggest the information was less comprehensive than what they found on expat forums, so I managed my questions on my own.

The process

To apply for the visa, you fill out an online application form and then go to a “biometric appointment” where they take your fingerprints and picture, as well as your passport and the documents you will include in support of your application. They do tell you to have everything you need at that appointment, but I had read elsewhere that you left the appointment with your documents to courier them yourself. That wasn’t true at least at this time and place — they took everything and submitted it for me. You then wait up to three weeks for your passport to be returned with — or without — the entry clearance inside.

Others online talked about getting an email saying a decision had been made and the passport was being couriered back (with no information on whether the application was successful or not), but I didn’t get that email – I just got an email a week after my appointment to say they received it and would start to process the application, and then a courier at my door after a couple of weeks, luckily with the stamped passport and a letter I need to show the UK immigration officer on arrival. From there, I pick up my “Biometric Residence Permit” at a post office in Edinburgh close to the address I provided in my application form.

Birth certificates

When I first learned of the visa, I gathered the birth certificates I’d need — the long form that includes parentage are essential. Getting my grandfather’s was surprisingly easy. I ordered it online, paid a nominal fee, and it arrived in the mail. Getting my father’s was more difficult – at least at the time (2012), Alberta required you to go to a Service Alberta location in person or jump through hoops that were even less convenient. I didn’t live in Alberta but was there a lot that summer, so I stopped by and had to sign an affidavit that I was his daughter and he was dead before they would release it to me. I’ve seen enough crime shows to know that people use dead people’s birth certificates to create new identities so I get it. I think.

Because my ancestry is on the paternal line and my last name is the same as my grandfather’s, and the birth certificates include parents’ names, my line of decent was clear without submitting marriage certificates. Some people will need to supply those too, if that’s not the case.

Employment

This visa category doesn’t require you to have a job before you arrive, just to prove that you’re able and planning to work. Previous applicants indicated that a resume and registration with a job search website was adequate. I want to continue as self-employed and a business plan and possibly business finances are apparently the ticket to prove that, but at the time I was waffling and ended up applying for a couple of jobs, and I submitted an invitation to a Skype interview. That single email printout gave me confidence in my application and also in my ability to job search once I was settled if that’s the direction I decided to go.

Finances

No one will give you a concrete answer about how much money you’re supposed to have on hand, unlike some other visa categories. Based on advice I read from previous successful applicants and from the websites of companies that charge people to assist with visa applications, I felt around $5000 would be sufficient and that it should be in your account at least 3 months prior to your application date — they want to make sure the money is truly accessible savings. I put that money into a separate account in March, and added to it in the intervening 3 months, so I ended up with just over $6000 earmarked for the move by the time I applied. I went into the bank to get a stamped and signed statement of the last three months (you can’t just print out your online banking statement) to prove how much I had, and how long I had it.

I did let them know in my application that I was only accounting for money on hand but I would also have proceeds from the sale of my condo, and gave a lowball estimate of that. But since I didn’t offer any proof, and the bank statements for that savings account should have been enough, I doubt they took that into account.

Some of the information on the official site is vague, which I suppose gives immigration agents more leeway to consider each application as a whole. But would it kill them to give more guidance on the kind of bank statements needed, for example?

Application form surprises

You can apply for the visa up to three months before you want to arrive. I had originally aimed for May or June but ended up postponing until September, so had to wait until June to apply. It was a happy day when I discovered you can fill in the online application and wait to submit, because seeing the actual questions answered a lot of my questions. Even after consulting with Google, Ph.D., I was surprised by some of them, so not having to/being able to rush the process was a benefit.

Date

The first surprise was that, despite warnings that you shouldn’t book travel until you were accepted, the application form asked for a specific date of arrival and the address of where you would be staying. I’d been thinking mid- to late-September, depending on plane fares and availability of a pet-friendly AirBnB where I could stay until I found a permanent place. Since I couldn’t work backwards like that, I had to pick a date.

I plucked a date out of thinnish air — September 22 — and booked a week at a pet-friendly hotel with a generous cancellation policy. What I wish I’d known, or looked into or pondered logically better, was what that specific date meant. I wanted to make sure I’d be ready to go by then, thinking it might be a deadline if it wasn’t just a guideline for them. In reality, you’re provided with an entry clearance in your passport that is valid from that date for one month. So I couldn’t arrive until Saturday, September 22, and have until October 22 — but that first date is already the last date I wanted to arrive, and it turns out because of shipping the cats, I needed to leave on a weekday. So September 24 it is, arriving September 25 thanks to the magic of time zones.

Travel history

The other surprise was that I had to list every trip I’d taken out of Canada in the last 10 years. My love of travel was less of an issue than the fact that I’ve been living within a short drive of the US border. I ended up going through my passport stamps, Facebook pictures, and then cross-checking my email for etickets to ensure I got at least the trips that went beyond an afternoon of shopping.

