Next-to-last step: the paperwork.
I filled in the application for British citizenship with all the personal details, the family history, the (lack of, thank goodness) criminal record. I ticked (checked) the boxes to indicate that my name doesn’t appear on the sex offenders’ register, that I’ve never been accused of “war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide”, that I’ve never been known to “support…justify [or] glorify terrorist activities”. (The form helpfully provides a box for filling in the details of applicants’ war crimes and terrorist activities, if any.) I claimed to be a person of good character, but they weren’t going to take my word for that; I had to supply references.
They won’t accept a reference from just anybody. I had to find two people who had known me for more than three years, who weren’t related to me or to each other, and who didn’t work for the Home Office (the government agency in charge of immigration, among other things). Since the only person I know here who’s gone to prison was my dentist (long story, and he says he didn’t do it), I didn’t have to rule out many people I knew on grounds they’d been convicted of imprisonable offences.
One of the two must hold a British passport and must be over 25. The other can be any nationality or age, but must be a doctor, minister, civil servant, or hold one of the positions on a list of “acceptable professional persons”—acceptable on what basis, I have yet to figure out, because the list includes everything from Salvation Army officers to chiropodists. (Chiropodists have no direct American equivalent; they’re something like nurse practitioners for podiatry, in that they have to do with care and hygiene of the feet.)
What makes people in these lines of work more reliable referees than anyone else is anybody’s guess. At the time, I knew three different plumbers very well—as do, I’m sure, most people who buy Victorian houses that have been remodelled over the years by amateurs—but plumber didn’t appear on the list of acceptable professional persons. Since I didn’t know any auctioneers or Christian Science practitioners—jobs that did appear—we got our GP to do it, for which he charged us almost 60 quid (about 90 bucks).
I took everything—the applications, the references, our tax returns (required because we were self-employed), and the necessary whopping fee—to a civil servant who, for another fee, would check the paperwork and pre-approve it. This, the Nationality Checking Service, was said to speed up the process and to save applicants from throwing their money away on applications doomed by clerical errors. (I expect this is a boon to those who admit to crimes against humanity; no sense in wasting the application fee and facing a trial in the Hague.)
My husband counted on the Nationality Checking lady to help him word an explanation of his circumstances, since his business trips had taken him out of the country so much that he didn’t meet the criteria for actually living here. The form allowed one page for us to list the dates of every trip out of the United Kingdom for the past five years; he had to attach three extra pages.
And just when we thought we’d dotted every i and crossed every t, it transpired that the Nationality Checking Service wouldn’t forward our application to the authorities in London unless we could assure them that on the day we gave them the paperwork and on the next consecutive four days, both of us would be in the UK, and also that 5 years ago both of us were in the UK for the same five days. Why? Her Majesty’s government requires that you be physically present in the UK on the day you apply for citizenship, and also that you can prove that you were physically present in the country 5 years ago to the day. Why? I have no idea. Why did we have to give them a 5-day window? The Nationality Checking Service sends in applications by courier, but can’t predict when an employee of Her Majesty’s Home Office will sit down to log receipt of the documents, but they figure it won’t take more than 5 days.
We had so much difficulty finding an upcoming 5-day period in which my husband would be in the UK and for which he had been in the UK 5 years previously that the poor Nationality Checking Service lady came in to work on a day she was scheduled to have surgery, to get our applications on their way.
And it worked! The applications went through just fine, but we still weren’t citizens. That status would not be conferred until we attended a ceremony and swore allegiance.
More to come…