I’m just going to put this out there.
When I first moved to the UK one of the conditions of my marriage visa was that I obviously had to be in regular and steady employment. While engaging in job searches from dawn til dusk, I registered with eleven different recruitment agencies in Glasgow city centre. Although at the time I had just come out of a role as an executive assistant to a CEO in Washington, I knew I was never going to have anything like that job again and I wasn’t picky. I was happy to accept any role – junior admin work, typing, anything – to get my foot in the door and some experience under my belt. Even that turned out to be an unrealistic expectation as I was told, among other things, that everything on my CV – from education to experience – “doesnae count here, hen.”
In fact, it took three months for any one of those eleven recruitment agencies – Hudson – to offer me any basic, entry-level crap job at all. It was one they’d had a hard time filling, for some strange reason. Officially that job was working as a PA at a healthcare company in an ornate Georgian office by Charing Cross. In actual fact – as I found out within four hours of my first day on the job – it was a money laundering front. The Charing Cross office turned out to be where the money launderer worked in her own cover job. As for me, I worked by myself, every day, in an unfurnished residential flat in a brownstone tenement on the Crow Road in Hyndland. I saw the Scottish money laundering lady maybe 20 minutes a week, when she’d come in and give me a new pile of fake paperwork for the six different businesses she’d created as a cover. Then she’d zoom out to tend to her other elaborately constructed lies.
And you know what? I had to do it. I had to get up, put on a smile and an old Washington suit, and commute on two trains to spend 40 hours a week in that empty flat, lit in one room by a light bulb hanging from the ceiling, running her money laundering enterprise, for minimum wage with no benefits, while constantly searching for a permanent job. Because that was the only job a newly arrived immigrant could get, and if I didn’t work, I’d be deported.
One day, as part of one of her cover stories, she drove me to a secure Scottish Power facility, signed me in, and showed me around an empty office, explaining how the day-to-day running of the office worked. She’d told me my work that day was going to be making a PowerPoint presentation. In truth she was illegally subcontracting me out to the legitimate people unwittingly involved in one of her cover businesses. She zoomed out as usual, leaving an unvetted temp alone in a high security infrastructure facility. Once she was gone I scribbled a resignation note on A4 and then I ran. I literally ran out of the facility to the nearest station and got on the train shaking and hyperventilating and went the hell home.
That was my very first job in the United Kingdom.
When Hudson Recruitment phoned the next day to rip me a new one for abandoning my job without authorisation (!) I told them what had happened, and what the truth of the job was. In response, they told me the money laundering lady’s story of what had happened. I was speechless. It was lies piled on fiction piled on lies. She had built up so many deceptions in so many of her cover stories she was mixing them together. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost. But then I remembered that I still needed work and I didn’t want to be deported, so I asked Hudson to give me another job – anything – after all, I wasn’t picky, right? As it turned out, she had another job vacancy that was proving hard to fill…
So one week after running away from the money launderer’s lies, I started a temp typist job in a secure NHS psychiatric facility in Partick. “Typist” my arse. Within a day, I was put into frontline contact with psychiatric patients, unleashed onto the NHS database with full read and write access, made to man the front desk when the receptionist was at her lunch, made to be the first point of contact with psychiatric patients on the phone, and at times left to man the facility myself while the clinicians were out. Among my achievements there were being stalked by a lady who liked my phone voice so much that one day she travelled on the ferry from Campbeltown to the facility begging to see me; seeing a deeply traumatised asylum seeker from Iraq beating her tiny son to a pulp in the waiting room with the legs of a chair; trying to remember my broken university Russian in speaking with a deeply ill woman who later threw herself out of the 15th floor of her tower block, where the imprint of her body remained in the ground for months; and developing OCD about door handles after watching a rough sleeper lick all of the doors in the facility.
And again, I had to do it. I had to get up, put on a smile and an old Washington suit, and commute on two trains to spend 40 hours a week in that breezeblock building, with no experience, no vetting, no security clearance, no training, and no one to ask for help, for minimum wage with no benefits, while constantly searching for a permanent job. Because that’s how zero hours contracts work – if you ask questions, you’re asked not to come back the next day. As for recruitment consultants, it’s a numbers game. As long as they meet their sales quota nothing else matters. And of course, that was the only job a newly arrived immigrant could get, and if I didn’t work, I’d be deported.
That was my second job in the United Kingdom.
I got the hell up and did it every day for three months until I landed permanent work.
Lots of people like to say that immigrants take British jobs. Let me tell you something. I defy any of you to spend a week in the jobs that recruiters set aside for immigrants.
About the author
Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.