Please note that this blog post is an opinion piece and is based on personal experience.
Since 1994 I've held a Russian passport. It looks villainous, has a horrible maroon cover and is the greatest inconvenience in my life. UK and European nationals are very fortunate as their home countries have good diplomatic relations with a great number of other nations, allowing one to move about freely without any need for visas. Russia functions slightly differently. I need a visa to simply cross the English Channel - only forty minutes away from my home. These visas are strict, they cost money and the entire application process is incredibly time consuming. On the bright side, however, my Russian passport allows me to travel to Syria, China, Cuba and ex-USSR member states. I bet my friends would love a reading-week trip to a war zone. For obvious reasons my family decided to move to the UK. The prospect of a new life without political hinderances was greatly exciting - Europe and all its doors would be open to us. However, things were not so simple.
Post-WWII Britain opened the floodgates to a vast influx of immigrants, actively recruiting and inviting nationals of primarily Commonwealth countries to cross over to the UK in search of new beginnings, better fortunes and great opportunities - a slightly more realistic take on the ludicrous American Dream. With a quasi-uncontrollable stream of immigrants the UK quickly grew in size until inevitably the numbers burst beyond the limits. Today we have constant debates on the problematic levels of immigration and the ever-growing numbers of foreigners seeking to come to the UK, who still see this country as a Shangri-La thanks to its near xenophilic tolerance and the policies of the 20th century. Opening the country's doors has had a lasting effect and I wish to explain just how difficult it is now to settle in Britain. This country is of course welcoming, advanced and highly tolerant, but standing between you and a UK passport is a bureaucrat in a polyester suit shaking his finger reproachfully while you sign cheque after cheque after cheque.
Let me clarify what I mean. The UK immigration system is very intricate and functions under huge pressure and constantly changing policies. The UK Border Agency has to deal with the vast numbers of immigrants seeking entry and an equally vast number already inside seeking permanent settlement. The new strict methods have made the application process very complicated, expensive and geared towards giving the answer 'no'. Essentially, despite the sophisticated system, it is a constant uphill battle. I've heard many fellow students at university say they might consider remaining for an extra year in order to obtain a British passport, however the process is not so easy. Here is my take on the matter and a list of difficulties one would face:
Constant changes:The UK Border Agency has very fickle and ever-mutating rules that are impossible to keep track of. The regulations flote around in some vortex with no real order and a single change will affect the applicant even if their application has already been submitted.
It is a soulless affair: The procedure is often inefficient, confusing and, importantly, dehumanising. Despite promise of a fair and discretionary system the UKBA still remains a robotic conveyor-belt. Only the paperwork matters.
It is confusing and financially draining: Worst of all is the convoluted and outrageously expensive nature of the application process. The UKBA website (the source of all information and application forms) is a jungle of uncertainty and government jargon that leaves the applicant feeling alienated. Without a solicitor (another drain on your finances), it is a suicide mission. Even if you manage to sift through the hundreds of pages of forms and documents you are still faced with a hefty bill. Greed flows through the UKBA like a nectar of life: the more you pay, the faster your application is processed; the more you invest into the UK economy, the sooner you get your passport. Every page is littered with 'Premium-Service' offers whereby an extra thousand or two will reduce your waiting time. The entire system caters for the super-rich.
Your ability to leave the UK is restricted: Applying fo a UK Visa requires proof that you have not spent more than a certain number of days abroad across a certain number of years (in my case it was no more than 450 days in the last 10 years). It is completely understandable that an applicant should spend most of their time in the UK but this number can be insufficient for certain people, as was the case with my sister who had to travel abroad for her studies.
The time-scale: I have been waiting for a decade, all the while jumping through hoop after hoop. The fastest route to a UK passport is a Tier 1 Investment that takes a swift 2 years. What's the catch? You must have a capital of at least £10 million.
For the last eleven years I have been yearning to settle in this country but I've had to take a damn good bureaucratic thrashing in the process. The great pursuit for a British passport is essentially a series of headaches and cheque-signings. Although this decade-long hunt will ultimately prove to be worth the troubles, I would have had an easier time getting here if I had clung to the chassis of a truck crossing that dreaded Channel.