The Freedom to Comply
Dealing with the move and keeping up with the business of being in business had kept me busy 24-7 for a while.
The process of this move has given me reason for significant concern. We have moved quite often. This is our fourth transatlantic move (yes, I know, we are suckers for punishment) This is the first one we have done without children and this time we have had the most flexibility and financial resources. It has been a paperwork tsunami and has turned into a process that has taken many months to initiate and execute and is still not resolved.
If you are considering a legal relocation to a new country this will be relevant. Bear in mind that we have both lived and worked in the UK before for a period of years. I am a UK citizen, Anna is a citizen of a EU country.
There is a significant problem with legal immigration and relocation. Trust me – we have done this a lot – we have legally emigrated five times – this is the sixth time. We have done work visas, residency, et al over and over. Not only that, we have set up banking, credit cards, phone accounts, residential utilities and multiple businesses in multiple jurisdictions over the last twenty years.
So I blame it on paperwork. That is not really true. It is the conversion to digital that is part of the problem. It used to be that you could go into a bank with your passport and proof of residency and set up a personal account. If you needed a business account you would take your certificate and articles of incorporation and you could get everything done on the same day. If you want a cell phone plan you do the same thing.
Opening a joint personal bank account and getting all the functions working for myself and Anna has taken two months and we are almost there. It used to take an hour.
It has been far worse with the business account. We were incorporated in the UK last year in advance so there would be plenty of time to get our affairs in order – oh how innocent that sounds now. The business banking is still not set up properly. It used to take a 30 minute meeting with a banking representative. This time it has taken over nine months.
Because we are new to the UK (after twenty odd years) we don’t have a credit rating. This is a ‘hard stop’ to getting a cell phone plan – so we are on pay as you go phones.
Every interaction with a digital system devolves into a hacking exercise to work out how the choices available fit our situation. Then you hunt the internet via google, blogs and forums working out what the actual requirements are to fit the ill defined demands of the incompetently conceived and implemented digital process. If you do try and talk to customer service you end up interacting with an AI bot that is like talking to a comedy TV robot from the 1970’s. A single error or misinterpretation in any of these setup procedures will kill the process and you don’t find out for days or weeks. One bank we have been interacting with will only notify you of an error by sending you a letter. A notification that could be instant but instead you have to wait five working days to find out if you were successful. When the letter finally arrives you find out that the process did not work, no reason given, and you have to start over.
Go watch ‘Brazil’ directed by Terry Gilliam. It is not a documentary. Although you would be forgiven for thinking that it is.
I don’t want to describe all the gory details of the process of getting Anna the right to live in the UK – but here are the high points. Pre-Covid there was a five day expedited process to get a spousal visa. It took us five months and a drastic change to our living arrangements for that period to make it possible.
Luckily there is still an expedited process available in the private sector and it costs about the same. You go to the beaches of Northern France, contract with a customer service minded immigration expediter (uncharitably slandered as ‘people smugglers’) and you can get domiciled in the UK in a few hours – and you get free accommodation, healthcare and a cash allowance. Compared to what we had to do, that is an mind-bogglingly fabulous deal.
So this is not just me complaining about the last six months. It is a realization that there has been a profound degradation of the systems we use to navigate everyday existence. This is an invisible but severe constriction to the legal application of personal freedom. For all of us.
It is not until you attempt to exercise those freedoms that you realize how hard they have become to exercise legitimately. We are not without resources, and spending profligately on government processes and fees, temporary accommodation, travel, accountants and lawyers, it is still possible but it is very difficult and astonishingly expensive to remain in compliance in all aspects.
I am not condoning illegal immigration. The abuse of any legal system for personal benefit should be punished. It is why it is deemed illegal. However, when the legitimate process is all but impossible and the illegal process is loaded with incentives it becomes not just a rational option but the only option for most people.
It is easy to blame this on utter incompetence in our national and international bodies. It is crystal clear, God help us, that they are not led by our best and brightest. In an incompetent system, incompetence is cherished and rewarded and you end up with the leaders we are currently blessed with.
There is a clear drift towards the restriction of personal freedoms. This may be with ‘good intent’ (those in charge are woefully incompetent so I am willing to consider that they think this is a good idea) but the outcome will be a two class society.
A class of people who are willing to go to the expense and difficulty of exercising their personal freedom within the boundaries of an increasingly limited, complex, frustrating, expensive and punitive set of government and corporate run systems. Remember if you make any statement that may be construed to be false and if you are not in compliance with every single law, regulation, rule and policy you can be sued, fined or jailed, be financially ruined and have a criminal record.
And, a class of people who ignore the rules and regulations – and are rewarded for doing so.
This drift has been happening for the last 20 years. It has accelerated recently with the government response to COVID providing a useful template for the application of the idea of ‘if we can convince them it is for their own safety, we can do whatever we want’ – with exceptions. If you protest for the right reasons you are given a pass. If you protest for the wrong reasons, the full force of the law is used against you and they will even create new laws to target you.
All the banking problems we have encountered are because of ‘anti-fraud’. This is cause for great ironic merriment. Banks are the largest perpetrators of fraud in the world. They have spent decades turning a blind eye to astronomical amounts of money laundering; holding and processing the personal fortunes of corrupt dictators, systematically profiteering off all their customers. It now has to take months to open a bank account because of ‘anti-fraud’. Jailing the bankers who knowingly profit from the frauds would certainly be a more effective deterrent than anything else that could be done to eliminate fraud. I wonder why that is not done?
All of the immigration issues we have endured are apparently to make sure that the ‘wrong’ people do not come into the country. I don’t know – how about stopping the wrong people who are openly entering illegally rather than giving them benefits and cash?
These solutions sound too simple because they are too simple. If you use a simple solution you risk fixing the actual problem. Are the people who run society idiots? Liars? Both?
The question is: What ‘problems’ are they really fixing? What behavior are they trying to deter? What behaviors are they trying to encourage? Who is encouraged to speak and who is shut down? Which groups are allowed to publicly protest without hindrance from the authorities and which groups are shut down and jailed? Who gets the endorsement of the media and politicians (I repeat myself) and who does not?
I can tell you they are definitely working towards fixing the two scourges of legal immigration and setting up legitimate businesses. We’ll see much less of those in the future. Phew.