Work history

You have to provide your work history, including answering if you’ve ever worked in media, civil service, etc. Those don’t seem to rule you out — I answered yes to media — but depending on the circumstances maybe it would raise a flag for them? Even though they consider self-employment sufficient for their work requirements, and in fact you can be unemployed as long as you are looking for work and have sufficient funds, I had a moment of concern wondering if my freelance status would hurt me. However, there are ample free text boxes and I used one to explain that I had quit a permanent job of many years in order to work on the Olympics and then make this move.

Finances

Because they’re so vague on how much money they want you to have, I was startled to see how much detail they wanted on your current living expenses, projected living expenses in the UK, income, and move costs. It doesn’t say great things about my financial acumen that I found it difficult to fill out my current living expenses, but some of that is complicated by overthinking the definition. For example, in one of the sections they broke out accommodation, and in the other they didn’t. I did the best I could with my current expenses and was grateful for the University of Edinburgh’s cost of living estimates for their foreign students. I added a certain percentage as an “I don’t want to live like a student” bonus.

There wasn’t a line where selling my condo fit, so I added it to the “anything else you’d like us to consider” open-ended questions.

Other

One multiple choice question was if you have friends or family in the UK, to which I answered no. Thanks for making me feel like a loser, UK Immigration. There wasn’t a “well, I know some people but calling us friends would stretch the meaning of the word” option so in the open-ended question about what I planned to do once I arrived, I mentioned knowing some people but not well, hoping to settle in Edinburgh, integrating into the community by using coworking spaces and joining Meetup-like groups, blah blah blah to give them a sense that I have considered the practical and social aspects of moving to a new country.

Supporting documents I submitted

What I submitted erred on the side of minimalism, but my philosophy was I would give them what they asked for and no more. Easier said than done in some cases where their ask is vague, but that’s where some research came in handy. I submitted:

  • Birth certificates
  • Passport
  • Resume
  • Job interview invitation
  • Savings account bank statements of the last three months

Supporting documents I wish I’d submitted though I obviously didn’t need them but they would have eased my mind

After attending my biometric appointment I had my confidence shaken by employees who didn’t seem to know what they were doing. (It’s a contracted facility to gather your information, not UK immigration officers with decision-making power, and they were in training. One didn’t recognize that I had the right birth certificates.) So naturally I went home and googled “U.K. ancestry visa declined.” More than once. In various permutations.

I only came across two stories: one woman whose sister was rejected because she had around $2 in her bank account. Duh. The other gave me more cause for concern — it was a man applying with three dependents who was rejected for not having enough funds, and for not proving that his accommodation — a family member’s home — was sufficient to house an additional four people for an extended period of time.

I also discovered fellow paranoid people who listed what they’d submitted to ask if it was enough. What I submitted in comparison was definitely minimalist.

In what should have been a comforting discovery, I found statistics for one quarter from last year that indicated only around 5% of ancestry visa applications were denied. But someone has to be in that 5%. I knew I was eligible; the question was did I adequately prove my case, or did I make some random error in my application? If I’d searched for denial fears and stories before submitting my application, I might have beefed it up to ease my mind with some of these things:

  • A printout of the hotel booking, with an added explanation in the application form about my accommodation plan. It seems so obvious that a hotel would be a short term solution while looking for a long term rental, I didn’t explicitly say that. So the story of the rejected man had me worried. Maybe he thought it was obvious that staying with his family member was a short term solution. (Or maybe it wasn’t supposed to be short term and he had made it clear that was his long term solution, but without knowing more, my imagination took hold of me.) This is the one item I would have submitted if I’d thought of it. It certainly couldn’t have hurt.
  • Proof of current income. I deliberately didn’t submit this because they don’t ask for it and I worried I’d be penalized for being self-employed, despite knowing that’s a legitimate status for this visa. Still, I was unsure if, say, the statements for my chequing account would help by showing I was earning enough money, or hurt, by showing irregular payments. Because the application form asks for your current job information, they knew I was self employed, so it likely wouldn’t have hurt. But going with my “give them only what they ask for” philosophy, I chose not to.
  • Overall financial picture. Related to the above, I actually had two printouts from the bank, only one of which I used (the savings account to show I had sufficient funds to get settled). The teller also printed off an overall picture of my accounts, including chequing, mortgage, credit card and registered savings accounts, but again I shied away from providing more detail than asked for. (Then again, the UK visa site only says “bank statements” — the information that it’s savings they’re interested in came from third-party sources). I could have overthought this to death: if I showed my mortgage, shouldn’t I prove that I was selling the condo (but it wasn’t listed yet)? The answer is likely no, it wouldn’t matter since I already said I was selling it, but my uncertainty even now reinforces my minimalist policy: why give them information they didn’t seem to need, when it might raise more questions? I had the printout at my biometric appointment and I’d meant to ask there if I should submit it … until I realized the employees knew less than I did about the process.

