Friday, November 17, 2006

Living in Sweden, pt. 3: Bureaucracy

My wife and I have been here just over a year now, and that means we have to renew our one-year visa to extend to the current end of her contract next August. As usual, she took care of it. She's great at any kind of organising thing (except when it comes to the household, which is pretty much my domain), so I always feel safe in the knowledge things she does get done right. However, when you're dealing with the government -- anywhere -- what you do only goes so far.
So it was with our Resident Visa renewals.
She applied for them online back in August, since they were due to expire in September. We had no idea how long this would take, but knowing we were planning a trip Stateside in December, we figured that was decent leeway. How could it take 4 months, right?
Well, come October, we started to get nervous. We contacted the office in charge of doing these things, and they said we should just wait it out and not panic. This was not too late for it to be taking the proper amount of time. Placated, we went back to not worrying about it. Kind of...
Then, November arrived with still no word from the Migrationsverket, so the worrying began anew. We were, after all, leaving next month to visit the US, and without the renewed visa we would not be allowed to come back! This time, she had her (Swedish) boss -- who has a reputation for getting shit done -- call the office. They told him they were missing the piece of paper that said she had a job here! Now, we had sent this in with all the other stuff, so either they hadn't gotten it then, or the copy we sent was crap (we had no scanner, so photographed it and sent in the jpeg). The question was, of course, if they were missing this piece of important material, why didn't they tell us back in October when we first called?! The pat answer we got from anyone we asked is that the Swedish are racist and don't really want immigrants here, so make it as hard as they can for immigrants to stay.
So, with this new info, we actually faxed the paper in, and were notified the next day that our renewal was accepted! Then, a day or two later, we got letters (one each) explaining now that our renewals were accepted, we'd have to trek to the local Migrationsverket for the actual completion of the procedure. We'd have to bring with us two passport-sized photos, the specifications for which were given both in the letters as well as (more explicitly) on their website.
We were armed with knowledge and ready to do the damn thing! I took off from school for the day she usually works from home, and we planned to go in and do the pictures and everything at once. Now, the office is only open from 10-noon every weekday, so we had a small window in which to do what we had to, but (once again) figured it couldn't take that long. Add to this that we woke up a little late and then caught a later bus than we might've, and we ended up with only about an hour to get everything done. Even though the photobooth we intended to use was at one end of town and the Migrationsverket was at the other...and it was raining...we figured we'd be alright.
When we got to the machines, we saw a sign that said as of such-and-such a date, these photos were no longer useable for passport photos. We naturally assumed the same went for visa photos, so went to the police station where they said such stuff was now done. After the 10 minute walk there, we found that they did do passport photos there, but only for Swedish passports...and certainly not for foreign visa renewals! So, back to the booths.
First, we had to get out money, then we had to make change: the booth was 40 kronor (about 5 bucks American) and only took 5 and 10 kronor coins. We did this with little trouble at a shop right by the booths, but only got enough for one shot at it each. This came back to bite us when we realised, after both taking our pics, that we'd used the black-and-white booth instead of the colour one right next to it!
The wife had enough for one more go, so I took the bank card and went out to get more money. Of course, the machine we'd just used now said to come back later. I went to the next nearest one and it said the same thing. I was on the way back in defeat, but tried the first ATM (Bankautomat) again and it mysteriously worked! Triumphant, I returned to the shop, got change, took my pictures and we were finally ready to hit the Migrationsverket...with 10 minutes before they closed. We knew the police station had taken 10 minutes to reach, and we needed to go further than that, but decided to risk it anyway.
A heated 15-minute walk later, we arrived at the warehouse-style building next to the highway (this place couldn't have been much less welcoming, really), and had a struggle to find the office itself once we were inside. Once there, we were relieved to find a window still open and a couple customers standing in line. However, when we approached we were told that they were, in fact, closed. Not willing to leave completely beaten, we interjected that we had just one question: were the photos we had taken acceptable? No, they were not, the woman at the window replied and gestured to the machine standing beside us, we now do our own photos...
After this flurry of activity, we were a little exhausted, so sat in the office and got thoroughly upset. As we sat there, my wife noticed a sign on the wall: as of October 31, applicants are no longer required to bring their own photos! October 31, mind you: our letters were dated November 13; we'd been on their site that day looking at the photo requirements. But they knew as of October 31 that applicants need no longer bring their own photographs. The utter irony of the situation was that, with that information beforehand, we wouldn't have been late to begin with!
Count for yourself how many times this scheme went wrong, but it's a classic example of bureaucratic red tape...which apparently the Swedish excel at creating. An Egyptian classmate of mine (in Swedish language class) has said if it veers from the bureaucracy, the Swedes don't know what to do with it. Apparently, they don't know what to do with it anyway.
We'll try again next week.


Blogger SaraS-P said...

Good luck with that! I hate bureaucracy!

3:04 AM  
Blogger lunas_eve said...

When we go to NY in 3 weeks, it'll all seem like paradise again. I just hope they let us back in- we pay more than 30 percent taxes so you have to let us back Sweden!

1:12 PM  

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