ATTN: Every single American to ever become a student of University of Dundee.
And I’m only speaking exclusively to Americans because I barely know how the rules relate to my own country (hence the pickle I was in), much less how the rules relate to any other country.
On September 13, 2016 I moved to Scotland and 66 short days later, on November 18, 2016, I was nearly deported. For something I had no I idea I did…or in this case, didn’t do. I can check that off my bucket list! Just kidding. You can’t check off something that isn’t there.
Anyway, I was returning from a field trip which was outside of the UK, and upon returning to Edinburgh Airport, I was alerted by a glass-encased immigration officer that my Visa was not only expired but also that I had been living in Dundee with an unvalidated Visa for the past two months. Deep breaths, Court. Innn. Ouuuut. He told me to take a seat while he tried to find out if I could be allowed in. I shouldn’t have asked how long that might take, for his answer was less than reassuring… “It will take as long as it takes” he said, definitively. So I waited. And I swear someone must have been cutting up onions behind me.
A short eternity later, he returned to take my fingerprints. I don’t know what was happening behind the scenes as I waited to hear my fate, but the reality is they were successful in their pursuit since they did, in fact, let me through.
But not without an explanation of why this happened, of course.
SO. At the beginning of September, I left the USA and flew to Ireland to visit friends before hopping over to Scotland to start my program. Biggest. mistake. ever.
When my UK Visa was issued to me, I was required to travel directly from my home country to the UK, the man in the glass box told me. Oops.
When I landed in Edinburgh from Dublin, I was able to walk straight out to a Dundee-bound bus without receiving any stamp proving I entered the country legally. It didn’t seem right, obviously, so I asked an airport employee who, and I quote, said, “Oh, we don’t do that here.” So, I got on a bus to Dundee.
Then, in Dundee, I picked up my BRP (Biometric Residence Permit) at the Post Office. The biggest problem was this. My BRP card was now in my possession, and I knew it was very important, so I returned to my flat and put it in my drawer of important things. Then I left for my field trip outside of the UK. And, not surprisingly, my BRP card was still in my drawer of important things.
I was under the impression all I needed to come and go from the UK was my passport and the UK Visa which lives within its pages. Turns out the UK Visa that is in my passport is only an Entry Visa and is only valid for 30 days upon arrival. The BRP, then, takes over for the Visa in my passport and lasts me until January 2018.
The immigration officer also kindly noted the BRP card should most definitely not be in my drawer of important things but actually in my purse and with me at all times in case I am stopped by any authority who may be questioning my ability to be in the country, yada, yada, yada.
So now I know, and now I have a validated UK Visa, and now I carry my BRP card with me at all times even though it makes me uncomfortable to have something with such importance always risking getting lost.
The essence of that long and ridiculous story with a rather happy ending is this: To anyone traveling from the USA to Scotland to study, when your passport returns back to you via mail with a nice UK Entry Visa stuck in it, buy a ticket to the UK. Definitely go visit Ireland later, but definitely don’t visit before you go to the UK. Oh and treat the BRP card like it’s your baby, never leave home without it.