This past week, I received my UK visa — a visa that will last me two years.
After 500 days to the day (including leap year) of being banned in the UK, my time in visa purgatory has ended, allowing me to re-enter the UK Common Travel Area to continue my investigative work. I will certainly have a fish pie to celebrate.
Here it is: the before and after photos of my visa status. Above to the left, you will see what is known among international travelers as the “black stamp of death,” typically issued to criminals and other unsavories if they try to enter Great Britain. (The last American who I could find banned from the UK was Martha Stewart in 2008 after she was convicted of insider trading. Others have included Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, Pablo Neruda and President Obama’s half brother, “Abo.” In my case, a clean legal and travel record were enough. I have found no record of any journalist banned from the UK inside the past decade.)
Above to the right, you will see my fully restored visa, valid for two years. While the UK no longer offers visas under the “Writer” category, this is an Offshore Worker visa that has been repurposed by Jersey Immigration to fit my intentions as a professional writer doing work in the UK and Channel Islands. (For those of you unfamiliar with Jersey, it is what is referred to as a “peculiar possession” of the Crown and the largest of the Channel Islands. For more see here and previous posts.)
I want to confide that, at the final moment, this visa was held up by unseen hands, but Member of Parliament for Birmingham Yardley John Hemming put in a parliamentary question to Immigration Minister Mark Harper about the delay and my new visa arrived a few days later. (The magic of ministerial questioning.) This, after MP Hemming filed a parliamentary motion in my defense last September.
I also want to thank Trevor Pitman, the courageous member of Jersey’s Parliament who launched the petition that helped restore my visa on Change.org — and did so in spite of harsh political headwinds.
Lastly, I’d like to acknowledge…the efforts of Jersey Immigration, which did a fantastic job in the final analysis. (One of them actually contacted us late on a Sunday night to make sure all was in order; thank you to him or to her, as well as to the two key point people, Michael Robinson and Andrew Hunt, who endured much. Fish pies to all.)
I will be writing more in the days to come, but for now I just want to say I am so grateful — and I am so glad to be able to go back to being a free-to-travel journalist.
Because of the power of numbers — and a little help from social media — a small step has been made in allowing the press to ask some difficult questions about what became of the lost children of Jersey. As I continue my work, I will be writing on this blog and telling the stories in words and pictures.
A thousand thanks to the Guardian, the BBC and other members of the media who made sure my ban did not go unnoticed, to those who signed the Change.org petition and to you, my readers. I am very happy today.