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A Tale Of The Unexpected: Part I - On The Futility Of Life-Planning - 4. The Wheels Start To Grind

Paul Serotsky and his wife Pam begin the process of applying for residency in New Zealand and soon find themselves in the midst of a bureaucratic minefield.

To read earlier chapters of Paul’s account of emigrating to the far side of the world please click on A Tale Of The Unexpected in the menu on this page.

“Grind”, as we shall see, is the operative word! Maybe, by now, some of you may be thinking this persistent parade of trip-wires and potholes is all a bit too relentlessly contrary to be true? If so, may you take some comfort in the assurance that others, those who have themselves trodden this path, will as likely as not be grimacing at the story’s all-too-familiar ring. If you’d prefer to remain in cosy discomfort, then a quiet word in your ear is called for:

Firstly, all these setbacks and pressures were indeed REAL. The fact is that, if we could have got going when we first made up our minds, we would, as they say, have been “quids in”. It’s a matter of simple arithmetic that, once everything had been bought and paid for, the cash left over would have earned enough interest to boost our monthly income by around 50%. This is not exactly something to be sniffed at.

Instead, we got shunted onto a siding by that “secret” condition. It was just an unhappy coincidence that all those crucial financial factors then ganged up on us, and the longer we remained stuck up that siding, the worse it all got. Bizarre this might seem, but fanciful it was not – all along, we were looking at what HAD happened, not just gazing fearfully into crystal balls.

It’s one thing being in such a situation, but it’s another entirely to try to cope with it. Situations that are utterly alien to your experience and in which you’re really desperate to get going but are totally hog-tied are, thankfully, very rare beasts. Hence, most folk – including us – lack the “nous” to master them. You try to look on the bright side, but you have too much time on your hands and only thought with which to fill it. Your problems revolve in your mind, preying on your imagination to a quite ridiculous degree. Oh, to some extent you can shrug them off, but if they keep on coming, the going gets tough. OK, so that’s precisely when “the tough get going”, is it not?

Indeed it is. This is fine and dandy if you’re one of “the tough”, but not if you’re just an ordinary chap trying to cope with a protracted and increasingly unreal situation. Anyway, let’s not forget what I declared at the outset: the distinguishing feature of this tale is its “overriding concern with the Fickle Finger of Fate.” I’ve already shown how Fickle is that Finger, but that Finger is set fair to get far Fickler, so if you’re having trouble coping with the story so far, you might well consider jumping ship right now. Apologia over. Let us – myself and those sturdy souls who are still on board – get back to the tale.

In early Spring 2006, I wrote to someone that, “I really don't know where the time goes, these days - and it doesn't help that, whereas the days flick by with bewildering rapidity and the months seem to gurgle like water down the plughole, the dates we are waiting for seem to approach at a funereal pace.” Not long after, with seeming suddenness, the date on which we could submit our application was looming on the horizon, its morning rays starting to thaw the frosts of limbo. In early June 2006, we emerged from hibernation and girded our loins. With well over a month still to go before that due date, and thinking that this would give us PLENTY of time, we at long last got cracking on setting up those wheels.

Inevitably, and yet still unexpectedly, it did not go at all smoothly. We had to get together all the residency application prerequisites demanded by INZ (“Immigration New Zealand”, as it was now re-styled – I presume someone must have felt that the former “NZIS” could be misconstrued?). There were problems with the medicals. We could use only doctors and radiologists listed on the INZ "panel". These are very few and far between, so maybe we should count ourselves lucky (for once) that there was one of each within 10 km. of us.

As you may know, the traditional impression of medicine in the UK is that if you go NHS, you have to wait interminably, whereas if you go private, the self-same doctor will magically be able to fit you in the very next day. Not in the case of our medicals - we had to wait over THREE WEEKS, followed by a further ten days for the results and reports to come dribbling through. Already we were slipping behind our schedule!

Getting the police reports was even sillier. We went to the Halifax police station, filled in the forms, and were then told we'd have the reports “within six weeks”. This was ridiculous - all the officer had to do was confirm our identities, go to his computer, key in our details, and click the "search" and "print" buttons. We could have walked out, there and then, with them in our hands. But no - all such requests for "personal information" HAVE to go to New Scotland Yard to be "processed". Hum! Actually, no, they don’t. This is just their chosen procedure for dealing with Subject Access requests under the Data Protection Act.

N.S.Y., need I say, deals with ALL such enquiries for the ENTIRE country. To make matters worse, this was in June, just when all the schools, colleges and universities were disgorging thousands of young people onto the job market, and these days they ALL have to have police reports for their job applications. We finally got our reports just ONE DAY before that six-week deadline, after which (I might add) PC Plod would have been in contravention of the Data Protection Act and would have had to arrest himself! Eeeeh, don't you just LOVE bureaucracy?

By some miracle, we managed to get our residency application in the post only about ten days late. I immediately e-mailed INZ to see if they could give us any idea of current processing times. It seemed that we'd have about two to three months to wait. However, when the acknowledgement of our application came, it included a web address where we could "check current processing time frames". I had a look, and that page told me it was something more like FOUR months. Then I noticed something, lurking modestly at the foot of the page. It said, “This page was last updated November 2005.” That's "current"? Who are they trying to kid? Knowing the way our luck was running, we fully expected it to turn out to be blindingly accurate, or even an underestimate.

On the plus side, however, they had recently changed the rules. married couples were now allowed to submit a joint application – and pay just one fee! Of course, there was a minus side to this plus side. They had also introduced a "migrant levy", payable per person on acceptance. Apparently, the proceeds of this “will be used to fund research into the results of immigration and support teaching of English as a second language." Hazel said we ought to tell them that we speak perfectly good English, so shouldn’t they discount that part of the levy?

Anyway, guess what? Yes, indeed! - the costs work out more or less the same – it's only "cheaper" if you're turned down. For once, we were praying for the more expensive option. They’d also introduced a system of "prioritisation", supposedly to “improve the efficiency of overall throughput”. Basically, applicants who will bring most "benefit" to NZ get sorted first. That, I suppose, is fair enough, but it didn’t bode good for us. Have a guess where "Family Policy - Parents" comes in the official list of priorities.

Now, according to INZ’s procedure, they inform applicants when they’ve assigned visa officers to their cases, and aim to complete cases within a month of assignment. Hence, we decided we could reasonably put our house on the market as soon as the assignment came through, although, of course, we knew we couldn’t risk closing a sale unless we’d been accepted.

In itself, this posed a problem. We really needed to get on with moving immediately, whilst the UK housing market was at its most active. By August 2006, things had become doubly aggravating because the exchange rate had shot up, and was now perched at an extremely favourable three dollars or more to the pound (compare that with when we were last over there: then, it was around $2.50!). This was thus a very good time to be shipping the proceeds of our house sale over to NZ. Still, at least the wheels were at last rolling, even if they were grinding and groaning on their axles. Here we went again – for a while we had been busy getting on with things, but already we were back in limbo, listlessly flicking the pages of the calender and counting odd the days.

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