BORDERLINES – OH, I DON’T MEAN YOU

Borderlines is a collection of thought pieces, some creative, some direct accounts, some memoirs, all true. Borderlines collects stories from people who are not fleeing from one country to another, but rather chose to move, or were made to do so by a series of non-threatening circumstances. In these stories there is anger, hope, disappointment, joy, fear, optimism. They are all different, and yet all striking in their approach to the subject matter.

Borderlines aims to show the reality of migration, and how we are all, in our own way, migrants.

by Kat Lombard-Cook

I’m an American migrant living in the UK for the time being. I came to Scotland just over five years ago to get my Master’s, fell in love with the place and my husband and am now finishing my PhD.

When I point out that I am an immigrant as well, I usually get ‘Oh, I don’t mean you, hen’

I live in the south side of Glasgow, in a neighborhood that has always been known for its working-class immigrant population. All around are signs of the groups who stopped here before finding their feet and moving on: the synagogue around the corner, the Irish pub at the bottom of my building, the Polish shop with the only decent pickles for miles, the sari shops my mother loves to look in and drool over the fabric whenever she visits, the West African bakery, there’s even a café around the corner run by asylum seekers. I love the vibrancy of this neighborhood, and it’s where my husband’s family lives too.

Being white, descended from French-Canadians and Irish-Americans, I pass as a native until I open my mouth. Currently there’s a large Roma population in our neighborhood. Many of them live a few blocks down my street in a stretch that has come to be dominated by slum landlords preying on people who have little to their name and often don’t know their rights. A certain segment of the neighborhood residents have started groups to ‘save’ Govanhill, but from what they refuse to explicitly say. It’s understood that it’s not the landlords that these folk feel need moving on, but their victimized tenants.

( Govanhill Baths campaign © Kate Adamson )

( Govanhill Baths campaign © Kate Adamson )

If I was ever in doubt of white privilege, hearing the things people will say to me, assuming I am a native Scot like themselves, would convince me. When I point out that I am an immigrant as well, I usually get ‘Oh, I don’t mean you, hen’. I am presumed to be one of them, despite the fact that the immigrants they complain about have just as much, if not more right to residency than I do.

Almost two years ago I married a Glaswegian. As of six months ago, the last time I checked the UKBA/UKBF website, I would need to be married for five years before I could apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR). I note the time because the laws regarding immigration have changed every few months since I came to the UK in 2010. Until I reach my five-year anniversary, I would have to apply for yearly leave to remain (or obtain visas under different means) and my application for indefinite leave would be income tested. I would be eligible for a one-year extension to my current visa, as the last post-study visa to remain is for PhD students. Theresa May has made it abundantly clear that students, no matter how well qualified, are not welcome anymore. But there would still be one year (well, 10 months) where I would either have to be sponsored by my employer or apply for discretionary leave to remain until I had been married for five years.

( © Steve Parsons/PA )

( © Steve Parsons/PA )

Neither my husband nor I want to leave the UK. I very much feel like this is my home now. But the instability is just too much for us. It’s hard to plan for the future when you don’t know if you’ll be allowed to stay where you’re settled. We made the tough decision to move back to my familial home in Massachusetts after we both finish our respective educational programs in May of this coming year. Hopefully this move will only be until we reach the magic five-years, but who knows how the laws will change between now and then?

Everyone who hears we feel compelled to move before I’m pushed is surprised, because it’s still assumed that marriage is the magic free pass to ILR. It used to be that the US was the hardest place to move to, but there are unlimited Green Cards available in the US for direct relatives, as spouses are classed, so old assumptions are reversed.

Theresa May has made it abundantly clear that students, no matter how well qualified, are not welcome anymore.

Yet I don’t think I should get to stay while others have to leave, just because I have the privilege afforded from being white, married, well-educated, or any other reason. There’s more than enough room for all of us, and it’s only misinformation and devastating policies of austerity that make us believe otherwise. I came from a nation that is very much every person for themselves, and one of the things I have always admired most about the UK is the shared value of looking out for one another, but since I have moved here, I have seen the country move further and further from those ideals and it pains me to see.

 

If you have a migration story from your experience that you would like to share, please get in touch at thenorwichradical@gmail.com, with BORDERLINES in the subject line.

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