Wanderlust: What It’s Like To Dream Of a Life Elsewhere But Not Being Able to Stay?

Apr 24, 2020

Interviews & Inspiration | Lauranne Heres

This month we’re talking to three amazing ladies who wanted to make England their home, unfortunately due to visa restrictions they all had to move back to their countries of origin. Here they tell us what it was like, what they miss and what they wish for the future.

Hayley is 27 and lives in Harrison, Arkansas. Kimberly is 26, and lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. Lorie is 28 and lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Where do you work?

H: I’ve been unemployed for a while, but I’ve been working in the mortgage industry since I moved home.

K: I’m currently furloughed, but before that I was a paid media buyer for a full-service advertising agency.

L: I work for JTB Japan. We’re a wholesale and retail Japan specialist travel agent, I do wholesale.

Where are you from originally?

H: I'm originally from Harrison, Arkansas.

K: I am originally from Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s a beautiful small city in East Tennessee at the foot of the Smokey Mountains. I love it here, but I didn’t always. I have come to love it after a lot of hard work and reflection after moving back home from living abroad.

L: I’m from Tasmania, Australia. Everyone always tells me how much they love it when they come visit, but I don’t.

Where did you study?

H: I did my Undergrad at the University of Central Arkansas, and my Postgrad in London at Kingston University.

K: I did my bachelor’s degree in English Literature at the University of Tennessee in my hometown of Knoxville. During my time in the English Department, I visited London for a Summer Abroad program and fell in love with the city. After graduating, I moved to London for 8 months for a Marketing Internship with a children’s charity. At the end of my internship, I came back home to Knoxville and got a job locally before ultimately making the decision to move to London to pursue my master’s degree in Marketing and Brand Management from Kingston University. I lived in London for almost 2 years and had hopes of remaining permanently after graduating.

L: I decided not to go to University. I did some art study, but I’ve always had trouble studying because of my ADHD, and I only recently had it diagnosed and fixed. I was a travel agent before my current position, and Flight Centre train you themselves for that if you work for them. I used to build websites before working for them and I was self-taught for that. Before that I worked in customer service, so I had a lot of experience which made it quite easy to get into other roles because I already had skills they wanted. And I don’t have any college debt.

What was it like to get a Visa to come to the UK?

H: It was incredibly difficult. It was nearly a year-long process that was one hurdle after another. I moved to study, not work. I had always wanted to live abroad and getting my degree in London provided the perfect opportunity.

K: It required a lot of coordination with my school, my home government, and the UK Home Office. It was an absolute nightmare applying for my visa even though it was just for school. I was required to have a significant amount of money in my savings account at all times. I had to mail my passport to the Home Office, which then got lost in the mail upon return, causing me to have to start the process all over again. I had to drive 3 hours away to have biometrics completed, do background checks, and pay a hefty fee (twice) to have my application looked over - no approvals guaranteed. Luckily, I wasn’t really questioned at the border when I was leaving or returning to the UK during the time my visa was valid, but I know there are other people who haven’t had that experience.

L: Getting there was very easy for me despite how ridiculous the visa process was; there was almost no information on how to put the application together and the only assistance was from a phone line that cost $5.40 per minute and requested your credit card before you could speak to someone. This said, I received my Tier 5 Youth Mobility approved on the first go.

What were some struggles you went through?

H: The Visa was my main hurdle, both getting it and then trying to figure out a way to get a new one in order to stay.

K: One of the most daunting parts of the move was finding a place to live. I was incredibly lucky to have a close friend that I trusted already living in London and looking for a new flat, so we were able to get a great centrally located flat that we absolutely loved living in. When I was looking for housing during my internship, I was living in housing that was less than ideal and felt that I didn’t really have the power to find the sort of housing I wanted due to my immigration status. Being from the United States, I didn’t have guaranteed right to remain in the UK and it made finding housing difficult. I was quite lucky to have enough savings to be able to pay all the extra fees and pre-payment they required for me to get a decent flat as a person on a visa.

L: Actually, the worst has been when I moved back to Australia. A lot of my friends no longer treated me like I was their friend and it wasn’t like they hated me, but they just forgot I was back and wouldn’t invite me anywhere. Even years later this is still the case even though I obviously live here, but they were more involved in my life after I moved away than when I got back.

Did you want to stay and work in the UK?

H: I did look for a job after graduation, but it was not easy when competing against British and EU residents. I would definitely be open to moving again. I would like to spend more of my life abroad in new countries and cultures, so I'm always kind of looking for opportunities like that.

