The Irish Rover
Alex Horne – December 22nd 2006
Aman Chandra and I were close friends at school. We were in a lot of the same classes, found some of the same things funny and I thought both his names were very cool. After five years we'd got to know each other pretty well. So despite only seeing each other once or twice in the decade since leaving school it was with some confidence that I emailed him for the very first time since emailing had been invented and asked him to be our Saudi Arabian representative.
"That's fine", wrote Aman the next day, "except I'm Irish".
Ah. Awkward. I couldn't really say it was a typo… But Owen and I still hadn't found our Irishman and were dangerously under our required run-rate so I ignored my embarrassment and ten days later headed down to Elephant and Castle/Colombia to find out just a little bit more about this close friend of mine.
Aman Chandra is now Dr Aman Chandra. In fact, between contacting and meeting him he'd received the biggest news of his career so far with the offer of a job in London for the next five years – a boost so big he spent more than £200 on champagne in the course of the next week which, when combined with the arrival of a severe winter cold, meant that by the time I dropped by Aman had a temperature of 38.5 degrees (I know as much about body temperature as I do about baby weights but Dr Chandra assured me that's a high one). Still, he was wearing his scrubs for pyjamas which I thought people only did in the movies so I faced away from his sneezes and pressed on with the interview.
My own dad is also a doctor, as is my brother-in-law, and just occasionally I do feel slightly insecure when I think about what I do for a living compared to these life-saving professionals. This was one of those occasions. I soon found out that Dr Aman Chandra is actually an eye surgeon in much demand all over the world. As well as the London post, he'd also been offered the top job in two other British cities, was flying out to work in Sierra Leone on Boxing Day and had spent last February in Sri Lanka helping those affected by the Tsunami. (Luckily, I did make him admit that some of that work actually boiled down to assisting people who'd last their glasses in the water which made me feel just slightly less like a wimp in the presence of a hero.)
In fact, Aman has spent a lot of his life travelling. His name is actually Indian, as are his parents. Before med-school in London he'd lived in Croydon from the age of sixteen, Saudi Arabia since he was seven, Richmond for the previous two years, America for most of the five before that and the very first two weeks of his life in Belfast. Four years ago, whilst avoiding revision for some of the many exams professional life-savers have to sit, he was browsing the internet and discovered that if you were born in Ireland (North or South) you can apply for an Irish passport. Aman was born in in Ireland (North) so applied for one. £46 and a couple of weeks later, he was officially an Irish citizen.
There are currently 6 million people living in Ireland. There are twice that number of Irish passports in the world.
In fact, as a husband of an Irish citizen I started thinking that perhaps I was Irish too. And because I don't save people's lives or eyes for a living I have a lot of time to browse to the internet. Unfortunately, after some initial excitement I soon found out that I've got some time to wait and places to go before I can officially change my nationality. According to the Citizens Information service for Ireland: To claim citizenship by marriage, you must meet the following conditions:
- You must be married to the Irish citizen for at least 3 years
- You must have had a period of one year's continuous "reckonable residence" in the island of Ireland immediately before the date of your application
- You must have been living on the island of Ireland for at least 2 of the 4 years before that year of continuous residence
- Your marriage must be recognised as valid under Irish law
- You and your spouse must be living together as husband and wife
- You must be of good character and intend to continue to live on the island of Ireland
- You must have made a declaration of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State.
For 70 euros, however, it might just be worth the effort.
By now we'd both forgotten all about Aman's gigantic body warmth, and the two of us were having a very nice chat. It was almost like being back at school. He told me that he thought Elephant and Castle was ok, if occasionally scary. He'd once seen one of those yellow police signs by a cash machine explaining that someone had recently been "attacked by a meat cleaver". Neither of us could understand why they would mention the meat cleaver so specifically.
It was only when I optimistically quizzed Aman about other foreign doctors in a bid to squeeze another nationality or two out of my well-traveled school friend that his temperature started to rise even further. It seemed I'd opened an international can of worms…
I didn't know all that much about the government's immigration policy for medical workers. Aman does. I know a little more now:
Trainee doctors used to be given a permit to work in the U.K. which bypassed the usual formal visa requirements. People like Aman's parents where therefore able to come over here and take up invaluable positions in our understaffed hospitals.
More recently, however, the number of medical schools in this country has increased and the number of British doctors coming through has risen accordingly so in April our government changed the rules. From that point on, if you didn't have a formal visa and you weren't from the EU you had to get out. A friend of Aman's from Singapore was ejected from the in June, despite having worked for the NHS for the last six years.
At this point, Aman was getting hotter and hotter, using phrases like 'embarrassingly xenophobic' and 'shockingly outrageous' to describe the government. No wonder he changed nationalities. "It's not only embarrassingly xenophobic and shockingly outrageous", he said, "it's also unsafe". Indeed, that very day's Metro newspaper featured a story which opened with: "Doctors who cannot speak English should be banned, a coroner said yesterday, after hearing that a patient died because his French GP could not make himself understood."
This isn't unusual, according to Aman. Anyone and everyone from recent EU countries like Estonia and Lithuania are welcomed with open arms despite often not having the language necessary for responsible medical care, whilst Australians, Indians and Singaporeans are being kicked out after years of dedicated work.
They can get a visa if they get a permanent job, says the government. But they can't get a permanent job if they don't have a visa, says Aman. Angrily.
And I agreed with everything he said. He seemed to have a lot of good points. Luckily for me, he also had a Zimbabwean friend who'd managed to get hold of one of these formal visas and who I'd hopefully get to interview in the new year.
*For those that know me, yes, my wife is Irish, but for some reason one of the few rules of this project is that people found must not be your wife.