Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry On: The Trouble with Credentials

Mea culpa - some of my frustration could have been avoided if I had renewed my passport in May or June, rather than waiting on the off chance that I might travel between my return from the Middle East and my departure for Scotland. That having been said, a combination of my own stalling, and sluggish responses from the University, have led to some consternation regarding my travel credentials. I expect that everything will be settled in sufficient time, but waiting on other people and dealing with unnecessary ambiguity are well outside my personal comfort zone. I'd rather this all be settled quickly and succinctly.

I sent my passport in for renewal last week, and paid for expedited processing. In theory, that could still take up to a month (though a guy on the State Department's hotline seemed to think it would only take two or three weeks - hopefully I'll get lucky). Meanwhile, I'll also need a Tier 4 visa. In order to apply for this visa, I need my passport; I also need my Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS), which the University won't issue to me until they get a scan of my new passport. I also can't apply for a visa while I'm in the United Kingdom, and I can't register for courses without the visa. So, I'm waiting, to start waiting, to start waiting. While I'm waiting, I'm going to try to do everything in my power to get all of the relevant materials together. Of course, the UK Border Agency seems to have done everything in its power to make that difficult, too.

In addition to completing the online application form (for which I require the passport and CAS) and paying a fee to the UK Border Agency, I'll also need to provide evidence that I have sufficient funds to support myself, as well as evidence relevant to the issuance of my Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). Not surprisingly, descriptions of what documentation will meet these requirements is exceptionally vague, and a call to the San Francisco consulate yielded only an automated notice that they can neither issue visas, nor advise on matters related to visas. The best lead I've found so far on the myriad of semi-functional websites maintained by the Foreign Office and its subsidiaries is:
Assessment by other means

If your course is at National Qualification Framework (NQF) level 3 or above and you have been assessed by other means (such as references, a portfolio of artwork, interview, or the Tier 4 sponsor's own test or entrance exam), you do not need to include these documents with your application. However, your Tier 4 sponsor must include details of how they assessed you on the CAS.
I think that means that I may not need to send any documentary evidence, which is good because I don't have any copies of the sealed, confidential letters of reference I sent with my original application to the University. The take-away is that the whole thing is very vague, which makes it difficult to put the appropriate documentation together in advance.

Now, to be fair, I've always expected that some administrative requirements would be included in the process of getting to Aberdeen. It's the timeline that's upsetting me. I mailed my application at the beginning of June (soon after I'd received the second of my two letters of reference), received acknowledgment of its receipt on 11 June, inquired as to its status nearly a month later, addressed a concern about my reference letters in the first week of July, and received confirmation from The Director that I'd be receiving an offer of admission later that week. It took the University an additional two weeks to actually send the offer, I took a few days to sign and scan the acceptance forms, and then it took the University a few more days to continue their portion of the sequence. We're now at about six weeks and counting, and when you figure in weekends and lag times, each leg of the remaining sequence adds additional risk of delay, which results in a corresponding risk that I won't be able to arrive on time.

The Director, being the outstanding specimen of the human condition that he is, wrote to me and said that if things didn't get sorted out in time, I could arrive up to two weeks late. I'm hoping it won't come to that, and I don't think it will (at worst, I think I might have to miss orientation week and arrive on time for the commencement of classes the following week), but I appreciate that the program staff will be willing to work with me. The University, for all of my frustrations, strikes me as a typical bureaucracy doing its best (with mostly satisfactory results) to operate in a timely manner; the program itself continues to strike me as outstanding, and I'm eager to arrive and commence my studies.

It's also incumbent upon me to give proper credit to my friend Paje, who previously studied in Edinburgh and has plenty of experience with travel, visas, and such. I called her for advice and she called me back as I was drafting this post. She managed to calm me down a bit, and assured me not only that the timelines I'm worried about should end up being shorter than I expect, but that the documentation I'm worried about should wind up being easier than I'm worried they will be.

I'm sure there will be additional occasions when I'll be compelled to keep calm and carry on, so consider this a new category on the blog. (I think I'll also go back and categorize some of the other posts before there are too many posts to tag!)

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