Thursday, November 16, 2006

French Bureaucracy

I haven't yet reached Paris but somehow the French bureaucracy has pissed me off a lot already. I wasted a whole day yesterday because of their ineptness.

I have a bit of a problem regarding my residency status - basically, I'm not a resident anywhere (homeless). Being a student in the US meant visas were easy to get. Having an Indian passport, no money, no real job and no base makes getting visas very hard. But I've learnt to deal with lots of different types of visa officers over the last year by being, let's say, creative.

In May, I applied for a UK visa, 2 days after my graduation. I was flying back to Delhi on a oneway ticket (at that time I didn't know about the Germany position I'm on) but had decided to stop in London on the way back. Since my advisor had moved to London and I didn't have much of an idea about where I was moving to after Boston, I thought it would be good to get at least a tourist visa to the UK and hang out there and stay with some friends. This was my third UK visa, so I was hoping the visa officer wouldn't notice anything wrong. I went to the New York consulate (a day after a harrowing experience where I got a parking ticket, had to go to a towing garage and then banged into a car while driving a rented car) for my appointment. Being a bit bold I'd decided to apply for a 5 year multiple entry visa, even though my flight back to Delhi was in about 10 days. My I-20 (the most important document for every foreign student) said clearly I was supposed to graduate by May 31, 2006 (that I did was a minor miracle). Somehow, he didn't notice that. Roughly a year ago, I'd travelled outside the country and had a signature valid till July, 2006. That's what he saw. Then, he asked if I was just going to India for the summer holidays and then coming back, just stopping in London for a few days. I just nodded, and decided not to be too honest. Since it was my third visa, he just stamped it and gave a me 5 year multiple entry visa. I let out a deep sigh of relief. Had he noticed I had graduated, he could have denied me a visa on the grounds that I don't live in the US anymore. Anyway, it worked out.

Once I was back in Delhi, I went and applied for a German visa. After a 5 hour wait in horrible July heat (inspite of an online appointment), I went in with all my documents. Since I hadn't closed my bank account in Boston, the visa officer assumed I still lived in the US and said I couldn't apply for it from Delhi. I had to show her what I didn't show the UK visa officer - my degree and a letter of graduation. Finally, after a bit of a debate she let me apply for it from Delhi though I had to spend a week or two getting some other documents to get the visa.

A few days after that, I applied for a US visa, since I was going back to the US for a workshop and some talks. For occupation, I wrote visiting lecturer at Regensburg. The visa officer first said I should apply for it from Germany but I told him I was moving there after the US trip. He didn't notice that it was just a month long position which I was stretching out for 2 months (and had no clear plans after that). He was more curious about why I left Boston for a place like Regensburg. The next day I had a 10 yr multiple entry visa.

For the French visa, I've been thinking about how to overcome the residency factor. They have a consulate in Munich and on their website it said Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 to 12 were the times to apply. I first called up the consulate but the guy spoke only French or German. Our conversation went like this,

(Me in bad German) "I am from India. I want visa. I go to France for mathematics research. I come next week to Munich."

(Him) "Yes, Yes. Good."

I decided it was best to just show up and see if I could somehow get another visa, without being too honest. Munich is a little less than 2 hours by train from Regensburg. So I woke up early and just managed to jump onto the 7 am train. Reached the consulate around 9 am armed with all kinds of documents and possible scenarios to deal with. The first thing I noticed was that public hours on Wednesday were from 1:30 to 3:30. That's not what the website said (which again was in either French or German). I rang a bell, but the guy said (I think it was the same guy) "No public now. Come 1:30".

I had about 4 hours to kill so I decided to head over to J's flat, which wasn't too far away. He knew I was coming at some point so I had breakfast at his place, pottered around in his neighbourhood, had lunch and then headed back to the consulate. Walked in at 1:35 and said "Visa" to the guy behind the window. He said "No visa". I asked why and he said, recent policy change meant, I have to go all the way to Frankfurt. I felt like punching him.

I said "Internet says yes visa in Munich".

He shouted back "Only in Frankfurt. Go to Frankfurt."

I just turned and left. Missed the 1:44 train back R'burg by 1 minute. I could see the train leaving just as I reached the platform. Not my day.

Got back and checked out the website for the Frankfurt consulate. It said appointments are compulsory so I sent an email. No reply for a whole day. So I asked the guy next to my office to call up the consulate to make sure there's no communication break this time. The phone number from their website didn't work. Did a google search and found a different website with numbers of all kinds of consulates. Called up one of those numbers and the guy said their visa office is closed for the next two days (I couldn't figure out why) and I should call back on Monday.

French bureaucracy will require more creativity and effort than I imagined.


Anonymous said...

Good Luck. Its really surprising that these guys have trouble maintaining a website.

You should know that in 2004 the French banned any conspicuous display of intelligence or efficiency in government offices.


Szerelem said...

Sih....I hate having an Indian passport simply for the running around involved. Sympathies about the French having pains getting my british tourist visa.
Paris is fabulous but =D

bandafbab said...

At least the UK/US consulates don't mind giving long term visit/business visas once you've travelled a reasonable amount. Schengen visas are a big pain always.

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