Funny how the words "funny" and "business" pair naturally. I'm a fifth-generation Australian, but with many ties to the UK. My father, daughter and I all have Cambridge PhDs, perhaps the only Australian family thus equipped. In recent years, I've lived a double life by holding chairs at the University of Western Australia and at the University of Reading. This "duplicity" hasn't been too bad bureaucratically because Reading has arranged a work permit for me. Entry to the UK has followed automatically.
I have one more year as a joint professor. After that, I shall retire from each university and, I hope, take up a wonderful offer from Jesus College, Oxford, to be a (non-stipendiary) senior research Fellow and continue my historian's life until 2014. I guess that is what I shall do. But before the realisation of that plan lies the hurdle of the UK Border Agency and its new entry permission system.
I don't want to sound like a whingeing Aussie. My travails can scarcely be compared to those that confront asylum seekers and other immigrants categorised as infringing modern Britain. Moreover, "my" Australia is a disgraceful model of paranoia. Our politicians ostentatiously devote themselves to "stemming the arrival" of a handful of "illegal", "queue-jumping" refugees, who risk their lives in leaky boats on the Indian Ocean approach to Australia. I am rich, privileged and white and should not forget it.
Yet the bureaucratic process that I confront does have obstacles. For someone in my position, the first dilemma is Tier 1 or Tier 2. For Tier 2, or skilled-worker entry, what I require is a Certificate of Sponsorship. But the administration at Reading tell me that they have been granted a meagre supply and, anyway, to get such a certificate for me they would need to advertise my job (even though it only has 12 months to run and was set up in 2006), interview me and so on.
Then there is Tier 1, where I need 80 points or more. My familiarity with the English language will gain me 10, while "UK experience" - defined as having been paid for work or studied in the country - is awarded a paltry-seeming 5 points. I shall receive another 5 if my income exceeds £25,000 a year, 30 if above £50,000, 45 if it exceeds £75,000 and 75 if I own an oil well or trade in derivatives grossing "£150,000 and above" per annum.
Failing such wealth, I need something more to squeak past the magic 80. Ah, my doctorate. Yes indeed: a bachelor's degree is worth 30 points, a master's 35 and a PhD 45 (but you cannot claim more than one). Good enough for me. But it has been a battle to get over the line (and the UK authorities reserve the right still to refuse my request).
What I am missing on my CV is the qualification that matters in our world, the dynamo that drives us to glory, an MBA. It is worth 75 points, the same as an annual income above £150,000. Or do all those with an MBA luxuriate in such wealth anyway, so rich are this degree's rewards? I expect to survive the process for 2011-12 and to teach my scheduled undergraduates at Reading. But then I'll have to apply again the following year for Jesus. Time to start examining websites to find the quickest way to acquire an MBA, no matter where. Kandahar, perhaps.
Meanwhile, Britain, it is clear, is open for business. And that is no laughing matter for scholars.