Friday, 25 April 2008

Bureaucracy and Leg Work.

So yesterday we handed in some more paperwork to the Århus Kommune in reguards to my residency status. It looks like that might be about the last of the forms and stuff we have to get into the immigration service. Having said that though, I'm not going to breathe a sigh of relief untill we get word that it is all actually done and I have the go ahead to get my CPR number and am able to start my courses at the language centre.

I was flaberghasted though by the ordeal we had to go through just to get these papers in.

Our initial letter from the immigration service just instructed us to hand in the paperwork to "Århus Kommune". We rang the Borgerservice (people services - kind of like the help centre for all things related to the people, eg: housing, schooling and what not) a few days before and the person on the phone was adamant that we had to go to Jægergården and talk to a lady by the name of Anna Marie Hensen. After a bus ride into town and arriving at the place the man at the front desk informed us that there was no-one in the building by that name.

We explained what it was that we were trying to hand in and recieved a blank stare in return. He had no idea what we were talking about. To his credit, he did get on the phone and try and track down the name of the person or department that we had to go to and after several calls it was decided that we should talk to "someone" (thats right...no name or office number was given) up on the 3rd floor in the familieservices department.

So off we trotted up to the 3rd floor to try and ask someone what they knew about it. After wandering blindly down some halls we stumbled into a lunchroom where a bunch of people were busy munching away. They all stopped and stared as we walked in and for a moment it was a little awkward until one charming lady with some crumbs around her mouth stood and offered some help. We soon discovered that neither she nor anyone in the familieservices department knew anything about the types of forms we needed to hand in. She suggested we try some computer department further down the hall and pointed us in the vague direction of where that might be.

More hallways lined with closed doors and tiny name plaques and room numbers later, we stumbled upon another bemused man who after hearing our story laughed uncomfortably and shook his head. He too, knew nothing about this type of form or knew where we might go to be able to get some assistance.

We sighed and headed back down the halls and checked a sign of people and their departments. We saw that there was an Anna Marie working in a department downstairs and after checking with the man at the front desk again (who made more calls on our behalf to try and get some more information) we were told that this new department is probably the place we needed to be. That department was now closed and wouldn't reopen for another 3 hours.

WTF! 0_o

We got back on a bus and came home for some lunch and a few hours later suited up again to head back in and try again. The guy at the front desk greeted us with a smile and a "Welcome back again" and pointed to the now unlocked door of the department. In we went and wandered aimlessly down more halls of closed doors, reading name plagues and trying to stumble apon someone who might help us. In the end Peter accosted some woman and asked her what she knew about it and again we were told that this department didn't handle cases like that.

Another lady came out to join in the conversation. Amazingly this lady seemed to know something about the forms we were showing her but said that she thought that we were supposed to hand them in at another building across town.

I started laughing at this point, by now utterly convinced that we would spend the next week simply trying to get information about someone who might know some information. I simply couldn't believe that the local community government could function like this. Why did no-one know about the forms we had or even about the immigration policy that dictated why we needed to hand in these forms to them in the first place? And why was it so hard for the immigration services themselves to just put the name of the person we should contact at the Århus Kommune on the introductory letter?

Peter had convinced the ladies helping us to just double-check their information, politely explaining the run around we seemed to be getting. As one lady was about to go off and make a call, yet another woman called out from an office asking what the fuss was all about. After some quick explainations she said the we were actually in the right building, but definately the wrong department. She ushered us into her office while she called and checked her computer. Finally giving us the name, phone number and office number of a gentleman on the 5th floor who looked after exactly our types of cases.

By this stage it was late in the afternoon, well after normal office hours. The lady told us that officially this new contact should still be in the building and the fact that she kept getting an engaged line to his phone was also a good sign that he was in fact still here, but that didn't mean that he would be here for much longer and could well have left by the time we got there. We thanked her profusely and took off to the 5th floor armed with an actual name and office number. HUZZAH!

As we walled into the open door of the office we were overjoyed to see the man we needed sitting at his desk. Peter started to explain what we were doing there and the man cut him off with a "Ja!" and while telling us we were in the right place opened a folder and pulled out a copy of the forms and letter sent to us by the immigration services. It had our names on it and everything!

I couldn't believe it, after all the running around we had finally not only found the right person, but that person actually knew about us! This very nice and helpful man then went on to explained to us what the process should be from that point on. He was a bit confounded as to why we had been having such trouble finding him and the fact that no-one seemed to know about this type of procedure, explaining that in the last 6 years there had been 500 similar applications. In his mind that should have meant that someone would have at least been familiar with the policy and have been able to give us better directions. I got the feeling that he was actually going to do something about that, to save other couples having to go through the same wild goose chase.

Interestingly (and maddingly), he also told us that he had been there the whole day and that if we had been given the right information from the get go we would have been in and out like a shot during our first visit earlier in the day. But I tried to be cheerful. It was done! It was in and now the worst we had to do was wait. I felt elated at that point.

At the end of the day though I know I shouldn't be put out by the experience. I know that other people both here and abroad, have it worse off when it comes to this kind of thing and that even though people dont want to believe it, there is sometimes an undercurrent of racism involved in these types of policies and procedures. I wonder how much more difficult it would have been for me had I not been from Australia, if I had dark skin or was coming from a country that the media sterotyped as fanatical and terroristic? Would my application have even gotten this far this quickly? In my heart I would hope that it wouldn't matter, but I fear that in this day and age it often does.

As much as I would like to have faith that everyone would be treated as I have been, I know that it is probably not the case and that I have been extrodinarily lucky. I have a new respect for good honest people who go through these procedures with the added burden of also been unfairly viewed as suspicious because of their race or background. People who go through it and who come out the other side with their fealty to the virtuousness inherent in the human race still intact.

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