I expect it will be a while before this post is published, as it’s generally not a great idea to talk about a conflict until it’s over and the dust has started to settle. Especially when it’s a disagreement with a government. About immigration. And they say you should never publish angry. So, yeah.
When we moved to London in 2019, our visas were attached to my employment. I was sponsored by my employer for a “Tier 2 General” visa (now known as a “Skilled Worker” visa).
A year and a half in, with the pandemic still in full swing, Dawnise and I decided we wanted to remain in the UK long enough to experience living here without a global pandemic restricting travel and activity. And it wasn’t obvious if my employer would support that desire.
So in the fall of 2020, after doing some research, and with the support of an immigration law firm and kind letters of recommendation from some former colleagues, I applied and was endorsed for a “Global Talent” visa – that decoupled my “leave to remain” and work in the UK from the sponsorship of my employer.
Applying for this type of visa is a multi-step process. First you express your intent to apply to the UK Home Office. You tell them what skills category you want to apply under, and they direct you to submit supporting evidence of your qualifications for evaluation to an endorsing body specific to that skill category.
Then you submit your request for endorsement, and the supporting evidence, and you wait for a decision. Oh, and you give the Home Office some money. Of course.
The endorsing body looks at the evidence and tells the Home Office what decision they reach. The Home Office informs you of the decision and, if you’ve been endorsed, invites you to apply for the actual visa. For a(nother) fee, naturally.
So I submitted a dossier, the endorsing body evaluated it, and they informed the Home Office that I had been endorsed, and the Home Office informed my solicitor (lawyer, for those who don’t speak The
Queens’ Kings’ English) who forwarded the letter from the Home Office on to me.
Endorsement in hand, I submitted the visa application. A short wait later and the visa was granted, and life went on mostly as it had done. When I decided to part ways with my employer, it was a non-event, at least from an immigration perspective.
…Fast-forward to June 2022… And allow me to introduce a few devils that live in the details…
This sort of visa comes in two flavors; promising applicants without much experience – like post-graduate students for example – can be endorsed as having “promise,” whereas more established applicants with experience can be endorsed as demonstrating “talent.”
On advice from my solicitor, despite my being “established” and having a body of experience, we submitted for endorsement in the promise category.
The theory was that if you if you ask for a talent endorsement but fall short, the endorsing body is likely to say “sorry, no.” On the other hand, if you apply for a promise endorsement and the endorsing body sees more, they can “step up” to a talent endorsement.
And this is exactly what happened in my case – I asked for “promise,” they endorsed for “talent”.
Either endorsement (“promise” or “talent”) is enough to get a “Global Talent” visa. Critically to our story, the specific endorsement changes how long the applicant has to be in the UK before they can apply for “indefinite leave to remain” (ILR). ILR is the transition from having a time-limited visa, with a fixed expiration date, to having the right to live and work in the UK “indefinitely.”
Since I had been endorsed in the “talent” category, I was eligible to apply for ILR after I’d been in the UK for three years and passed a “Life in the UK” test. By late June 2022, both conditions had been satisfied, so I moved forward to apply.
I didn’t urgently need to apply – I had time left on my visa – and the requirement to remain physically in the UK while the application was processed meant I delayed application until we returned from New Zealand.
Unlike the initial visa application – which was reasonably complex and seemed to benefit from having a solicitor – the ILR application was simple and self-service. Even the solicitor said as much. So I gathered the needed information – itemizing all the travel I’d done out of the UK for the past three years (a very short list, thanks to the pandemic), official evidence that I’d earned income in my “specialist” field, and a few other bits and bobs, and submitted the application and fee in the middle of August.
And I paid to get “super premium” expedited service, so my application would be processed in 24 hours instead of the 26 weeks applications were nominally taking. Because one of the other devils in the details is that traveling outside the UK while the application is in process invalidates the application.
Imagine my surprise when I got the official response via email the next day from the Home Office saying: “your application for ILR has been denied. You were endorsed in the exceptional promise category which requires five years of UK residency before being eligible for indefinite leave to remain.”
You might recall that I said I applied in the promise category, was endorsed in the talent category, and had that endorsement decision in writing from the Home Office.
So what, you might ask, the actual fuck?
That was my reaction, too.
I looked to see if there was a way I could reach a human at the Home Office. Impossible. (The jokes just write themselves.)
So I reached out to the solicitor who’d helped with the initial visa application for advice. He was on holiday but I connected with one of his colleagues who agreed that the refusal from the Home Office looked to be made in error, and we started talking about paths forward.
One possibility was to request for an “Administrative Review” and challenge that decision (for another fee, naturally) within two weeks of the decision. But, the solicitor informed me, the timeline for administrative reviews was several months, and just like during the application, travel outside the UK would nullify the review request. And there is no option to pay extra for an “expedited review.” And I had work travel at the beginning of October.
The solicitor argued (to me) that Administrative Review wasn’t necessarily the right course to take. The decision, he said, was egregiously wrong. It wasn’t that I hadn’t neglected to provide some bit of required information, there was no questionable interpretation of evidence, the Home Office had just seemingly made the decision based on the wrong facts. We couldn’t even be sure they’d read my file or if they had confused me with someone else.
So the advice from the lawyer was basically “we can file a legal complaint, and we could ultimately bring a suit in court, but if you want prompt resolution, you may be best off re-applying.” So I started to wrap my head around the idea that I might need to pay the Home Office again – both the application and expedite fees – if I wanted any hope of them fixing their screw-up in reasonable time.
After sleeping on it, I instructed the solicitor to start with the formal complaint – called a “Pre-Action Protocol” – where he would lay out the situation, explain why their decision was wrong, and not-so-subtly say “please fix it, or we’ll be forced to seek redress in the courts.”
The lawyer got to drafting and over the weekend I reached out to my (limited) network of UK contacts to see if I knew anyone with connections in the Home Office that might be able to solve this with less lawyer.
It turned out I didn’t find anyone I knew with contacts at the Home Office, but I knew someone who knew someone. That second-degree someone turned out to be an immigration lawyer who had a scheduled call with their Home Office contact early the following week. They were happy to discuss my case during that call, but I needed to be a client before they could represent me. A quick letter of agreement later and I had not one but two immigration solicitors.
So much for less lawyer.
I decided I might as well play “good cop lawyer, bad cop lawyer.” With one lawyer preparing a “Pre-Action Protocol” and the other lawyer trying to make progress through a side-channel.
In the middle of the next week the “good cop lawyer” got a response basically saying “submit an Administrative Review.” So I did – the day before the review submission deadline. And gave the Home Office a little more money – ’cause that’s clearly how you effectively penalize poor performance.
And the following day the “bad cop lawyer” submitted the Pre-Action Protocol.
And I waited.
The next milestone is the response deadline for the Pre-Action Protocol on Monday the 19th – which of course is massively overshadowed by other events (and a bank holiday).
There was no news as of the close-of-business Friday, so I’ll spend the weekend waiting.
And in the words of my favorite fictional Spaniard,
I hate waiting.
Continue to Part 2…