A Comedy of Red Tape, Resulting in A New Venture

I was so looking forward to interning at National Archives Scotland. But here’s what happened:

First I had to fill out a form for Disclosure Scotland, which is a bit odd because I, as well as everyone I spoke with, was under the impression that this was a background check for people who would be working with children. You know, to make sure you’re not a violent criminal, drug dealer, or pedo. Piece of cake. I’m none of those things. But because I have not lived at the same address in Scotland for 12 months I had to apply for a paper form, which they would mail to me and I would fill out and mail back. Seems a bit circuitous, but alright. So I applied for the paper form. Twice. They still haven’t gotten back to me. That was weeks ago. But we decided to move forward with the internship because Disclosure Scotland could take up to six weeks to get back to me, so why not get everything else lined up in the interim?

Right. Well, National Archives Scotland recently became National Register Scotland (NRS) when it merged with the British government, so it turned out that I had to do a secondary background check to work for the government. This was news to me and to my point of contact, Alison, who had not had to deal with this secondary check for previous interns as all their previous interns had been there before the merger. So she emailed me the form (a ten page form, delving into incredible detail about where I had lived and worked over the last several years), and I printed it and filled it out. This sounds simple but because of the level of detail it actually took several days to gather all the information. Part of the problem is that I move around a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. I have had seven addresses in two countries in five years, and that’s not even including the cabin that I built and lived in without an address for most of a year. Anyway, it took a while to get the information together. Oh, and they required two forms of identification as well as a bank statement.

Hm. Turns out I only had one acceptable form of identification. Let me explain: they needed a UK drivers license and a birth certificate dated to within a week of birth, or a passport and one of the other two. Well I have a passport, but my birth certificate is dated seven years after my birth, and the hospital I was born at doesn’t have any birth certificates on file prior to 1980 (am I really that old?), which means that the one I have is the only one in the world that exists for me, and it won’t do. And I don’t have a UK drivers license, I have a US drivers license. But after a discussion, which didn’t actually take place till Thursday morning (see below for a complete account of Thursday) they thought that if I brought my too-recent birth certificate, my unacceptable US drivers license, my passport, AND a bank statement, I should be alright.

Shoof, well, I can do all that. I was planning on getting copies of all these forms of identification made and then dropping them and the form off at the reception desk of NRS, but when I emailed Alison about it she informed me that I had to actually hand it all off to either her or Alan, her colleague. Again, alright, not a big deal. We set up a time for me to hand the forms over, but when I arrived no one was there to take them. The receptionist thought surely someone would be back within a couple hours. She asked, could you come back later in the day? That sounded alright to me so I went for a walk around New Town, and it rained of course, but in general it was a nice afternoon. When I got back to NRS to hand the paperwork off, still no one was there. Oh well, these things happen and I wasn’t too worried about it because after all, Disclosure Scotland still hadn’t gotten back to me, so I had time.

The next morning I got an apologetic email from Alison and Alan, but really, I didn’t feel miffed or let down, I was fine with it. I still hadn’t heard from Disclosure Scotland, so what’s the rush? I tried to set up another time to drop it all off but since the day before, when I’d tried twice to do the hand off, new information had come in regarding how this secondary security check works, and it turned out that I had to be the one to hand deliver my documents to a government administration building on the outskirts of the city. Wow. This was beginning to seem ridiculous. But one step at a time, and there still wasn’t much of a rush at this point because, once again, Disclosure Scotland still hadn’t sent me the forms. So I set up a time to meet with an escort from NRS so that we could take a bus 45 minutes to “Sunny Saughton” so that I could hand my identification off to a security specialist who would then verify that I was the same person as was on all these various forms of identification, and make copies of said identification.

The following day, Thursday, I went back to NRS and met my escort. Luckily, my escort was an extremely friendly and personable lady who looks after kirk records from centuries past. We discussed my problems with identification and called the security department and then discussed paperwork a little more, then hopped on a bus to a distant corner of the city that I had never heard of. Forty-five minutes later we arrived at a building that houses some of the various arms of government administration including, apparently, the security branch. We went in and registered and then had to wait till someone from security could see us. After a few minutes someone came and took my form and various identifying materials and left. Ten minutes later he returned, with a security chief, and had me and my escort follow them into the recesses of the building. We went down several corridors and through a number of secure doors before arriving at a dark, cluttered interior room with a table and a hodgepodge of unmatched chairs. Have a seat Ms. Dumm… I was beginning to get a little worried…

The security chief proceeded to tell me that I cannot work for the British government because I have a US passport and there is a law, otherwise obsolete, dating to 1811, that states that citizens of the United States cannot work for the British government. WHAT? That’s it!? Why didn’t anyone tell me this weeks ago? 1811!? Surely in the last two centuries some American somewhere had worked for the British government! And why all the secrecy? Couldn’t they have told me this in the lobby? Or over the phone? I kept my calm, though, because I really don’t feel like it was any one specific person’s fault, and everyone I had dealt with, though under-informed, was very nice. I asked why that was the case, and said even if I’m an unpaid intern, not really working but interning? He said, well, no, you still can’t. And then he said the American government won’t let any British citizens work for them either, so it’s tit for tat, really. I literally laughed. Catty much? Well, I said, I guess I can’t argue with a law that dates back over 200 years.

After that it was quickly and without much ado that we were back on the bus heading for the city centre and for me, back to square one.

I was on email almost immediately once I got home. I knew I had to find another internship and the massive tangle of exasperating events was rankling in my head. From this point things moved fast, and within a couple hours I was in contact with Iain Milne at the Sibbald Library in the Royal College of Physicians, and had an appointment to meet him the next day, Friday, regarding the possibility of interning there.

That was yesterday. I start my internship on Tuesday.

More to come, but suffice to say that the Royal College of Physicians is one of the most spectacular buildings I have been in in Edinburgh. It dates to the 18th Century and is remarkably well kept. I have not asked yet but am hoping that I will be allowed to take photos to post on this blog, because really, I wish everyone could see the interior of this building.


Update: Today, 12/11/2012, I asked Iain if I could take photos inside the Royal College of Physicians and he said absolutely. So expect to see photos posted within the next week or so.



  1. That’s maddening, the EU work Visa I had to get for Italy was wrought with SNAFUs but no more than one would expect from an outsized, overly divided democracy. They wouldn’t believe my passport was authentic, although it had the US Ambassador’s endorsement on it. In any case, a friend of mine ran into the same 1811 law while trying to get an Australian work visa. Turns out even the commonwealth did not allow US itizens employment ntiil about two years ago. Old animosities die hard.

  2. SNAFU is a term that I have used liberally throughout the whole experience. My German flatmate had never heard it before and now is so comfortable with the term that she uses it herself.

  3. So I kind of knew what was happening from what you said on Monday, but that was sounds ridiculous! Am pretty sure that in the last 200 years there has been US citizens working for the government here. At least its over with now?

  4. […] The Register House was built there instead and still stands/functions today (see previous post A Comedy of Red Tape, Resulting in A New Venture.). They were offered the spot where the Scott Monument is now located as a second choice. That did […]

  5. […] was built at their first choice location, and still stands/functions today (see previous post A Comedy of Red Tape, Resulting in A New Venture for a lengthy and comical description of the levels of bureaucracy associated with my attempt to […]

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