Attending the Public Enquiry Office can be a daunting experience, if for no other reason than the outcome is so important. But the process itself need not be daunting:
After managing to book an appointment at the Public Enquiry Officein Croydon for Tatyana and her family, I'm on my way to Croydon with the application bundle. About twenty minutes from London Victoria Station the train pulls into East Croydon Station. It's snowing so I walk quickly to Lunar House, the building that houses the Public Enquiry Office, taking care not to slip on the way. I meet Tatyana and her family outside Lunar House and after entering the building we walk towards security where we are required to go through metal detectors and have our belongings scanned. Unlike Tatyana and her family, as I walk through the detector the alarm sounds, as usual. We collect our belongings and join a small queue.
Soon enough we reach the front of the queue and are asked to head to counter number five where an officer requests Tatyana and her family's application forms and passports. Within five minutes or so we are provided with a slip labelled as number 201. Tatyana agrees to join me in listening out for this number as it is the method by which the Public Enquiry Office directs applicants to the right desk at the right time. We are told to go to the first floor and pay the application fees before waiting for our number to be called out through the intercom system. After making the required payment we all take a seat alongside a crowd of other applicants.
Tatyana and her husband Bob do their best to keep their two young children occupied while we wait for the next stage of the appointment. We hear number 201 called over the intercom surprisingly early along with a request to go to desk 39. Tatyana and I walk briskly to the desk where we are asked to hand over the application forms and slip number 201. About ten minutes later the officer returns the documents and informs us that we'll next be called to provide biometric details. We return to our seats. I glance at my phone and notice that one and a half hours have passed. Pineapple and Rose, Tatyana and Bob's two children, are coping well with the wait but I still decide to check with one of the officers that they haven't forgotten us. Within a few minutes we are called to the biometric area where Tatyana and her family take turns to have their photographs and fingerprints taken. The officer informs Bob that Rose does not need to have her fingerprints taken as she is too young. During this process the officer spends some time negotiating with one of his colleagues over when they should take their lunch breaks.
We are then directed to desk 36 to hand in the application forms and supporting documents. The officer requests that Tatyana and I take a seat in the waiting area. Now that the biometric details have been submitted, I inform Tatyana that her and her family are free to leave while I wait to receive a decision on their applications. Tatyana has a chat with Bob and they decide that Bob will take Pineapple and Rose home while Tatyana stays behind just in case any issues arise with their applications.
Tatyana and I take a seat again and pass the time by discussing Nauru, Tatyana's country of birth, and her profession as a shark tank cleaner. I then turn my attention to amended guidance from the UK Border Agency on the good character requirement for naturalisation as a British citizen while Tatyana reads the book she brought with her. Tatyana and I briefly discuss the counter selling food and drink on the second floor.
About two hours later we jump from our seats after hearing number 201 and desk 29 over the intercom system. I struggle to keep up with Tatyana who appears to be running to the right desk. As we arrive we are informed that Tatyana and her family's applications have been approved and that they now have leave to remain in the country until 2016. After gathering together the supporting documents submitted with the application, we head downstairs and towards the exit. It's mid-afternoon.
We could see the snow falling throughout our time in Lunar House and this continues during our walk back to East Croydon Station. Tatyana and I say goodbye to each other as we head in separate directions. Tatyana clearly looks relieved to know that she and her family won't have to move back to Nauru and that they may be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain in a couple of years' time.