When I embarked on the bold new adventure of being responsible for hosting a foreign visitor to this country for an extended stay, I knew it would bring with it some unusual new experiences. One such experience was introduced to me today and in the great list of “things I have done in life” I can now add:
Becoming incandescent with rage at a public servant.
To explain. People from outside the EU who are staying in this country for an extended period are required to register with the police within seven days of arriving. So it was that Mila and I found ourselves at the “Overseas Visitors Records Office” in South London this morning, passport in hand and ready to be swallowed up by the system.
We queued up (along with a rather startlingly large number of other young men accompanying foreign wives and girlfriends), were allocated a ticket number and given the form to fill out. On this form were the details of the registration fee payable – £34.
Yes, £34. Almost half as much again as the cost of the visa that allowed Mila into the country in the first place. The hard-faced agent, sorry cashier who processed the form seemed unimpressed with my protestations, explaining blandly that the Home Office imposed the fee, yes it was compulsory and could I please keep my voice down and stop using expressions such as “legalised extortion” and “daylight robbery” or they would have to call security.
Now a small fee for the processing of the paperwork I could understand. £5 or maybe £10 would be a reasonable, nominal sum, especially as in return you get a professional document complete with your photograph that is effectively your ID as a legal alien in this country. £34 however is nothing short of extortionate, particularly when you consider that you have to pay it. This isn’t like paying the fee for a passport or a driving licence whereby to a certain extent market forces operate – if you disagree with the cost you simply don’t buy one. In this case you don’t pay the fee, you fail to fulfil your legal obligations to register and risk deportation.
So I’m not going to let my objections rest with shouting at the lady behind the screen. Having paid a large amount of money for a visa, you certainly should not have to pay a similar amount for the right to use the thing once you have arrived. Imagine paying for a flight only to be told upon landing that there is a compulsory tax for use of the steps down to the tarmac. Nobody would stand for it.
I guess I need to be content that Mila only wants to love me, rather than love the systems and bureaucracy of my country. Right now I’m having a hard enough job of that as it is.