So today my Husband went to a walk-in Citizens Advice location to see if we could get some questions answered in regards to the rights and rules governing immigrants in the UK. Getting there and being seen was quick and painless, but we were lift with the distinct impression that we were being judged rather critically by the fellow who saw us.
After introducing myself to him, though he never gave us his name, I opened the conversation by stating, “I am an immigrant. I would like to know what the rights and rules are governing immigrants.”
He asked questions about where I was from, how long I had been here, was I working, if my husband was working (?!), if I was allowed to work (had to explain to him that my current Visa doesn’t allow it, basically my first clue that he might not know immigration law), he asked if I was enrolled with a General Practitioner (GP), I told him I wasn’t.
Then came the assumptions. He asked my husband if he was enrolled with one; he was. He was asked about his citizenship status; he’s a born citizen. “Why not if all of these other immigrants are allowed to use the NHS?” he wanted to know.
Suddenly the meeting had changed dynamics. We were coming to HIM to learn things, but now we had to give him the information that we knew about the laws. “It is my understanding,” I told him, “that while they are covered under emergencies, I would assume that GPs do not fall under that category.”
I was defending myself to this man. “We’ve looked at health insurance, but we don’t know what my rights are; everything is up in the air because the PEO office still hasn’t returned any of our documents yet.” It felt necessary to indirectly imply, stress even, that I wasn’t a waste or a shirker or someone abusing the system.
“Have you been to a GP?” He asked. No, I hadn’t. He concluded, at realising that they still had my passport, “usually they’ll need that to register you,” he sighed, “health insurance is expensive.”
Well, yes, that’s why we’re here. But he didn’t have the answers for us. Thankfully, he did know someone who did and made arrangements for us.
It’s disappointing. My Husband was a bit shocked by it all, how the man had spoken, and so was I to a degree. I’m trying to see the experience in the best light possible; like so many, it’s probable that he’s been misled by political scare-tactics into thinking negatively about migrants. True, he could possibly have been a touch more open or nice to us, but I was under the impression that he was tried and hampered from the work – probably too many people asking the same questions over and over that could be answered with a google-search. Does that excuse it? No, it doesn’t. I’m disheartened by it, disappointed, but I can’t muster the energy to be angry.
But I have to ask myself how many people come to him for help who leave without it for the simple reason that they were put-off by the personality barbs? Probably a few. I remember stories from clients in my food shelf days who would tell me about occasions where they had met the odd worker who was just horrible to them and, were it not for their starving children, they might not have suffered the indignity of it.
Events like this make me want to step in and take the place of the crabby ones. I want to be the person at the Public Enquiry Office that reviews applications; I want to be the person at the Citizen’s Advice Walk-in answering questions. Not necessarily because I think I am more capable, but because I think I could present a better image and leave clients with a better overall experience.
Especially for groups like Citizen’s Advice – the whole point of their existence is to help people and direct them to resources – what good is that if you systematically put them off of getting the help they need? When people need help but don’t get it, they can end up in a worse situation than before. You can go from having minor mental health problems to being homeless with major mental health problems, for some, it even ends in suicide, and that’s not okay.
But that’s a soap-box rant for another occasion, long and the short of it, on the 9th of October, I will be speaking with someone from Citizen’s Advice on the topic of Immigration rights and laws, specifically in relation to healthcare, but I am open to asking other questions if people are curious.
Much like how I did the Homeopathy post (which feels forever ago), questions and answers will be blogged accordingly. I figure, if I ask the questions once and then provide people with the answers, they won’t have to go through the same process. Thereby elevating any added stress on the staff that handle it and reduce the risk of added anxiety on the people who would otherwise have to run the gauntlet.
Those who would like to prose questions for the interview can do so by leaving a comment here or by #AskTransplantM on Twitter/Facebook.