The Citizenship of Kamila Shamsie


After six years of living in Britain, the author thought that the path to citizenship would be easy. She was wrong – but the fraught journey forced her to think about privilege, identity and the hostility that immigrants can face:  The Guardian

kamila shamshieFive years previously, when I had entered the UK on a Writers, Artists and Composers visa I thought the road to settlement, and then citizenship, was flat and paved. As long as I could maintain myself financially, continued to work as a writer, and didn’t break any laws, I’d be eligible for ILR in five years, and citizenship a year later. And then there would be a citizenship ceremony to end it all, which seemed a pleasant enough idea. I’m all for rituals to mark moments of significance. But I wasn’t prepared for the mutable nature of immigration laws, and their ability to make migrants feel perpetually insecure, particularly as the rhetoric around migration mounted. “I didn’t think that would affect someone like you,” a large number of Brits said to me over the years, with the implacable British belief that if you’re middle class you exist under a separate set of laws. They weren’t entirely wrong – the more privileged you are in terms of income and education the more likely it is you’ll be able to clear all hurdles. It’s only the rich around whose convenience immigration laws are tailored.

I live at sufficient remove from that category to have endured many bouts of panic over the years. I would then have to sit down at my laptop and navigate my way to the (bookmarked) UKBA homepage to check that no new rules had been announced without my noticing, which would require me to pack my bags and leave. This sense of insecurity had set in about a year and a half after I first moved to London. Soon after my arrival, I had heard of an overhaul of migration laws which would bring in a new “points based” immigration system; but the migration lawyer I spoke to said there was no way that the Writers, Artists and Composers visa could be brought within that system, since there was no way to actually measure “cultural value”. Speaking in a manner that suggested deep insider knowledge, the lawyer said that the migration route I had entered on would remain unchanged. I had enough faith in his polished assurance that I paid little attention when the new points based system was announced.

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