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Tuesday, March 17, 2009
HOTLINE TO NAGATACHO
I am not a Pakistani child bride (but the U.K. can't tell the difference)
By MIKAKO HAYASHI
A quondam lover of England
To the Right Honorable Jacqui Smith M.P. (British home secretary),
I fell in love with England during my 18 months conducting research at Manchester University. So many things were refreshingly different from my native Japan, even though we share the same insular attitude of superiority toward the outside world.
Above all, I loved the warm people, who had less of the false respect for age and hierarchy that scars Japanese academic life. I was lucky to have as my supervisor and mentor a professor who taught me that the quality of ideas and research are more important than a person's title.
Then there was the lovely English countryside, where scruffy sheep and brinded cows grazed safely, England's living sense of history and its unpredictable weather.
As my aircraft circled Osaka on my return home, I almost cried for the green land of England: Japan looked as if some careless giant had tipped a huge bucket of rubbish over the landscape.
Since my return, I have built my career as a clinician and co-head of the university dental clinic, and have developed promising research to make filled teeth stronger than natural ones. I own my own apartment, car and earn a comfortable salary, for which I work hard, 14-hour days plus regular weekends filled with research, lecturing or attending conferences.
When recently I fell in love for the first time (at 40-something) — to an Englishman — I felt happiness overflowing. Career and caring for my elderly parents mean I cannot consider leaving Japan, but at least I would be able to get married in beautiful England.
Think again. Unromantic apparatchiks have taken over the U.K. To get married in England, even to an Englishman with his own property in England, I need a visa. (My husband-to-be comes from generations of English and Irish stock — and his grandmother was a Claypole, archetypically English, from the same family tree as Oliver Cromwell.)
I can visit the U.K. freely for business or pleasure for six months, but for a fleeting visit to get married I need a visa. We can get married in Japan, the U.S., Canada, France or Italy without a visa between us, so why is the U.K. different? Where is the reciprocity so beloved of diplomats?
My next surprise was that the U.K. no longer has visa officials in Japan whom I could approach. Visa applications have been outsourced to an Indian company owned by a Swiss travel concern, which then sends the form and passport to Manila for processing.
Was Japan consulted? How would Britons react if visas for Japan were handled in Russia or Mongolia?
First I had to fill in an online application. After standard information about age, address, marital status, etc., I had to supply my father's and mother's names, their dates and places of birth, whether I had a criminal record, had been deported from any country, or had been a terrorist or involved in war crimes or genocide. What dreadful deeds the apparatchiks inject into our humdrum lives — as if asking the questions would suss out real terrorists. It asked about my fiance and whether he has permission to enter the U.K. It asked about marriage plans and where I would stay on my visit to the U.K.
It then went on to ask highly intrusive personal questions: my employment status; the name, address, telephone number and e-mail address of my employer; my salary and monthly outgoings; how much money I spend "to support my family member's" (obviously English grammar does not rule in England); my savings, properties and income from stocks and shares.
Clutching my printed form and appointment letter, I went to the boondocks of Osaka to be fingerprinted and photographed and pay my ¥14,300 nonrefundable visa fee, plus ¥1,500 for the return of the passport.
My fiance accompanied me to the appointment and remarked that he was ashamed of the shabby location and dingy office of what the British government calls "our commercial partners."
He was refused entry to the office by the gold-braided, white-gloved guard. When I got inside, the two Japanese clerks examined the application form — which had been accepted over the Internet — and declared that I needed to supply additional documentation, including bank statements showing income and savings, a certificate of employment and a written proposal of marriage from my fiance.
I was appalled. My fiance was apoplectic. His proposal of marriage has to be put in writing so that officials can vet and approve it? Is there no end to the interfering impertinence of officious-dom?
We decided not to go ahead. A retired British ambassador told us that, "Sadly, British policy is being set according to the dictates of Pakistani child brides."
("Pakistani child brides" refers to the practice of Pakistani immigrant families to the U.K. bringing back brides from Pakistan for their British-born sons. Often the brides cannot speak English, have not even met their future husbands and may be 16 or younger. From January, foreign spouses-to-be of British citizens marrying in the U.K. must be at least 21, though the minimum age for marriage in the U.K. is 16.)
So we will get married in the U.S. or France or Italy, or anywhere away from beautiful England, and will then have a Buddhist ceremony in a temple in hidden Kyoto, where there is a beautiful round window with no glass, the window of spiritual awakening.
I wish I could send a few of your apparatchiks there to contemplate their tedious rules and reflect: Is England safer, richer, wiser, better protected by immigration rules that see EU citizens — and Swiss — on arrival in Britain as acceptable for work, marriage, or settlement, but treat all others as potential criminals to be fingerprinted, and the intimate personal details of their lives to be pored over before being declared safe to marry in the U.K.?
Submissions to Hotline to Nagatacho should address issues that affect your life in Japan or be in response to government policies. Please imagine you are actually writing to a government official — be it a local school board head or the prime minister himself — to bring attention to an important matter. Send submissions of between 500 and 700 words to email@example.com