Written on 8th November, 2020:
“I realized about two weeks ago that the UK is confirmed to be going forward with the Graduate Visa Route starting 2021. And you can apply to ANY job at ANY company with ANY salary, for two years. Like, WOAH. I would LOVE to live in Edinburgh.
I feel like a bright light lit up in me that night, the last night I slept in Aunty Nor’s house (to get my remaining boxes to move to Edinburgh). And the next morning I arrived at the Scottish borders by car.
We (me and Uncle Abrahim) drove past the “WELCOME TO SCOTLAND” sign. On my left there were the hills full of trees with their brilliant autumn leaves, on my right was the sparkling blue ocean, the sun was just rising and shining its golden hour glow on everything. The car then drove through a FULL RAINBOW. I felt like I was in a coming-of-age movie and this was my /MOMENT/ y’know???”
Well… one year three months later, I got my Graduate Visa. My heart skipped a beat seeing the email in my inbox (and it didn’t go to my “Primary” folder… *rolls eyes* it’s a good thing I didn’t miss it!). At first I was over the moon, for the first 30 minutes or so. And then I cried a bit. Thinking of all the weddings and funerals I’d be missing. All the cousins I wouldn’t get to watch grow up. And it’s not obviously noticeable how much your parents’ hair have turned gray through a computer or phone screen – it’s easy to not notice how quickly they’re aging.
It’s a big decision, a huge commitment – choosing to leave your homeland and migrate elsewhere. Although really, I made the decision a long time ago.
March 2021 – it was recently announced that the visa would erm, cost a lot of money. When I first heard of the price, I felt appalled. Before that, I think I assumed that it would be free because we were already on student visas and would just be continuing for another 2 years. Ah, how sweet and naive I was.
The quality of my life could be significantly improved with that amount of money – especially in MYR. If I were to invest that much money on a visa, it wouldn’t just be a purchase. It would be a commitment. It basically means I would HAVE to stay in the UK for those two years, and I would HAVE to get a job or else it would all be a waste. It felt like the most adult decision I had to make in my life. And it was even worse because I didn’t have much luck jobhunting back in 2020 right before I finished my degree, so I was uncertain. But looking back, I was only applying to visa-sponsored jobs with extremely high competition, and even worse – at the start of the pandemic. The odds are way better when you are free to apply to any company you want.
I happened to watch an episode of Mad Men that resonated well with me during that period.
Duck Phillips: You’re so talented. You should strike while the iron’s hot.
Peggy Olson: What does that mean?
Duck Phillips: It means the sky’s the limit. No mortgage, no family. You’re a freewheeling career gal with great ideas. Am I wrong? This is your time, Peggy.
– Mad Men (The Fog)
I knew this opportunity was desperately craved, yet out of reach for so many people. Due to scholarship bonds. Or poorly parents. Or graduating during the wrong year and not being eligible for the Graduate Visa. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time – it felt wrong not to grab it. There are literally people doing a second masters degree right now just for the opportunity to work in the UK. After reaching out to three seniors and asking them if they failed to get a job in the UK because there weren’t capable enough or because they didn’t have the right to work – they all stated the latter. I also found out a few of my friends were planning to apply as well, even after discovering the cost. And that’s when I decided.
However, my decision wasn’t set in stone or anything. Like, as long as I hadn’t applied for the visa (I literally only applied on the last day of January, 2022)… I could change my mind anytime.
Some defining moments:
- The first and scariest one was when I had to renew my Railcard last June. I had to choose between spending £30 for a 1-year card or £70 for a 3-year card. I chose the latter. Clicking the “Pay” button was almost as intimidating as applying for my visa. It implied that I was confident that I’d be in the UK for the next few years.
- Another important decision was deciding to buy Doc Martens. They were half price because they were in children’s size, okay – but still the most expensive pair of shoes I’d bought in my life. Again, buying them meant that I would be staying in the UK. Investing in high-quality boots to walk in (in Malaysia you just don’t walk much… it’s way too hot!).
- Collecting a free cork board from my friend. For the past three years I lived in the UK I avoided buying excessive furniture or household items because I always thought I’d be leaving soon. So why bother making a house into a home? Getting that cork board and decorating indicated that I would be settling for a while.
In October I got hired for a full-time job while still on my student visa. Alhamdulillah. That’s the advantage of doing a masters in the UK right now, I guess – you have a few months to look for a job after finishing your programme, before deciding to apply for the visa. Basically, you have the privilege of security and peace of mind. I know undergraduates only get about one month.
But I was still anxious at times… what if my visa application got rejected? I’d have to suddenly leave my job and my flat, then go back home. But all praises to Allah – everything has worked out alright, so far. By the way, this visa is officially the most expensive thing I have ever purchased in my almost 25 years of living.
I recently visited Malaysia for a month, after two years plus. I had to download MySejahtera for the first time. My heart and stomach was so full the whole time I was there, it was lovely to meet the people I have missed so dearly – and I fell into a two-week depressive slump upon my return to Edinburgh. Before that I teared up multiple times on the flight, hoping other passengers wouldn’t notice. After airport goodbyes I tend to realise how alone I truly am in this world. Plus, most of my remaining close friends in Edinburgh (mostly people who did their masters degrees at the same time I did) would be gone by late March due to their visas expiring. And then I’d really be alone. It doesn’t help that by the time I finish work for the day, people in Malaysia are fast asleep (unlike when I was a student and could call them whenever I didn’t have class). Not the sunshine and rainbows I described at the beginning of this post. But I’ll just have to cope, I guess.
I’ve found myself resonating with the “I” word recently. Immigrant. A dirty word in right-wing American media. And yet a label of pride for many. I found myself saying, “Yeah, that person’s really nice, they’re an immigrant too…”. Or having conversations like, “Yeah, but it’s better not to risk it because…” “…we’re immigrants”. Although by strict definition, I’m not an immigrant. Immigrant = someone who has *permanently* left their home to migrate elsewhere. I would never dream of claiming that label from people who actually are immigrants.
I’m just a migrant for now. When you’re studying, you’re a “student” – there’s a connotation of temporariness, being on a time limit. Being a migrant is different.
Today is Day 1 of a new phase in my life. Kamilah said, “This is as big as getting engaged!”.
Day 1 of …? An unknown number. Could be two years. Could be two decades. Could be the rest of my life. We’ll see, we’ll see.