Friday 29 July 2011

Up Next: The Americanized High Street?

I am growing more and more disturbed by something - no, its not the apparent final breakup of Cheryl and Ashley Cole, its not that Colleen Nolan is leaving Loose Women, its not even how Amy Winehouse's father is handing out her clothing to fans in front of her house - what has me disturbed is the influx of American stores and products to the UK market.

The first major introduction (or re-intoduction actually) was in June 2010 when Taco Bell opened at Lakeside. Americans all across the UK rejoiced and begged Taco Bell UK to come to their town, and I will admit "back then", I was rather happy about this and pledged to go ASAP (although I never actually went until last weekend and strangely enough, honestly, it wasnt very good). Then you started seeing Mountain Dew (albeit some icky energy drink version) in every store, then I discovered (with absolute delight and now incredible guilt at my delight) that Bucca Di Beppo has a few restaurants in the UK, then Forever 21 opened on Oxford Street and news broke today that William-Sonoma will be coming to London in early 2012 ... and now disturbia has set in...Where does it end??

What's wrong with what is already here? I don't want my High Street looking like an American shopping mall. I don't like the idea that something is "better" because it's American. I like embracing the British alternatives for things I used to enjoy and discovering new things to crave. I like going back to America and re-enjoying things I used to love with new vigor and appreciation. I've already lived in America; now I live here and I don't want it to try to be the same place.

Am I the only American expat who doesnt embrace the Americanization of her new country? Am I the only one who now wants to go buy cheap clothes at Primark, eat at Zizzis and buy some overpriced kitchen items at Harrods in protest of the new American options?

I'm afraid I probably am...

Wednesday 20 July 2011

The post in which I applaud the UKBA

Not that you would have noticed since the media is wall to wall coverage with "Hackgate" ( I am so over it personally), but there have been two rather interesting news pieces regarding immigration in the last week.

It started with the UKBA's consultation on family migration which laid out suggestions (only suggestions at this point) for some changes to the family migration path (spouse visas, family visitor visas, dependent children, elderly depenedent visas, etc).  The document is wordy, but you really should read it.  The following suggestions stood out the most to me:

1. The creation of something that resembles a UK Bill of Rights which will superceed ECHR article 8.  The consultation reads: This government believes in human rights. Everyone has a right under ECHR Article 8 to respect for their private and family life, but it is not an absolute right. It is legitimate to interfere with the exercise of that right where it is in the public interest to do so, and in particular where it is necessary for public protection or for the economic well-being of the UK, which includes maintaining our immigration controls.

2. The consulation also appears to suggest that the maintance requirements will be increased and that the sponsor in the UK shall not be reliant on public funds.  Family migrants must have access to enough money to support themselves, without their British citizen or UK-resident spouse or partner seeking, or needing, help from the taxpayer. We do not want to see migrant families struggling to get by, living in overcrowded housing or dependent on welfare. If as a British citizen or a person settled here, you cannot support your foreign spouse or partner in a reasonable way of life in the UK, you cannot expect the taxpayer to do so for you. This consultation paper sets out how we propose to change the maintenance and other requirements for those sponsoring a spouse or partner to ensure that this is so.

It goes on to quote the maintenance requirements for other countries including Denmark which says that all sponsors be able to maintain spouse and the sponsor cannot have claimed benefits in the three years prior to a marriage application.  But the Danes don't stop there - the sponsor must also post a bond of around £12,000(!) against any future claim on public funds. 

3. There is also a suggestion to extend the probationary period before spouses and partners can apply for settlement (ILR) to five years.  I have to say that eventhough I am just about two weeks away from being able to apply for my ILR, I totally agree with this suggestion.  In the instance of a sham marriage or "marriage of convenience", two years is not long enough to test the genuiness of the relationship.  Nor, in my opinion, is two years long enough to have "earned" access to all state benefits (especially if the migrant has never worked in the UK).  The consulation futher explains:  Access to the labour market, to the NHS (including maternity services) and to schooling will be unaffected by this change. Family migrants in work will continue to have access to contributory benefits (for example contribution-based jobseeker‟s allowance, statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance and widow's benefit) once they have made at least 2 years National Insurance contributions, and the entitlement of the spouse or partner who is a British citizen or is settled here to child benefit and child tax credit will be unaffected.

4. In the instance of a spouse visa, the couple should be in a relationship for at least 12 months before applying and the applicant should have an "attachment" to the UK.   Where the couple cannot meet this criterion, for example because theirs is or will be an arranged marriage and they have not yet been together as a couple for that period, we could grant 12 months‟ initial temporary leave to enable them to meet this criterion, and ask them to apply for further leave after 12 months. This would enable a further assessment to be made at that point of whether theirs is a genuine and continuing relationship. The document again quotes the Danish system re: the "attachemnt critera":  In order to meet the attachment requirement, the applicant for a marriage visa must have visited Denmark at least twice and the sponsor must have resided legally in Denmark for 15 years. The attachment requirement is not applicable if either party has held Danish citizenship or resided legally in Denmark for at least 28 years.

I won't bother too much with my own opinion since it matters very little, but bravo, UKBA, bravo.

In other news:  An American woman apparently thought it was ok for her to come to the UK on a visitors visa, settle permanently and start a family and is now arguing that she should be allowed to stay without ever being granted a settlement visa.  Tragically, she lost her baby, which is very sad, but I am glad that the UKBA don't appear to be ready to allow her to use the baby's death as reason why she should be allowed to skip all the proper steps of immigration.  I think she should consider herself lucky that all they are asking is that she return to the US to do things the proper way.

There.. now don't you feel very well informed? :)

Tuesday 12 July 2011

So You Want to Expatriate...?

...but can't decide where to go?   I'd cross Luanda in Angola off my list if I were you as its just been named the city with the highest cost of living for expats. 

As far as I can gather, this survey is done mostly for global companies who may be moving staff to various places around the world. Cities are ranked by the "strength or weakness of the relevant currency against the US dollar over the prior 12 months" and "price movements over the prior 12 months compared to those in New York City". 

The top five most expensive cities are Luanda, Tokyo, N'Djamena (Chad), Moscow and Geneva.  (I'll give out major brownie points to anyone smarter than me who can figure out why it would be so expensive to live in Angola or Chad)

If you're sure you want to end up in the UK, it will come as no surprise that a move to Scotland or Northern Ireland would be much more affordable than living in London. (duh).   The UK cities on the list included London (18), Aberdeen (144), Glasgow (148) Birmingham (150) and Belfast (178).

Wondering what the least expensive place to live is?   At number 214, Karachi in Pakistan is at the bottom of the list.