It's time to say goodbye to London, at least for the foreseeable future.
After over 5 years of making London my home, building a network, a career, a life, in just a few short weeks, I'll have to be on my way.
(Trying to accurately put my thoughts and emotions into something coherent has proven to be quite difficult, so this is a stab at it in the most diplomatic way I could).
|Fresh faced in 2008|
|At a recent popup in 2013|
I've always been lucky to just miss the latest belt tightenings - I was the last year of international students to get a full 3 year visa and one of the last rounds to qualify for the post-study work visa. This time though, my luck has run out.
I could have gotten sponsored, and nearly did. Nine months into starting my own freelancing popups and catering (where I was running between 2-4 events every week), I was asked to come work as sous-chef at a soon to open restaurant/gallery space of giant proportions. I was there for two and a half months, a month or so of planning and prepping, and for the first month and a half of it's existence. I quit last week. There were a number of reasons why I decided to leave which I will not go into here, but the culmination of it all is best expressed by a friend who saw me in my last week of work - describing me, in so many words, as "a shell of my former self." Apathetic, unhappy, exhausted, broken, burnt out. The thought of being tethered to something that made me like that wasn't a sacrifice I was willing to make to stay in the country.
So where does that leave me? Without a sponsor, my other options for visas are varied, but generally off limits to me. I may be an entrepreneur, but I don't have a quarter of a million in the bank. I may be promising in my field, but don't have the world recognition required for an Exceptionally Talented visa. I could apply to do another degree, but that's £15k on top of living expenses just to stay in the country for another year, only to deal with the same problem in a year's time. A couple of years ago, I could have applied as a Highly Skilled Migrant Worker, but that visa category is now closed, and I haven't had a high enough salary to qualify for the general work visa. Every avenue I've looked at has been met with a roadblock. Even getting married isn't a probable option.
To be fair, I'm by no means a total sob story - I'm incredibly lucky to have a loving and supportive family, savings in the bank, a home to go back to, plenty of potential opportunities and the ability to return to visit and hopefully come back more permanently again someday, but I'm also not an uncommon one. There are lots of us - enthusiastic, entrepreneurial, skilled people who want to make the UK their home (despite the weather), want to contribute to society and the economy and create something meaningful, but lack the stringent tick boxes required to fit within the current visa laws.
There is a serious gap in the visa system for people like me - a few years into their professional careers, perhaps just starting to venture out into their own businesses and projects, but without the financial or experiential leverage to qualify for the next step up in the visa ladder.
(To add salt to the wound - after working non-stop for the restaurant for 2.5 months, and not promoting or touching my popup in the slightest, I've had to turn down five unsolicited potential clients this week alone, as I won't be in the country for their events.)