March 30, 2007
Earlier this month a friend from Japan came to the UK to visit. It was particularly exciting because not only was she the first friend from my island to visit since I got back, but she was actually coming to spend three months here to find a language school, sort out a child-minder for her toddler, and generally get a feel for life in the UK, with a view to coming for a year to study – probably later in the year.
That was the plan, anyway. What happened in practice was quite different: she was refused entry by UK immigration on the basis that they didn’t believe she was a genuine tourist. Why? Because she didn’t have a detailed itinerary for her three month stay. This, we were told, is ‘not a prerequisite’, but still enough grounds to refuse her entry. So, to summarise: she was refused entry to the UK for not having something that isn’t required. I’m sure Kafka would have clapped with delight. Welcome to the UK!
I did say to the immigration officer who called me with the news that surely detailed itineraries are the kind of thing you make when you’re visiting somewhere for ten days, but not when you are going to have plenty of time and be staying with locals. When in fact one of the purposes of your trip was to avoid having to sort things like childcare out from the other side of the world. By that time, though, the decision had been made and it was obvious that arguing would amount to nothing other than conducting an investigation into the sound my head makes as it smacks repeatedly against the glassy, impenetrable surface of a vast bureaucracy.
So instead of three months, she was kindly allowed to stay at my house rather than a detention centre for two days until the next flight back via Seoul, the way she came. For what it’s worth, we did have a very nice two days – we tried to fit in as much as possible, in the hope that she might feel that she’d at least got something out of her trip.
I could rage about the idiocy of it; I could speculate about the extent to which this sort of thing is likely to be a fairly direct consequence of increased pressure on Immigration from our thuggish Home Secretary. But I won’t, if only because what galls me even more than all that is just this: that after three years in Japan during which I was treated so well, my first Japanese friend to visit the UK should be treated like this. Put simply, it made me feel ashamed of the UK and of what it increasingly seems to be becoming.