Frequently we’re asked ‘What is different about this visa?’ or ‘Why is a new visa taking so much more time than your first one?’ Excellent questions. Both of which are questions we seem to be asking ourselves on the regular.
So by way of helping make a complicated and ever changing process accessible and not painfully boring, here is how it basically works…
To apply for a visa you need a sponsorship number. The government has a limited number of sponsorship numbers each year, which they disburse to different organizations to offer at their discretion to applicants hoping to live and work in the UK. Once you secure a sponsorship number, you can apply for a visa.
Visas have varying tiers based on what kind of work you do, how long you’ll be in the country, etc. Once you’ve applied for the visa, the UK Border Agency can deny or offer you a visa – and then you’re set!
Our first visa (through Acts 29) was low level and basically stated we could volunteer at the church for two years, but not be employed by them or any other British organization. Naturally, low level visas such as this one do not consume as many resources and are therefore more readily available.
Why not apply for this same visa again?
Firstly because this is a one shot visa – once you’ve applied and used a Tier Five Religious Workers Visa, you cannot apply or use the same one again. Second, Acts 29 has gotten out of the sponsorship/visa game altogether – so we have had to find another ‘sending organization’ that will help us secure the sponsorship number we need to even apply for the visa.
Why this new visa?
As people working in a ‘religious field,’ the options are limited about what types and tiers of visas are available. This one allows us to be in the UK for three years, it is renewable, allows us to receive a salary. With a higher level visa, there are even more moving parts, fewer sponsorship numbers available, and fewer still the number of ‘sending organizations’ that could help provide all that is required for a Tier Two visa.
Enter, Greater Europe Mission (GEM). An organization that has access to many different levels of sponsorship for visas and have been sending missionaries all over Europe for the last fifty years.
Like any new relationship, you have to spend lots of time getting to know one another. And beginning this new relationship with GEM looked like many phone calls, Skype sessions, mountains of personality tests, and get-to-know you questionaires before we even left Liverpool in January. Continuing this time once we got back to the States by including a week long trip out to GEM’s home office in Colorado to meet their staff face-to-face, go through their required training along with a group of others hoping to serve somewhere overseas in Europe.
The typical relationship with GEM begins when someone feels called by God to serve overseas, but has never been involved in full-time missions. So they provide all of the training, development, and partnering relationships with hopeful missionaries. Right off the bat we are an anomaly, as a family who has already served overseas for the last two years… Not to mention we already have a home church, understand the wave of culture shock, do not have to learn a new language, and will not have to be raising support as our sole source of income.
A visa is an intricate process that takes a lot of energy, and teamwork to pull off… Most people who are applying aren’t typically trying to get five different parties, spread out across time zones, countries, and States to be moving in unison together. It has certainly not been a boring four months.
And all of these elements have to be in place before you can even submit your visa application to be accepted or denied by the UK Border Agency. Which we’ve been told is a three to six week process… But that sounds a little too familiar…
So there is a window into our lives.
Aaron + Kelly + Merritt
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