K: It was always my hope to find a job and remain in the UK permanently. It is still preferable to me than living in the United States, but unfortunately it is exceedingly difficult to get a work visa to live/work in the UK. The payment requirements was the largest barrier to getting a permanent job as my industry and education level meant that the government required me to be paid at a certain level in order to be allowed a visa, payment much higher than anyone would reasonably pay someone for the roles I would like to fill. I think this is quite unfair, as I am highly educated from a UK university, and I don’t quite understand why they would want to create barriers for people who want to contribute to their economy. The entire process was confusing, stressful, and ultimately, I was unable to secure work in the UK and had to return home.

L: I would have needed any sort of visa essentially. There’s no actual way for me to claim residency or any other rights from my family even though they’re all citizens or live there, because I’m over 18 and so they see me as a separate entity. I’m one generation out from being eligible for an ancestry visa even though my grandmother is allowed an English passport and my mother can claim ancestry based on my English great-grandmother. It’s infuriating.

Why did you want to move to the UK?

H: I wanted to live somewhere else, discover a new culture.

K: At first it was because I wanted to get out of my hometown and experience a new culture and feel truly independent. However, it turned into having a group of friends that were like family to me, feeling at home in a way I never had before, and being unbelievably happy with the lifestyle of European living.

L: I moved to live with my family; my mum is married to an Englishman and she has permanent residency, my brother and my stepdad are English citizens. I would have stayed had there been a way to do so, but it was impossible.

What were the big differences between your home and the UK?

H: I enjoyed the culture and history of the UK and the ability to easily travel via trains and the cheaper European flights. The NHS was a huge benefit compared to my own healthcare system as well. The big differences were in infrastructure (such as reliable trains and buses), social services (healthcare mostly), and culturally, the UK is more reserved than the US. Everything is big and loud here! It also took me a while to learn where to buy things because the UK has several different shops for things that the US would have one big Supercenter for. Here I can go to Walmart, but in the UK, I would have had to go to Boots, Wilko, and Sainsbury’s for everything I need in one trip.

K: Funnily enough, language was a bit of a barrier, though obviously not as much as people who don’t speak English as their first language. I remember being in the supermarket and having a full-on breakdown looking for wall hooks and not being able to find them because they’re called something different in the UK. That happened a lot, learning new names for things that were different in American English versus British English.

L: Our government killed the value of our currency to make us desirable for trade

so essentially everything costs us double. Like if you think of twenty dollars and then twenty pounds, or twenty Australian dollars vs twenty US dollars. And I have no idea why people like us so much abroad, most Australians that aren’t educated millennials aren’t likeable at all. And it’s a crime to not like it here. People are like “just leave” and all I’m thinking is “I am TRYING”. I also loved the NHS. They helped me so much when I needed it most. I know the wait times and other things aren’t great, but here in Australia we have the wait times AND we have to pay for a lot.

How has living away from home affected your relationship with friends and family?

H: Surprisingly, living so far away from home made my relationships with family and friends even stronger. There's something terrifying about living without the safety net of anyone who knows you; even being in the same country as you, and being able to trust in those relationships in that situation brought me closer to many of them. Of course, it was also exciting that a lot of them got to come visit me and share the experience with me.

K: Living abroad was certainly hard for friendships and family that remained in my hometown, but we are incredibly lucky to live in an age where technology can keep us connected. I was also very privileged to have the funds and ability to visit home whenever I wanted. What I lost in my relationships back home, I certainly was able to find again in new relationships in the UK that were just as strong, if not stronger.

L: For me as I said it was more moving back that has had an effect on my family and my friends. Those in Australia have distanced themselves from me and I’m not as close to my family and friends in England and feel quite detached. There isn’t enough time in a day to bridge the time zone effectively when someone is always asleep or at work when the other has time to chat.

Would you move again (to another country maybe) if you had the opportunity?

H: I am not actively looking for any jobs abroad, but I have interviewed with a few out of state companies and I’m planning to move out of state within the next 1-2 years. Maybe to Philadelphia.

K: Absolutely. If someone offered me a job that secured me a work visa, I would move immediately. I still feel so heartbroken at the lack of opportunity to live and work in the place that feels like home to me. I personally don’t believe in borders in general, as they are man-made ideas intended to keep people in power and in wealth. In the same vain that I believe the UK’s immigration policy is atrocious, I also believe the United States is just as bad (likely worse). I would love to see a world in which all people are allowed to migrate, live, and work, wherever they would like.

L: I think about moving to Canada a lot because they have proper healthcare and apparently, it’s easy to stay. They have a very generous visa system. If my family were in Canada instead of England, I would have been able to stay as their laws allow it. They also have a visa similar to the UK one, but you have some room to move if you like it there and want to continue living there is my understanding. They can give you a path to citizenship and your first two years count toward it which is also rare. Because of my job I would also love to move to Japan, it’s quite hard though. You have to be fluent in Japanese and have a master’s degree.