About a month ago, I was standing on the platform at London King’s Cross station, and a quote from an advert caught my attention.
“If you were born in one place, grew up in another, but now live somewhere completely different, WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
Tricky one. Perhaps, a better question is not where you are from, but where do you feel at home?”
The question ‘Where are you from’ is one I often get asked. As someone who relates to the quote above, I never really know which answer to give – Lagos? London? Darlington?
With more and more people migrating from their home country in search of better opportunities, I decided to start a new series on the blog called ‘My Relocation Story’. What better way to launch than to talk about my journey.
I never thought on that cold day in September 2010 when I got my passport stamped at Heathrow airport that I’d still be living in the UK almost ten years later. There I was – suitcase in one hand, daddy’s hand in the other (yes I am a daddy’s girl) – vowing to myself that I’d be on the first flight back to Nigeria as soon as I completed my Master’s degree.
At the time, I had a love-hate relationship with the UK – the houses are much smaller than I was used to, and the weather was cold nine out of twelve months in a year. That was all the excuse I needed.
Moving here was the first time I’d really been away from home; it was freedom. The freedom I needed. I’ve had the opportunity to grow, make mistakes and learn from them. I’ve made friends, gotten married, had a child and created the most amazing memories in my adult life. Almost ten years, four visa categories and an approved naturalisation application later, the UK is now my home. ❤
Life as a student
Cost of student visa in 2010: £220
Schooling in London was both fun and exciting. It allowed me to explore while finding my weaknesses and strengths. In hindsight, I think my dad wanted me to understand what life was like in the ‘real world’, away from the comfort I was used to. Despite paying my school and accommodation fees, and giving me pocket money for the duration of my degree, he encouraged me to find work. A student visa allowed me to work twenty hours a week.
By the time I’d graduated from University, I realised there was a chance for me to build a life here. Be independent. This pushed me to apply for a Post Study Work visa (PSW). The PSW visa got cancelled the year after I applied but has recently been re-introduced. This visa allows recent graduates to remain in the UK for two years, with the hope that they would find work.
Life after university
Cost of Post-Study Work visa in 2011: £459
After my graduation, I told my dad to stop sending me pocket money *cue independent woman*. I got a Christmas temp job at ASDA to cover the costs of my visa application. With my new visa status, I delved into the job market and got a job six months after graduation (fun fact – I still work in the same company). I got married before the expiry of my PSW visa and was able to apply as a dependant on my partners Tier 2 visa. We also had both gotten jobs in Darlington and had to move. This marked the start of a new chapter in both our lives.
Moving from London to Darlington was a shock to me. It was a much smaller town and not very diverse, so I couldn’t imagine living here long term. I was depressed for the first few months because I was dealing with so many changes at the same time; adjusting to life as a newlywed, coping with the challenges of a new job, and moving to a new town where we knew no one was very overwhelming.
Cost of three years Tier 2 dependent visa in 2013: £494
Cost of five years Tier 2 dependent visa in 2016: £1,302
Health surcharge fee: £1,000
Being on a dependent visa meant I had no work restrictions. I was still working full-time and had no plans to change companies. The first Tier 2 visa I applied for was valid for three years. By the time I was due for a visa renewal, the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) had been introduced. It’s a healthcare charge that non-EEA migrants need to pay to use the National Health Service (NHS). It ruffled a lot of feathers as the NHS is supposed to be free for people classed as UK residents, and I’d been paying my taxes. Why did I then have to pay twice to use the NHS?
The IHS cost £200 per year (which was increased to £400 per year recently). It had to be paid at the time of your application, and I was applying for a five-year visa – do the math! 🙃
Indefinite Leave To Remain (ILR)
Cost of ILR application in 2019: £2,389
Priority service fee: £800
Cost of Life in the UK Test: £50
In my fourth year of being on the Tier 2 visas, I began considering changing my visa status to Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). To qualify for ILR, you need to have been in the UK for five years on specific visa categories, and must not have been absent for a certain length of time within the five years. With an ILR, I would be able to live and work in the country lawfully with no time limitations.
Applying for an ILR was very straightforward. I had to take a Life in The UK Test to ensure I had a good knowledge of British customs. It took me a month to study for the test. I read the Life in the United Kingdom – A Guide For New Residents book and took a lot of practice tests. I also had to prove I had a good knowledge of the English language; it didn’t matter that I came from an English speaking country. Thankfully I have a UK degree, so that sufficed. I opted to pay for the priority service, which meant I got a decision in 24 hours instead of potentially six months. Some other documents I included with my application were utility bills, P60 and my marriage certificate. With an ILR, the documents required vary depending on your circumstances.
With the uncertainty of Brexit looming, it didn’t seem wise to be on ILR status indefinitely. Immigration rules change regularly, so I made up my mind to apply for naturalisation as soon as I was eligible.
Cost of Naturalisation application in 2020: £1,349
Cost of appointment for Biometrics: £110
Cost of passport application: £80.50
Precisely 12 months after being on an ILR, I submitted my application for British citizenship by naturalisation. It was also a straight forward process as the documents I needed were almost identical to what I’d used for my ILR application. I had to provide evidence that I had been living in the UK continuously for five years and intended to continue living here. I also needed two referees who had known me for at least three years to attest to my good character.
After submitting my application, I had to visit one of the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVAS) centres to provide my biometric information and submit supporting documentation. Unfortunately, I could not get any appointments at the UKVAS centre closest to me in Newcastle for weeks. Thankfully, I found an appointment in Manchester (three hours away) – I had to pay £110 for this appointment, and the only slots available were 9am or 5pm slots.
According to the Home Office, the processing time for naturalisation applications can take up to six months. However, I got a decision for my application within a month, and I remember screaming with joy as I read the contents of the brown envelope 🙂 An invitation to attend a Citizenship ceremony was sent alongside my decision letter. New citizens have to make an oath of allegiance to the Queen and promise to respect the rights, freedoms and laws of the UK. I had the option to bring up to six guests to the ceremony, which I declined.
The ceremony at my local council was elaborate, which surprised me. The Mayor of Darlington, Councillor Nick Wallis, gave us a history of the town and personally handed us our Certificate of Naturalisation, signifying we were now British citizens. Food and drinks were provided, and it was a very welcoming and warm atmosphere.
Perks of being British
An English friend of mine was surprised I had to pay for naturalisation, and she asked:
“What are the perks of being British that you don’t get as a Nigerian?”
The best perk for me is visa-free travel. I love travelling, and in the last ten years, I’ve had to pay for multiple Schengen visas. None of the Schengen visa application centres are located close to Darlington. I’ve had to go to London, Manchester or Edinburgh – so factor in travel time and cost of train tickets in addition to the cost of visa fees. It’s great to not have to worry about this anymore.
Where do I feel at home
In all honesty, Darlington is my home – maybe it’s the fact that I started a family there, or that I now have some fantastic friends, or perhaps it’s because I’ve grown to love the small-town life.
Regardless of visa *wahala, I’ve loved and still love every moment of living in the UK. Will I ever move back to my home country? This is not something I have ever considered, but like the famous saying goes, “Never say never” 🙂
– Fees listed above are cost per person.
– All posts on Naomi’s parlour are edited by Ife Agboola.
*Wahala is an African word commonly used in Nigeria to express a state of worry, distress, problem or trouble.