Virginia, US
Article image
| Fragomen

A South African's Account of Navigating UK Immigration

Back in 2006 when South Africans were offered the opportunity to obtain a Working Holiday Visa to various Commonwealth Countries, I took advantage of this. The idea was to work for a year in the United Kingdom (UK) and make enough British Pounds to travel the world (or at least the European Union (EU)). I was single, childless and responsibility free. One year turned into two and then into ten years of living and working in London (and very little travelling).
The opportunity I was afforded by being able to live in a first world country and work for a Global London Stock Exchange listed company was an opportunity many in South Africa dream about. The ability to see how the EU works as well as the UK, in terms of employment law, freedom of movement and the public sector was eye-opening in the most positive way possible. It has given me a unique opportunity to see the ‘greener’ grass on the other side of the ocean.
While in the UK, I went through a number of processes in order to legally allow me to live and work there. The Working Holiday Visa was only valid for up to two years so I needed to have a plan B. I was fortunate to be offered a permanent job and therefore was able to apply for a work permit. I got married and my husband and I went through the Spousal Visa process. After another five years, we were able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain. Additionally, I then had kids who also needed to obtain ‘permission’ to stay and I had to apply for their Dependant Visas.
During all of these processes, it felt like I had a permanent seat at the UK Border Agency Office in Croydon. Each process was confusing, complex, costly and time-consuming. They also required a varying degree of paperwork and requirements that were subject to change every so often. If I had known a firm like Fragomen existed at the time, I absolutely would have used them even if just to reduce the stress factor of potentially being asked to leave the country at any given time.
In 2016, we made the decision to move back to South Africa, as you can’t beat the feeling of having family around you and warm weather 10 months out of the year versus two weeks in the UK. At this point in time, I had a husband, two kids and a flat full of belongings and responsibilities to move approximately 9000 miles (14,000 km) over the ocean and the entire African continent.
I’m still proud to have experienced the UK and the opportunities my Working Holiday Visa, Work Permit and Indefinite Leave to Remain allowed me. I still follow any UK immigration updates with interest and I was surprised to hear the news this week that European nationals resident in the UK could find their permanent residency documents invalidated post-Brexit. I remember the reassuring feeling of obtaining my Indefinite Leave to Remain endorsement and I'm sure I would have been very fearful if that status had suddenly been put at risk through no fault of my own. As someone who has navigated multiple UK immigration applications, I'd like to offer my top tips to those European nationals currently facing uncertainty in the UK.
  • Seek professional and reliable advice from a reputable immigration provider under the circumstances
  • Stay well informed as the negotiations progress - sign up for Home Office alerts and monitor our Brexit microsite for further information;
  • Carefully evaluate the pros and cons of submitting an application under the current rules against your personal circumstances; and
  • Be well-informed and educate yourself regarding immigration regulations and anticipated changes to tax laws, etc. in order to determine the most compliant and best case scenario based on your needs and requirements.
Learn more about our Johannesburg practice and stay up to date with Brexit news.