So that was my experience, leading to a successful visa application. Questions? Fire away. Want to share your own experience? Please do!

Peace and propaganda in the DMZ

Peace and propaganda in the DMZ

Every two-ish years since Vancouver 2010, I’ve worked for the host broadcaster of the Olympic Games. So every two-ish years I explore as much of the host country as I can given how little free time I have during the contract period. Other than Vancouver (because I live there) and London (because of my brother’s illness), I’ve taken some post-contract time to see the country I’d otherwise experience mostly from the Olympic bubble. When I was contracted for PyeongChang 2018, I knew my one must-see in Korea was the DMZ. And not just any old place along the DMZ, but a tour that included inside the Joint Security Area, an area that surreally brings current events and the Cold War to life.

First stop: Dorasan Station

Dorasan Station, enormous and mostly empty. 

South Korea’s Dorasan train station is a gleaming, cavernous symbol of hope for Korean unification, on the outskirts of the DMZ. Largely empty and unused since it was built in 2002, it was funded by donors nostalgic for the one Korea era, and hopeful for a future where trains will run freely between the two Koreas. For now, the “To Pyongyang” signs are aspirational and the station remains a terminus, waiting for peace enough to fulfill its destiny.

The few trains that do arrive bring tourists to the demilitarized zone – the DMZ — 50 kilometers north of Seoul. The DMZ bears witness to the aftermath of a war that ended not with a peace treaty but an armistice, and one country divided in two not by a border but a military demarcation line. The four kilometer-wide zone spans the Korean peninsula, two kilometers on either side of that not-a-border. Beyond that is one of the most heavily militarized boundaries in the world.

One of the commitments coming out of the recent summit between the two Koreas was to join the two countries’ transportation lines. Others were to work toward a formal peace agreement and to reunite families separated by the war. It remains to be seen whether those commitments will become reality under the volatile North Korean regime, and the on-again-off-again summit with the United States, under the volatile Trump regime, only adds to the uncertainty.

Even tourism doesn’t really give gleaming Dorasan Station a purpose for now. Most tourists — like me — come to the area from Seoul by bus, with the train station merely a stop on a guided tour. Beside the vacant and closed-off customs area, visible through the glass walls, a small shop sells souvenirs such as North Korean wine and chocolate. Next to that is a counter with self-serve stamps.

“Don’t use your passport,” our guide warned as I pulled out the only stampable item I was carrying: a Starbucks napkin. “Some countries will not be happy if they see Pyongyang in there.” Besides the wisdom of branding our passports with the capital of a Communist country under various sanctions, there’s also the minor details that these aren’t official passport stamps nor are there officials to do the stamping nor is this yet an official border crossing. My passport has some pride.

The DMZ from the outside looking in

The tour moved on to the Dora Observatory, where we noted electrical towers in the distance change from bright blue to dull grey as they cross the demarcation line, and saw the only inhabited villages within the DMZ with their competing giant flagpoles. The guide unironically referred to the South Korean village, Taesung, as “Freedom Village” and the North Korean Kijong as “Propaganda Village”. To North Korea it’s “Peace Village,” but rumour is it’s uninhabited, and some are skeptical about the North’s commitment to peace.

The droning voice we heard in the distance (you can hear it in the latter part of the above video) was part of the propaganda war between North and South, designed to lure defectors and annoy the neighbours. Our guide translated what we were hearing as a South Korean broadcast of news, announcements and K-pop. The North retaliates with broadcasts of their own, minus the K-pop. The loudspeakers are silenced during periods of relative ease between the countries, so before the April North/South summit, the residents of Taesun – and possibly Kijong – finally had relief from the constant aural battle.

With stops at the Third Infiltration Tunnel, (aka the “Third Tunnel of Aggression”) — one of North Korea’s attempts to dig under the demarcation line –and a park including the Freedom Bridge, so far our tour had skirted the southern boundary of the DMZ without entering it. Penetration requires an escorted trip to the Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom, the highlight of the visit and well worth the additional cost and hassle.

Joint Security Area: Where the two Koreas meet

Look ma, I’m in North Korea. And looking a little like I was taken hostage.

The area is under the control of the United Nation Command and is the neutral ground where the two sides hold negotiations without being required to step foot on the other side – and where South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un made news by each crossing it during their summit.

Arrangements must be made in advance since not only do the JSA tours sell out, but the United Nations requires passport information before granting clearance to participants. A dress code is in effect – no ripped jeans, no sleeveless tops, no shorts, nothing the North Koreans can use as propaganda against the outside world — and tours can be cancelled depending on military activity.

