Immigration Daze

My first trip to the Immigration Head Office was on Monday, Sept. 12th. We had about two weeks before we really needed the resident permits that our group had applied for almost a month before. We didn’t yet require the permits to remain in the country since our visas were good for 90 days after arriving in Tanzania, what we really needed them for was to be able to pay half price on ferry tickets to Zanzibar. While the 40 odd dollars in savings may not have been worth the ordeal that I underwent there for a single individual, the savings quickly added up for our group of nearly two dozen. That is why I met Mama Kaaya and her staff at the LINKS office (which deals with all international programs) that day at 9 am, as she had requested. In a previous post I described myself as being “exceedingly patient”- that was certainly put to the test over the next couple of weeks. As things typically go in Tanzania, I waited for an hour for the LINKS staff to get ready to go and then we drove the hour-long drive together in the secretary’s van. A year before my arrival, the Tanzanian government had moved the immigration department from its convenient location in downtown Dar to an admittedly handsome building in an out of the way corner of town called Kurasini, the one place in Dar that I’m pretty sure that you can’t get to by dalla dalla!

By 11, we had found our way to an immigration official’s office on the 2nd floor. The smiling, jovial man behind the desk ushered us to some waiting seats and then he stood up and promptly proceeded to leave the office for the next 20 minutes. When he finally returned, and after we were able to explain why we had come, the man opened his binder and began flipping though pages of applications for resident permits, trying to locate and tag each of our group’s applications by tearing a sheet of paper and stapling it to the coversheet of the application in question. This was a laborious process, during which he flipped though his entire book a number of times without finding all of the ACM students he was looking for, even though I could clearly see that they were all clustered in the same region of his book. Since I was seated the furthest from him, I was at a loss to help find the students in his book- plus he did not ask for my help and I felt kind of funny offering it. He finally asked for Mama Kaaya’s help, but she couldn’t identify any of our students by sight and did not end up contributing much to the exercise. After they decided that they were missing a handful of applications, I finally stepped in and assured them that I had indeed remembered seeing the students’ applications flipping by in his book and suggested that they should try finding them one more time. As he went to leave the room yet again, I strained in my seat to get a look at his binder to no avail. When he returned, I reserved myself to watching him flip through his book again and again until he finally found all 16 of our students. The whole process, including a short respite in page flipping to argue over the price of this year’s permits, took 90 minutes.

Around 1 we were finally ready to wait at a window downstairs while they wrote up a bill for us. Unfortunately, the person behind the counter informed us that they could only include three names on each billing slip, so they would have to write up six different ones. 45 minutes later they had finally filled out all the billing slips and we were able to move on to the cashier’s window to pay. After I paid for the permits, I was given a receipt that I needed to deliver back to the first window. There I was informed that the permits would be ready to pick up in one week. We had spent four hours at the office so far.

I actually waited for eight days before returning to immigration since we had already planned a trip to the National Museum on the 19th. The extra day that we gave them did not help matters, however. Tuesday the 20th seemed to be going unusually well- I met the staff at the LINKS office at 9 am and they were ready to leave within a half hour (Mamma Kaaya excused herself from the trip saying that she had to attend a meeting), for some reason traffic was unusually light that day so the drive only took about half an hour as well. We started back at the official’s office where he assured us that everything was in order. I soon presented my receipt at the requisite window and sat in the lobby to wait. After an hour or so, the clerk started to slowly produce resident permits which I would then match with the student’s passport and turn them back in for the official stamp. This went on for a while but not for nearly enough time. After producing 11 permits, the clerk informed us that the rest of the permits were not ready yet and had to be picked up the following day. Total time at the immigration office- six hours.

Immigration suggested that we call first thing in the morning to make sure the five missing permits were ready. I waited around the house all morning expecting to get a call from Josephine, the secretary in the LINKS office and when I finally did it was with the news that the permits would not be ready until Friday. I told her that we needed them before Friday since we had planned to take the 7 am ferry to Zanzibar that day and we needed to buy the tickets at least one day in advance. She said she would call me back. When she did it was to ask me to text her the names of the students whose permits were still missing, apparently immigration wasn’t even sure of which permits they were working on. As I started to type students’ names into my phone, I was finally beginning to become impatient with the whole process and complained to Paulina, who had come by the house to deal with some other program matters. She insisted that I forgo sending in the names and that I leave immediately for the immigration office once again, saying that dealing with the officials over the phone would get me nowhere. It was 11 o’clock.

By noon, we were back in the same official’s office and I presented him with my receipt and asked that he help locate the missing permits. He instructed us to wait in the lobby until they could be prepared. At 2 pm every day the immigration office closes its doors to new visitors but allows the people who are already there to complete their business until the workers leave around 4. By 3:30, the missing permits began to slowly appear at the “Class C” window: one, two, three, four… There was no five. They hadn’t prepared one for Chelsea, or they did and then immediately misplaced it, that was not completely clear to me. In addition, the clerk told us that it was too late to have the four passports stamped- that we would need to come back the next day. A quick call to Mamma Kaaya (who had once again been unable to come with us) followed by handing the phone to the man behind the window finally convinced him to usher us into the bowels of the immigration office to the lady who was responsible for stamping passports. By 4, we had received stamps on all five of the remaining passports, although Chelsea’s didn’t have a resident permit number written on it and was lacking an official’s signature. We insisted that the office provide us with proof that Chelsea’s permit was indeed in process but were soon informed that the official who could do this had already left for the day.

Upon completing our tenth hour at immigration together, I could tell that the LINKS staff were not very interested in heading to the ferry ticket offices with me, even though Mamma Kaaya had assured me that this would be a part of my trip that day. Josephine suggested that I go with Paulina the following day since she was “more familiar” with the process of buying ferry tickets. Since we had a majority of the stamps that we needed, I insisted that we get the tickets that evening- figuring that it would remain open for at least another hour and not wanting to risk the tickets being sold out. When we arrived, the salesman of course wanted to see proof of our residency status before he provided the cheaper tickets for us. I handed him the mass of passports, hoping that he simply wouldn’t notice the missing information on Chelsea’s. As luck had it he didn’t, but he did point out that I didn’t actually have a stamp. I had run out of pages in my passport that read “visas” and immigration had refused to stamp the remaining two pages with my permit, since these pages read “endorsements” instead. The good news- I managed to get my ferry ticket by showing the man my official work permit. The bad news- at least two more trips to immigration loomed- one for Chelsea the following day and one for myself, but not until I get more pages added to my passport.

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One Response to Immigration Daze

  1. Kathy Mainz says:

    I know that this way a trying experience for you. I know how you “love” paperwork.

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