Welp, there we go – after just two months, I’ve received my settlement visa confirmation from the UK Home Office, plus my passport with a horrible picture and ‘Valid Until: Indefinite’ visa!
What this means, basically, is that I can live and work anywhere in the UK, and come and go as I please, without restriction. I can even leave for up to 2 years at a time and re-enter the country, as long as I can show that I am returning for settlement reasons (for instance, if I were a Peace Corps volunteer or something in Vietnam, left for a year or so and came back).
What this DOES NOT mean is I have citizenship. A lot of people unfamiliar with the whole process of how UK immigration works (basically, anyone who isn’t an expatriate in the UK) think that I am a citizen now, but I’m not. I just have ‘settlement’, which is sort of halfway to being a citizen. The first step to get here was to be approved for a work permit, which is now called ‘Tier 1’ I think (the UK changes its laws on immigration, etc., every 2-4 years, depending on how you got into the country) but there are other ways, such as long residence (10+ years), marriage, Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) and other methods.
In my case, I had to wait 4 or 5 years on a valid Work Permit, then apply for this (I got in just before the UK Home Office raised the fees AGAIN and changed their rules).
After a year of having this settlement visa, I can pay another exorbitant fee and apply for citizenship, where I’ll have to get letters of reference and other similar things.
…So after I explain this to my friends and acquaintances, the next question is if I’ll apply for citizenship.
The short answer to this is ‘yes’, and why not? It’ll definitely make travel easier, since I’ll be able to go into the EU citizen line when returning to the UK or EU, and I can also use the US citizen line when going back to the US. Plus I’ll have extra rights, I’ll be able to vote (a surprising number of people don’t care about this, but it is important – just think of Bush/Blair/Brown) and there are other considerations. So it’s time to get saving! Again…