Thursday, November 15, 2018

Becoming a British citizen: Michelle Styles

5 November is a day of bonfires and fireworks in the UK. However this year, it was a momentous day for me because I finally became a British citizen. I retain my US citizenship but after living over here for thirty years I admitted this was my home.
The ceremony was far more moving than I thought it would be. The words of welcome meant a lot and people from Poland, Ireland, China and Malaysia also participated. If you ever get the opportunity to attend a citizenship ceremony, do. It will restore your pride in your country.  The people who are going through it have made a choice to take on the responsibilities of being a citizen and have jumped through all the legal hoops.
People often joke about getting another passport or changing your citizenship as if it is not big deal. I beg to differ. Even becoming a dual national was huge for me. It has to do with the responsibilities of citizenship.
So how did I go about it? I decided to start the process on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding day. There were many reasons for it including the Windrush scandal which showed me how vulnerable you can be as an ex-pat.
Michelle Styles receiving her British citizenship
The first thing I had to do was to the take the Life in the UK test. Because I am a native English speaker, I didn’t have to take the English test. I understand from friends who are not native speakers that it is actually very difficult to pass.
 You can do a sample Life in the UK test online and it may seem easy. However, something like a third of people who attempt it don’t pass the first time. There is a book called Life in the UK and the questions can be on anything from the book — from British history to poets and painters to the legal system including laws about forced marriage and FGM and everything in between. I learnt about painters who I had never heard of and the fact that the first Indian restaurant was started in 1810 (it eventually failed), and the proprietor (who had eloped with an Irish woman) went to Bath  and became hugely successful at running a health spa. He was also the one who brought the concept of shampooing to Britain. Shampoo is an Indian word meaning head massage.
 I knew too much history and was tempted to argue that scholars do not now consider Kenneth McAlpin to have even existed but recognised that it was for the test. I did loads of sample questions and felt ready for the test at the beginning of June.
When you know something counts, it becomes a bit more terrifying. I was not allowed to take my phone, watch or earrings into the test. It does show the lengths that some people will cheat! But I did pass.
After that came the many hours of filling the form out and paying the £1330 in addition to the test cost for my application to be considered. I also had to have my fingerprints electronically taken plus get my passport sorted out. The great part was that I finally visited Durham cathedral and saw the oldest embroidery in the UK as well because the biometric machines are few and far between and Durham was one of the closest. The other in the North is in Penrith.
 The hardest part was finding the documentation to support the fact that I had been living in the UK for the requisite time. This may eventually prove problematic for the Duchess of Sussex because you have to show you have been physically present in the UK for 3 years minus no more than 270 days in that period.  Waivers are not available. The law applies to both the Royalty and commoner alike.
 My US  passport has stamps but I had to produce other supporting documentation with little help from the website. Thankfully the US makes all of its citizens file tax returns (Iran apparently is the only other country to tax worldwide).
Once everything was submitted (to my surprise I was told that several weeks before someone had come in with a Leave to Remain visa dating from the 1970s, so mine from 1988 wasn’t truly that old), I then had to wait and wait.
I cried when I opened the letter saying that all I needed to do was to attend my citizenship ceremony.  Because on one level, I knew there was no reason for refusal but on another, there have been so many scare stories in the British press about refusals.  But mainly because the act of belonging is a very powerful emotion.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide range of time periods. Sent as the Viking’s Bride will be published on 18 December 2018 in the US and 27 December 2018 in the UK. To learn more about Michelle and her books visit

1 comment:

dstoutholcomb said...

Congratulations on your new citizenship making you a dual citizen. And what a momentous day for it to have been on.