Category Archives: Bureaucracy

28 Days

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The flight from Hong Kong landed a little past midnight. Gone were the neon lights and vertical scenery of that enchanting city. My feet were once again on Indian soil.

Or, almost. I still had to go through immigrations and – since my employment visa had now expired – apply for an on-arrival tourist visa. There wasn’t supposed to be any snags, but considering my dealings with the FRO and the general bureaucracy involved I didn’t take anything for granted.

The area was virtually empty at this late hour: behind rows of empty chairs stood several deserted booths. In front of one of them sat a suit clad man, waiting. I sat down in the vicinity and waited for someone to turn up. Asked the man how long he had been there. About one hour, he said with a slight nod. We both knew that was close to the standard minimum you could expect. His application was filled in and he was just waiting for the final documents. At the same time an official turned up. Nice fellow, asked me if I was there for a visa-on-arrival and handed me the form, with a smile.

Again I had the pleasure to assure the state of India that my grandparents had nothing to do with Pakistanis; a standard question on immigration-related matters in India, but still something that might surprise a first-time visitor. We went through the form and I told the official my story: I’ve been working in India for six months, and now I’m looking forward to a one month vacation with my friends in Pune. Even though I was going to work to Finland during my stay I wasn’t going to risk complicating things at this point.

I handed over some supporting documents and a passport photo, and was a while later escorted to a dusty office in the back. There, among cardboard boxes and old computer equipment, sat a man on a squeaky chair. This is where I was supposed to make the 60 USD payment, for which I got a receipt printed out on a nostalgic dot matrix printer – the color of which, as with all other equipment in that office, had long ago turned from eggshell white to café latte beige.

Everything went surprisingly smooth. I was expecting some interrogation, additional clarifications and three hours of waiting, but was after one hour handed back my passport, along with a fresh visa stamp. Expiry April 18th. The official wished me a good stay and we shook hands before I left to see if my backpack was still somewhere to be found.

Twenty-eight days left.

The End of the Employment Visa

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You’ve been.. working in India?

Yes. For five and a half months now.

Hm.

The immigration official behind the counter continued to scrutinize my visa. I was wondering if I should mention that I have the FRO certificate with me. He didn’t seem very interested in the fact that my visa was about to expire during my imminent stay in Hong Kong, and that I had a return ticket to India a few days after that. On the other hand, neglecting to hand over documents when you’re supposed to has a tendency to come back and bite you in the ass, regardless of if the mistake was by me or an official.

So I pointed it out to him. Zero response. He just pointed to the camera, indicating that I should face it while he takes a snapshot for their archives. With a familiar sounding thump he gave the page in the passport the coup de grâce – the last stamp to go on that visa; no more entires into the country with that one.

So, wait, what did I need to do that foreigners registration for again?

Return Plan

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Originally, and according to my contract, I was supposed to return to Finland at the end of March. However, due to some bureaucratic details my employment visa was handed to me with an expiry date of March 17th – half a month earlier than planned.

This poses the question: do I leave on the 17th, or do I attempt to extend my stay? Both Sidd and me felt that March could be a tad too early, so we went through some options. The most obvious one is to apply for a visa extension, but considering my recent troubles with the FRO and yet again the amount of red tape involved, we came to the conclusion that that wouldn’t work.

So, what I’m going to do, is I’m going to do a visa run: I’m going to leave the country, let the visa expire during my absence, return a few days later and apply for an on-arrival tourist visa. This should give me an additional 30 days, which sets my final return date to April 17th.

I’m thinking Hong Kong sounds like a good destination.

FRO – Part 5: Boss Level

Now that we had reinforcements helping in out struggle against the bureaucrats it looked like the tide was turning and we were on the road to victory. Only a few minor details to take care of and the papers would be signed.

One of these details was to prove my residency at Vasant Vihar Towers, apartment J1103. In order to confirm that, an FRO employee would need to visit and see me open the door. So yesterday morning I got a call from Sid and was effectively put on house arrest, since they might turn up during that day. No problem, I could sit and wait in the apartment for the guys, and work while I do so. Several hours go by and nothing happens, but finally at five in the afternoon they show up, for a three minute visit, just to see the bunker in all it’s frugal glory.

With that out of the way, we just needed to go to the FRO and finalize everything. Today was the big day, the coup de grâce to the stamp wielding monster. Just a matter of showing up and getting the paper, right?

Wrong.

We show up at 10:30 and I’m to meet with a police inspector at the Prosecution and Vigilance Cell. It’s unclear to me what the purpose of the interview was, but before being sent in Sid told me to keep my tongue in check and not be too clever. No worries, the inspector had only a few questions about my occupation and Sid’s role in the company – nothing I can put my foot in my mouth with. Everything seemed ok.

Then my file was handed over to the senior police inspector, who promptly proceeded to blow a gasket.

