My wife and I are sitting in a waiting room at a Government office in a suburb of Birmingham. There is quite an air of camaraderie among the people waiting with us, an American businessman and an Indian couple about our age. This is a regional UK Border Agency office, and we are all here for the same reason: to apply for or renew a UK visa.
It amuses me sometimes that people forget my wife, who hails from the other side of the Atlantic, is an immigrant. "But she's..." They pause, looking embarrassed. I want to complete their sentence for them: "White?", but don't.
There's a lot of nonsense talked about immigration. From all sides, those on the left like to see talking nonsense on immigration as purely a right-wing issue but the fact is they're as guilty as anyone. With varying degrees of accuracy depending on whom you are talking to those pesky foreigners bring jobs, take jobs, take homes, cause chaos in hospitals, run hospitals, take all the benefits, pay half the taxes, do no work and do all the work. Politicians like to sound tough on immigration but hate to get involved with it while the immigrants themselves just want to get on with their lives.
All of which brings me to us, sitting in that waiting room near Birmingham. Over the past decade and a half we've had to deal with the visa system several times. Each time it's happened a cheque has changed hands, but one thing's certain. I know every time we'll be paying twice as much as we did the last time for the same service.
The politicians have hit on the perfect formula, you see. They stand up at a party conference and say they'll get tough on immigration. Rousing speech, standing ovation. The tabloid readers see that and go away happy, at last, they think, Something will be Done about illegal immigrants!
Meanwhile those of us who have to deal with the system release a groan. We know what they'll really do, which is double the price for the legal immigrants. After all, going after illegal immigrants requires a bit of effort, and that's not what governments do!
We wait long enough for the chairs to become uncomfortable, then my wife is summoned away to the two desks for document checks and biometrics. We go away for lunch, and on our return she's told her application is successful.
I wish those from all sides who go on so much about immigration could spend a morning in that waiting room.