[Originally authored 2 May 2012]
In yet another instance of the reality diverging from what’s purported to be an orderly, linear process, the two e-mails promised by the UKBA, informing me of the progress of my application as it advanced through the process never arrived (see my previous post). The Border Agency seems to have just skipped over the first promised e-mail and instead sent me only the second one. The e-mail that I received at 10:20 on Tuesday 1 May (almost exactly 48 hours after receiving the application Friday morning, not counting the intervening weekend), informed me that my application had been approved and gave me a tracking number so that I could make sure to be home to sign for the passport’s delivery.
Just about 24 hours after that, the UPS delivery person arrived at my door …
Inside the package was my passport, with the visa embedded in it.
It’s worth looking at the visa closely. First, it’s called an ‘Entry Clearance’, itself an interesting phrase. This is a document that, on the surface at least, is meant to regulate the border, not what goes on inside the territory. Of course, it’s issued by the UK Border Agency, within the context of border management and border security, so it’s not surprising that the document would be framed this way. Still, as we see further down on the visa document, the regulation of borders can’t be so easily separated from the regulation of what goes on inside those borders.
Along with the visa number and its place of issuance, we see its start date and end date. The end date (technically when the visa becomes “invalid”) is 11 January 2014 — 27 days after my appointment at Royal Holloway ends. (Why 27? UK law permits you to be in the UK for a total of 30 days before and after your period of work. Since I had told them that I was flying to the UK on 12 May — 3 days before my work begins — they’re giving me the balance — 27 days — on the other end.) The visa is unambiguously giving me the right to work in the UK, a point that’s emphasized by the notation further down that I have “no recourse to public funds” (a phrase that also appears on UK tourist entry stamps). The association of it with the fact that I’ll be working in the UK on a specific, specially permitted job is also emphasized by the reprinting of my Certificate of Sponsorship number (the “CoS” number) in the “Obsrv.” (“Observations”) area.
Beyond that, the type of visa is noted — “Tier 2”, which is for skilled workers — and, within Tier 2, “General” (the other subcategories are “Minister of Religion”, “Sportsperson”, and “Intra Company Transfer”), as well as my nationality, birthdate, and sex, and there’s space for listing dependents. The “MULT” under “Type” refers to it being associated with a multiple-entry Certificate of Sponsorship. Back when I spoke with Human Resources people at Royal Holloway who were filing an application for a Certificate of Sponsorship on my behalf, I was asked whether my job would involve considerable travel outside the UK, and, since it will, I was issued this kind of a CoS. In fact, it’s not clear how this makes frequent border crossing easier, but it seemed like a good idea to get the multiple re-entry option associated with the Certificate in the hope that it would zip me through the queues at Heathrow (yeah, right…).
Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of security embedded into the visa. There are watermarks all over the place, the visa features an embossed seal of the Consulate in New York, and my passport number appears twice on the visa, ensuring that it can’t be somehow stuck onto another passport. Incidentally, the photo of me on the visa is smaller than the passport-size one that I sent them, which means that the original is presumably in a file maintained by the UKBA, along with the rest of the supporting documentation that I sent them.
Continuing on that last point, readers interested in personal data security issues might be interested in knowing that the UKBA did return some of the supporting documentation that I had submitted with my application:
- One of two copies of my bank account information
- One of two copies of the list that I’d prepared detailing my overseas travels over the past ten years
- My most recent expired passport (which I had been asked to include to assist the UKBA in confirming my ten-year travel history)
- One of two passport photos
They also — bless their souls — returned the paper clips that I had used to separate distinct parts of the supporting documentation that I’d submitted with the application.
With the exception of the expired passport (and the paper clips!), however, these are all second copies of documents that I had submitted in duplicate. In other words, all supporting documents were retained as part of my file and, presumably, these could be consulted again if my visa status were to be questioned or if I were to apply for an extension or settlement visa. Information from these documents could also be shared with other UK ministries and agencies (see the disclaimer at the bottom of the e-mail that’s reprinted at the beginning of this post).
Reflecting on this whole process, I’m struck by how a border is so much more than a line, and crossing it involves so much more than simply crossing a line. To maintain the border, the UK enlists a huge array of allies — CSC/WorldBridge, the US Government, the security firm hired by USCIS, UPS, and countless entities whom I’ll never know, such as the firm that developed the watermark technology for the visa, or the landlord for the building in New York where the Consulate is located. Most significantly, perhaps, the UK enlisted me as an ally, who, in turn, enlisted exactly those same entities in crossing the border. Thus the UKBA and I, together, constructed the border as both something that keeps people (and other living and non-living things) out and that lets people (and other living and non-living things) in.
In working with the UKBA to maintain the border, and in performing its border-crossing rituals, I was recognizing the authority of the UK government to control what goes on inside the border. The visa makes it clear that border management is not simply about determining who gets to come in and who stays out, but it’s also about just how inside one is permitted to be. As a Tier 2 (general) multiple-entry visa holder with a valid certificate of sponsorship, I’m more “inside” than, say, a tourist but less “inside” than a permanent resident or citizen. Thus, for instance, I’m permitted to access the National Hearth Service (because I will be paying in to it through my work) but not other state funds (which are available only to those who are fully “British”). By going through the visa process, I have been accepting that multiple political spaces exist within the U.K., notwithstanding its representation (on maps, but also in national discourse) as a seemingly unified, homogeneous national territory with singular categories of “inside” and “outside.” Thus, it emerges that border management is as much a process of social (and political) ordering as it is one of simply securing lines, linking geopolitics with security in complex ways that we are only beginning to explore.
This ends the ‘Border Crossing’ series. More posts are likely, though, before I return to the UK on 13 May. I will report, though, whether Heathrow is any more fun with a Tier 2 visa in hand. In the meantime, if you’ve missed previous posts, they can be found at
Update: Also read about my related adventures getting a National Insurance number in Border Crossing – Coda.
— Phil S.