Talk about a rocky start to my time here in London.
After I found out that I’d been accepted to do this internship, I received an email from Anthem Press telling me all the exciting little details, such as the dress code (“smart casual”- this short, amorphous phrase has already caused me much wardrobe distress), what time to show up, and the fact that I might need to get a visa. I’m discovering that vagueness is quite English, and really I just needed to figure out for myself whether or not I needed a visa. So I attempted to find my answers at the UK Border Agency website. Not helpful. A short, unpaid internship simply does not fit the criteria for any particular visa nicely. I called the UK consulate in Los Angeles and talked to some very nice, unnamed lady who assured me that because my trip was short and I would not be paid, I did not need a visa. So on Monday I boarded the plane for London with my luggage, my passport, and my fiance, Andrew (really, he was the most essential part in this operation). And no visa.
The Border Agency was not too keen when I presented them with my passport, said I was here for an unpaid internship for two months, and expected to get through just fine. Apparently that nice, nameless lady was very much wrong, and now I very much wish I knew her name. A visa is, in fact, necessary even for unpaid internships for only two months. What’s frustrating is that anyone can walk into the UK and say they’re visiting friends or family or even just touring for up to six months without a visa, and it’s fine. If only I had lied. But, alas. Darned morals.
So my luggage was searched, thoroughly looking at everything (the officer even took the time to read my journals). She told Andrew that he was free to go into the country, but I had to stay behind. I felt my heart freeze for a moment as Andrew was given this choice. Would he go? No, thank God, he wanted to stay with me. She said he couldn’t come with me where they would take me to be interviewed and wait for a decision to be made, but he could stay near the airport information desk and she would call the info desk to inform him of whether or not they had decided to deport me. He asked if he could get on the same flight with me if I was deported. She seemed surprised by this question. “So, you want to go back with her, even if she is deported?” she asked, puzzled. “Yes,” he answered definitively. God bless him. In a situation of fear, it was comforting to know that he would stand by me. But we still had to say goodbye for a while, and we didn’t know how long that while would be.
I was taken into some back area of the airport with small hallways and tiny, dirty rooms with stacks of paper everywhere and officers drinking coffee. I was photographed and fingerprinted and then put in a room with a bunch of other detainees waiting to find out if they would be allowed in. I was told to just wait until they came back to interview me. All the while I talked to the only other American in the room, a girl about my age who was there to visit her fiance for 3 months. She had been detained because the Border Agency was afraid she didn’t have enough money to support herself for that time. Of course, she argued, she wouldn’t have many expenses because she’d be staying with her fiance and he would be providing for her. But she had already been there for 5 1/2 hours, and listening to her story made me afraid that I would be in there for a similar time, and I worried about Andrew just waiting outside for some word. How long would it take? I couldn’t call or contact him in any way. At that point I didn’t care about the internship. I kept praying, “God, I don’t care if I’m deported, just don’t let me and Andrew be separated.”
Thankfully, after 2 1/2 hours of waiting the officer who had stopped me at immigration returned and said that she had talked to my internship director at Anthem Press, who explained to her what I’d be doing in my internship and satisfied her objections as to my entering the country. With a bright smile she helped me, at the same time frazzled with worry and intensely relieved, gather my luggage and head out of the airport. Andrew was waiting for me. Again, thank God he was there. I’ve never been so happy to run into his arms.
I don’t know if my friend was ever reunited with her fiance, but I truly hope so.