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Stuck in Visa Limbo

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Navigating the bureaucracy of long-distance love. 

Recently, I’ve been working through one of the tougher points of long term travel and living abroad: defending your ability to do so.

For the last seven months—after I returned home from an extended stay with my Scottish partner, Richy, in Glasgow—we have been trying to figure out how we can be allowed to live in the same country again; not just for a visit, but with full work rights and no impending timeline hanging over our heads. Trying to keep that door to living in a foreign place wedged open long after all the simple options have been used up; searching for a visa that a friend of a friend was approved for but you can’t find any evidence really exists; playing the waiting game with immigration. . .it’s all been an interesting challenge.

First, as a disclaimer, I’ll say here as I always try to remind myself: I should and do feel so thankful for the many opportunities I’ve been given to travel. I’ve worked hard for them, but I was also afforded those opportunities, and I do realize that not everyone is.

Richy and I met four years ago while working a ski season on New Zealand’s South Island. After returning for another Kiwi winter together, we moved to Australia for a year, spent a short stint in Southeast Asia, and, not long after returning home, I flew to Scotland on a four-month visitor visa. It wasn’t until then that we realized our relationship had hit a bureaucratic wall. More specifically, I, as the American, had used up all my working holiday visas. The logistics of country-hopping had worked out for the two of us up until this point, and we naively assumed that would continue. Another door would open when we were ready for it.

The logistics of country-hopping had worked out for the two of us, and we naively assumed that another door would open. But after years of floating from place to place, the game changed.

But after years of somewhat carefree floating from place to place, the game changed. Since my return to the U.S. in November, Richy and I have gone back and forth over the options available to us, trying to be as creative as we could in looking for solutions. We were stuck on the dividing line of what we wanted to do next and what was actually possible. While we were both coming off the back of years of travel and hoping to find a little bit more direction—in our jobs and in general—it felt like that almost couldn’t be a factor. Should our moves be dictated solely by what country will let us both in? Were we allowed to dream a little further than that?

Though the last year has been marked by a lot of indecision about the future, I was lucky to be given the space to deal with it—to be able to move home off the back of a trip, once again, while I "figured things out"; and to be able to spend time with Richy over in Scotland to catch a glimpse of what our life might look like there. All of that time, whether I believed it in the moment or not, was necessary to eventually come to a conclusion we felt was right for us.

A few weeks ago, after three months of gathering together every bit of solid evidence to legitimize our relationship, I applied for an unmarried partner visa to join Richy in the United Kingdom. It’s by far the most serious and in-depth visa I have ever applied for, and it’s far from a guarantee that I’ll be granted it. We’re hopeful, though—both for the visa to come through and that this was indeed the right step for us to take.

With this long and tedious process have come a few good lessons: how to be patient, how to adapt and move forward when what you want stops being easy. . .or worse, when you aren’t sure what you want or which direction to move in at all.

But all that is secondary to a much more important lesson. Not being able to live in the same country as my partner has been an enormous challenge, but it’s all oh-so-worth it. How fortunate am I that these are the difficulties I’ve been handed? That opportunity I had to start on this interesting and unexpected path of work and travel is one I never want to take for granted, no matter what complications arise.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Taylor St. John

Taylor St. John is a freelance journalist who has spent the last four years working, travelling and blogging for Verge about her adventures through New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia and Scotland. An advocate of long-term travel, she's currently based in her home state of New Jersey and planning the next big adventure.

Website: www.theoutroads.com

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