Monday, March 24, 2008

Jennings & Rall

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I've long since resigned myself to the idea that any dealings I have with the British Embassy in Seoul operate on the principle that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. My experience suggests they are a somewhat dysfunctional organisation, but what is truly disheartening is that much of the dysfunction appears to be the consequence of design, rather than accident. Unfortunately though, it probably merely reflects the wider reality of British bureaucracy.

After winning our legal case against them at the end of January, the Embassy staff finally caught up with my wife three weeks ago via email, and bluntly explained that they had been trying to contact her by phone, but our number was unreachable. Indeed, we have moved, and we had sent an email informing them of this (since this is the only free way of contacting them given that phone calls cost $6 a time), but evidently they either failed to read it or failed to alter their records. So we called and they, or at least, their dysfunctionally outsourced representatives, VFS Global, got another $6 out of us in the end. The upshot of the phone call, seemingly with a non-Korean and non-British foreigner speaking bad Korean, was that my wife should go to the Embassy as soon as possible to get her UK entry visa.

We needed to get back to Busan and couldn't stay overnight in Seoul, so we spent about £90 (187,000 Won) to travel up there on the following Monday via the KTX high-speed train, three hours to Seoul, and three hours back. At the Embassy the guard let us through the gate, and while my wife's phone had to go in a locker, this time I got to keep my camera, which was odd. But not as odd as finding the Embassy deserted when we got in. It also happened to be a Monday morning when we infamously had our lives irrevocably changed by an Entry Clearance Officer, and I distinctly remember how the building was full of increasingly dehumanised visa applicants swimming against the tide of the bureaucratic process. This Monday morning there was no-one at all. In fact, the staff seemed rather surprised to see us, and apparently phoned 'The Gate' to try and ascertain on what basis we'd actually been let into the compound.

They took our paperwork and sent us away, which made me think that we could have submitted them by post and not dragged ourselves from one end of the country to the other just to slide some papers under a shock-proof glass partition to a Korean staff member. They told us they would post my wife's passport back to her once it was processed. So what does the Embassy do now that Jennings & Rall actually run the visa application operation as a blatantly commercial enterprise? Adding to the slight fall of Saigon feeling in the air the Ambassador's car zoomed out of the gates before we did, although we made our escape by foot rather than in a Jaguar. We passed the nearby Canadian Embassy on our way to a bank, where we withdrew some money and headed home.

Two days later my wife received her visa with her UK entry stamp, and I suppose we should at least appreciate that this final task was done quickly. Once again though, we had to pay for the postage on delivery, because despite the £500 application fee (i.e. tax), the British Government can't afford stamps.

So we are now returning to England. The country fought hard to keep me out, stripped me of my civil rights while putting my life on hold for six months, caused me considerable legal expenses and an incalculable amount of time and unhappiness, so it seems hard to call it 'home' under the circumstances.

I know that during the course of this fight against my Government a number of people have followed the story and posted advice and support along the way. I'd like to thank you all for your support and insights. I'd particularly like to thank those who emailed me privately with specific advice as I formulated my case. As you helped me I am in turn passing on the benefit of my experiences now behind the scenes to others in the hope that others can avoid what I have been through or fight any injustices done to them. I should have written this entry sooner to put the good news on record but I'm afraid that after everything we've gone through it feels like an empty victory, and one which has left me disillusioned and demotivated. Winning doesn't pay my legal bills and more to the point, it doesn't give me back the eight months of my life I've lived with, and worked on, this case.

Along the way there's been a fuller story to tell, the specific details of which I've not been at liberty to discuss while the legal process was ongoing. Now that my wife finally has that entry visa in her hands, I plan for one more post on the Embassy experience which I now need to write up, the end of season revelation if you will, and I hope that after this episode this is one series which never gets renewed.


Mosher said...

And people wonder why I'm trying to figure out a way of earning tons of cash while not paying tax to the UK government... it's because the greedy bastards don't deserve it, and wouldn't know how to spend it properly if they did get it.

Much much smaller scale, but I need to renew my passport on a quick turnaround basis. This means paying a hefty additional fee and booking an appointment - which involves calling a premium rate number.

Two things:

1) I'm paying an additional fee anyway, so why the expensive phone call on top?

2) Name a group of people who'd need a quick turnaround on a passport - people who aren't in the country very often or for long periods of time. Who therefore will be calling from abroad. Who therefore *can't call premium rate numbers*.


Mosher said...

And more annoying is the fact that my government pisses me off so much that I forgot to say "PHEW!" and "Congratulations" and "About time" regarding the final delivery of the visa.

I can fully understand the sense of hollow victory. What would help would be if they were some way accountable for making up for their f*ck-up and providing recompense. Shame that's not going to happen :(

ohio06win said...

I'm glad you finally have a chance to return home. With all that you and your wife have gone through, I hope that your future is bright and a little less complicated. Bon Voyage!!!!

Mike said...

Thanks Mosher - I know what you mean about the tax - I spent my money on lawyers so I could return home... and give the Government my money in taxes - you'd think they'd be a little more grateful really wouldn't you?

I wish the Government were financially accountable, and the Government employees who acted 'contrary to law' individually accountable, but no surprise that they aren't. Nothing will change, and it will happen over and over again - the players stay the same, only the victims change.

Mike said...

Ohio06win - thanks, and good luck in Ohio's 15th Congressional District :-) said...

Huzzah. We shall have to throw a welcome back party.

And look on the bright side - if you want to get a new passport, you now have to report physically to passport control centres.

Jon Allen said...

Mike glad to hear it's finally sorted. Good luck back in Blighty.

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