You see, foreigners have for some strange reason the tendency to not register at the FRO at all. I have no clue why that is; it’s such a smooth, effortless process – why in the world would anyone choose not to? And it bugs the inspectors that they never get to prosecute those culprits. So now that they have a guy who’s been trying to register for the last four months, and is almost in the clear, what’s the most logical thing to do? Take him to court for being late!

So next thing I know they’re saying I might be prosecuted for visa violation. That means a court date, possible fines and even jail time. One can question how serious they were, but still it was beginning to form into a sticky situation. Also, Sid pointed out that if I get called to another interview in the coming week or two I should be available for that. This would put the East India Express trip at risk. That’s where I drew the line: I told Sid that regardless of what they’re going to throw at me, I’m not going to cancel that trip. I had a friend coming over from Finland, and no way in hell was I going to call it off for this red tape circus of powertripping, bribe-hungry clowns.

What followed was a few hours of waiting. I don’t know if the senior inspector was actively pondering on the case or doing something else. At some point he left for lunch.

Some time later Alok pulls through and says we might be able to skip this guy and go above him – directly to the top. That’s right, we were aiming to meet the kingpin himself: the FRO manager. Some smooth talking with one of the clerks and next thing we know we’re standing outside his office, waiting for an audience. We get to go in. Time to look sharp.

He had a nice looking office, spacious. Dark wood. Polished, clean surfaces. Lots of paperwork on this desk. Notes laid up in an organized fashion. He was in his 50’s, slightly grey hair on the sides. Sharp features. He didn’t look particularly intimidating, but he had an aura of a different type of bureaucrat than any of the other ones: he was serious about his work and didn’t have time to mess around.

He glanced through my file and addressed Sid directly, speaking in hindi. From what little I could understand of the conversation, he questioned how it was possible that it had taken four months to get the full application submitted. He also pointed out that I was not the only one who could be prosecuted – Sid could as well. A lengthy monologue later, it seems we were done and should exit. He looked squarely at me, and I thanked him for his time.

Turns out he agreed to sign the papers, making my registration official and therefore eliminating the risk of prosecution. It would take a few more hours, but that was it. We had to leave since we had other business to attend to, but Alok would remain and keep us posted.

Triumphantly we exited the FRO, hopeful over that it is for the last time.

Later today, we got a call from Alok. He had received the signed registration. It was now official; 133 days after arriving, I was now a registered resident in India – 119 days overdue.

Oh, and that final signature cost us 5000 rupees. Some expensive ink in the manager’s pen, it seems. Funny.

FRO – Part 4: Return Of The Foreigner

Not too long ago I vented my frustration over the absurd amount of paperwork and back-and-forth involved with registering oneself as a foreigner in this country.

Well, we decided to drop the gloves and escalate this by hiring ourselves an agent. Enter Alok Mane; bureaucratic fighter and stamp assassin. We met him and went through our predicament, handed over all the paperwork we’d gathered and let him at it. A few days later he had the whole C-form business sorted out. Yes, just like that.

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Turns out the bozos at the FRO booth – the ones who, as documented below, had more pressing matters to tend to than customers – never even needed to meet our landlord, like they claimed. As a matter of fact, mine nor Sidd’s presence wasn’t needed either. And to top it off our paperwork had been fine on that matter for weeks. Funny thing. They just wanted bribes. But the uncompromisable integrity these noble men possessed wouldn’t allow them to express their desire for monetary bonuses. At no point did they even hint that our problems could be solved instantly with some additional paperwork – you know, the kind of paper with pictures of Gandhi and some numbers.

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Now, mind you, this might also be a smooth co-operation between the two parties; a scheme which creates a need for agents and easy bonuses for clerks. The clerks won’t offer the possibility to accept bribe from anyone they don’t trust – it’s much easier to push people to hire an agent. That way the clerks receive the bribes from a source they’re used to working with.

Be that as it may, our hitman was on a roll and shortly after getting the Certificate of Residence he had a meeting set up for us at the FRO. So today we went there, all three, into the lion’s den. This guy Alok, he’s a real smooth operator: he knows the people at the FRO and can navigate the murky waters like a trained shark with a taste for ink. He gets stuff done. All the clerks we presented our paperwork to were counting the months I have been here, unregistered, and by the time they had four fingers up they all had this “Four months late!? Are you kidding me?”-look. How did we even have the nerve to show up there anymore? But he handled it like a pro and talked them over.

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Although, Sidd did have to write a handwritten apology letter to the commissioner, for us being so tardy. You know, because it’s our fault. I signed it and, after handing everything in, we were informed we would still have to come in twice before I get the final papers. Oh, and someday a FRO employer might ring our doorbell and expect to see me, just to make sure we’re not pulling anyone’s leg. Yes, that is someone’s job description.

There is light at the end of the red tape tunnel, and next week this will finally be over – one way or the other.