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Goodbye Tottenham Court Road

Welcome to the third instalment of our saga, wherein our hero runs out of options and is forced to move back to his hometown with no money, no job and no hope. Well, there was the PJ Media Romanian money laundering option, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Yesterday began with my first talking therapy session with an NHS counsellor. When I explained my current situation—how Design UK unjustly made me redundant and how PJ Media completely botched every attempt they made at procuring a work permit for me, resulting in my need to move back to America—she noted that I still sounded hopeful that something would work out to allow me to remain in the UK. I quickly clarified, “Oh no, I’m sorry. There’s no saving this situation. I’m moving back to Chicago on 1 February, I just haven’t fully accepted this yet. Any hope you hear in my voice is simply denial.”

Indeed, this is the plan. On 1 February 2010, Rin and I will board a one-way flight to Chicago with our two cats, Chloe and Toulouse. We have purchased extra baggage allowances for several suitcases which will contain all our clothes and a few household items like a pot and pan for cooking and some forks, as we’ve learned from one international move already that you don’t want to wait for the boat with all your boxes on it to arrive two months later before you eat. As it’s an early flight, I’ll leave in darkness, with my life in my suitcase. I’ll leave like a dirty fucking immigrant, the same way I came.

The cost of the flights and the excess baggage was approximately $1,200 (USD). The cost of shipping the rest of our belongings by boat will be close to £1,600 (GBP). All of this went on my credit card.

On 18 December 2009, shortly after I posted my last entry, I received a telephone call from the person who would have been my future boss at PJ Media in Marlow. He apologised profusely for completely fucking up my work permit application yet again and said that he had a new option that just might save me. He apparently spoke with someone at the Home Office who helped him find a loophole: if they could somehow off-shore my salary, they could employ me straight away, although technically it would be in a legal grey zone that could risk my deportation. As they had a company office in Romania, they decided they could have me start on Monday, 21 December 2009 as a contractor by simply paying from their budget into the Romanian office’s budget and then paying me from that. Then, once they could properly sponsor my visa in late January, they would, and I’d be totally legal. Come again?

In order to work in the United Kingdom, I require a work permit sponsored by the company that employs me. In order to simply live in the United Kingdom, I require what is called “leave to remain”. When you visit as a tourist from the United States, you are granted leave to remain as a visitor, and generally that can last up to 90 days. When you’ve been living in the United Kingdom for several years on a work permit that ended a few months ago, you can be fairly certain that you no longer possess anything resembling proper leave to remain. As I considered his offer, I knew that if my acceptance put me in a legal grey zone, I would probably occupy a space closer to the black, illegal, should-be-deported edge of that gradient than the white, legal, upstanding citizen side.

I told him I’d have to discuss it with my wife and that I’d ring him back on Sunday. The discussion with Rin mostly involved the words “money laundering scheme”, “illegal”, “dodgy” and “no”. Can you blame her? If it was just me making the decision, I’d have done it. This should give you some idea of who the most sensible person is in this relationship.

When Sunday came around and I had to ring with my answer, I told him that we had no choice but to return to the United States. I told him that I’d already put my family through enough of a struggle with this and that I couldn’t risk our deportation and whatever potential loss of our belongings and our cats that would entail. Nevertheless, I added that I was desperate for money. I said I could work for them as a contractor for a few days each week until my end of January departure, after which point I would work for them remotely from the States as a freelancer. He said that he would need to discuss this option with his colleagues the next day, adding that “my decision” was unfortunate.

In fact, through the rest of our conversation, he kept referring to my return to the States as “my decision”. One thing I was too shocked to clarify with him at the time was that nothing in the past few months has felt very much like “my decision”, least of all this. I was hired by a major corporation (owned by “Dragons’ Den” star Peter Jones) for a job that said that they would have my work permit sorted within a month or two. It dragged out so long that I ran out of money, then was given an illegal option as my last hope. Apparently upon deciding that deportation was rather unfashionable these days, I came to “my decision”. My fucking decision.

Although he said he’d have to discuss it with his colleagues the next day, I received a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning, for which a voicemail was left asking me to come to Marlow as soon as I could that day. I didn’t listen to the message until 12.30 p.m., at which point it seemed silly to spend two hours getting to Marlow for only 2 or 3 hours of work. I rang back and left a message indicating that I’d plan on coming in the next day and would be there first thing in the morning so we could get started planning how to get the most out of the next few weeks of work.

That evening, the boss rang to tell me not to bother coming in at all. Apparently, in the time between his 7.30 a.m. urgent voice mail instructing me to come into the office for work and the end of the day, he had spoken with his colleagues and they decided that there was no way I could be of use to them unless I was going to always be in their office. He said that unfortunately the role had no room for telecommuting, which was really odd, because earlier that day, it did.

The extent to which I’ve been fucked about by employers and potential employers in England is shocking. My first job here promised me the moon and gave me Sweet Fanny Adams. They said I’d learn new programming languages and help craft cutting edge social software applications, but what they really meant was that they’d stagnate my existing skill set and have me reskinning sub-standard web sites which they had produced several years earlier. My second job gave me two stellar employee reviews, noting that I performed so well that they were hard-pressed to find areas in which I could improve, then my boss quit and my new manager put me at the top of his redundancy list.

It’s almost a shame that I never got to see what the third job would have been like, considering it started with a money laundering offer and all.