Our affable army escort Private Pudder boarded our bus to take us first to the entrance of the DMZ ad Camp Bonifas, named after one of the two U.S. soldier victims of the luridly but accurately named Axe Murder Incident. We’re told the rules: no pointing toward North Korea, no photos except when we’re told it’s OK, listen to our escort. We walked double file, stragglers reprimanded by the female Korean tour guide who was considerably less affable than the young American.

Private Pudder is about to admonish the woman: “No pointing!” (The raised line on the raised concrete beside the blue building is the line between South and North Korea.) 

We gathered in a theatre to watch a film about the DMZ and JSA, including the many other incidents and incursions that have occurred since the Korean War. Private Pudder asked if anyone had alcohol or drugs. We dutifully replied “no.” “Is anyone planning to defect?” We laughed. We signed the waiver and, seeing us taking surreptitious pictures – as likely every tourist before us – our civilian guide offered to give them back to us after we survived the trip as a souvenir. In a page of fine print, the key language: “The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action.”

Side by side in the JSA itself are buildings positioned on the military demarcation line. From outside we could see the raised concrete line that marks the line, and inside the sky-blue conference building we’re allowed into, a microphone cable across a table serves the same purpose. Half the table and half the chairs are in the north, half in the south. This is where deals are made, and broken deals discussed.

South Korean soldiers stand in dramatic poses meant to intimidate the other side and overly casual tourists. We were instructed not to get too close, not to touch the furniture, and not to cross between the soldier and the central conference table. Eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, the soldier’s only detectable movement was to block the way of an errant tourist with a raised arm.

The blue building are half in South Korea, half in North Korea. The large concrete building is in North Korea.

We could take pictures but only facing south to north. We’re told the place is miked and the North Koreans are listening. They must be used to hearing the sound of endless selfies in this one place tourists can straddle and then cross the line between the two countries still technically at war.

We saw no North Korean soldiers during our visit, but the tension was palpable … and purposeful. The surreal experience had the air of military theatre, but people have died here. Those days may be in the past, but even as the potential for peace and reunification seems more attainable, that past has left its scars.

Getting there

• DMZ tours that include the Joint Security Area depart as day trips from Seoul.
• Only a handful of companies can take visitors to the Joint Security Area. Look for tours that include the JSA on Viator.com or www.koridoor.co.kr

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Interview: Cra$h & Burn’s Caroline Cave

Interview: Cra$h & Burn’s Caroline Cave

I interviewed actress Caroline Cave from the upcoming Cra$h & Burn and the current Saw VI:

  • Interview: Cra$h & Burn’s Caroline Cave
    “Luke Kirby’s Jimmy Burn is clearly the title character of Cra$h & Burn, premiering Wednesday on Showcase. Catherine Scott, played by Vancouver actress Caroline Cave, may just be the Crash. ‘It was a clever spin,’ she says of the Toronto Star article that so labelled her. ‘I had failed to see it so directly, but it’s actually true. We see her in the middle of a divorce, with a demotion in her career. She’s sleeping around a lot, she’s drinking a lot. We meet her on her descent, whereas Jimmy’s on his way climbing up and out.'” Read more.

Emmy outrage

The Emmy time-shifting controversy grew after I posted my initial rant. Over 150 showrunners/executive producers signed a petition, the Writers and Directors Guilds are accusing the Academy of breaking their agreement, and an Emmy producer was obnoxious at the TCA press tour. This post has reactions from Hart Hanson (Bones), Lawrence Kaplow (House), and Anonymous Writer, as well as the previous ones from Jeff Greenstein (Parenthood) and Adam Barken (Flashpoint):

  • TV Writers Protest Emmy Changes
    “I’ve always dreamed of winning an Emmy,” the anonymous writer commented. “And now I’m on a show that could actually win, and the trophy looks golden, but I know deep down she’s a ****.” Read more.

Yeah, I hated censoring but a) Blogcritics wouldn’t have printed it and b) it’s my least favourite word ever. But a great quote.

Interview: Andrew Airlie of Defying Gravity

Interview: Andrew Airlie of Defying Gravity

I write nothing for Blogcritics for 3 months, then 4 in a week. My latest is an interview with Canadian actor Andrew Airlie (Intelligence, Reaper):

  • Interview: Andrew Airlie of Defying Gravity
    “I don’t think they went into it with the idea, ‘OK, let’s find something that will satisfy the sci-fi and the Grey’s crowd,'” Airlie explained, pointing out the inspiration for the show was the BBC pseudo-documentary Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets. “They found the source material interesting on its own, and they dramatized it and boosted the production value.” Read more.