Immigration Dept. Blues

Before we arrived back in January, we had the paperwork submitted into the Immigration office here to get my work permit approved. However, eMi’s registration here in Uganda was set to expire in July, so the office had to prepare a pretty extensive application to reapply for NGO status (non-governmental organization) – includes a financial impact study, a report of what we’re doing and the local staff we employ, amongst other things. This NGO renewal was submitted in May. Consequently, when I applied for a 2-year work permit in February, I was told that I could not receive a work permit that outlasted the NGO permit so after months of delay, I was granted a 6 month work permit that actually did extend beyond the NGO deadline into October).

Graysen has turned into Mr. Make-Believe. He loves to dress up like he's Peter Pan, or Cap'n Hook, or Santa Claus. The funny thing is, the difference between any of the custumes he chooses are virtually indistinguishable from each other! He uses the triangle draped over his arm as a pretend shield, and the metal stick for the triangle as his pretend sword!

Once I received the work permit, we then were able to apply for Alisha’s dependant’s pass. (The boys submitted for a student visa and received that fairly quickly – those are valid until the middle of April, so they’re set for our trip home.) However, we were told that since my work permit was for so short, that she would just have to get a special pass (standard 3 month visa with optional 2 additional months) – so that’s what we did. However, after 2 months of waiting, they finally gave it to her but instead of tacking it on at the end of when her original entry visa expired, they gave her 5 months from when we submitted it, so she was shorted out a month. Irritating, but not the end of the world, right? Well…
So when my work visa expired in early October, I applied for a renewal. Unfortunately, our NGO renewal was still not approved so my work permit application sat waiting for that. Fortunately, I left the country a few weeks later for my Rwanda trip so I was able to get a 3 month entry visa upon returning to the country – so I am set for the trip home as well (a little background – it’s no big deal if you have an expired visa and are in the country. It only becomes a problem when you try to leave the country –they can fine you, try to get you to pay a bribe, or who knows what else. Usually, if you leave close to when your visa expires (say less than a month), they won’t give you troubles. So when I left in October, my 3 weeks expired visa was not a problem for me).

Graysen's class on the last day before Christmas break

Jonah's class enjoying their Christmas party snack

Because my work visa was waiting, we also had to wait on Alisha’s dependant’s pass since it has to be submitted along with a valid work visa. Finally, at the end of November, our NGO status was approved – 6 months after it was submitted. So we assumed my work permit would be soon to follow…but as I write this it still has not been approved!
Graysen and Jonah singing in the final Chapel of the year at school

So I realized shortly around that time that time was running out to submit for Alisha’s dependant’s pass, and since her visa expired in September, we could potentially run into some problems at immigration when we try to leave Uganda in January. Also, Danielle, who had submitted for a 1 year work visa the same time I did, was stuck in the same limbo situation I was, and her visa had expired in September as well. So I quickly put together another special pass application for each of them (Alisha and Dani) and submitted it – asking for 5 months so they would be covered from September past our January 21st departure date. Here is where the fun begins.
Last Wednesday, we checked and Alisha’s special pass had been approved! We paid the fee and gave them the slip and they said we could pick it up this coming Tuesday December 23rd! I was so excited that I didn’t bother to realize that they only approved it for 3 months – meaning her new visa will expire 3 months from the previous expiration date, which was Sept. 23rd…that’s right, it will expire the day we pick it up! ARRRGGGG!!!!
Brodie got to play and sing 'Angels We Have Heard on High' in front of the school at the final Chapel. Mr. Francis, his piano teacher, is seen adjusting his paper to prepare for the performance.

No stage fright whatsoever - even with a few little mistakes, he was unfazed! I wish I were that cool under pressure in front of a couple hundred people!

Basking in the glow of a rounding applause or his performance!

So, the next day, we checked and Dani’s special pass had been approved, but hers was approved for the 5 months that I had requested! ARRRGGGG!!! Why was Dani given 5 months and Alisha only 3 months makes no sense! So, after all our efforts and expense and probably 25 trips to immigration by Semei (the eMi office manager), we’re still not totally in the clear to leave the country! Oh, remember when I said Alisha was shorted out of 1 month of her visa earlier in the year?! ARRRGGGG!! It offers us a little consolation that virtually everyone else here has similar problems dealing with the Immigration Department.
Graysen in his guards costume for the Chapel show a couple weeks ago (every Friday morning one class from the school leads the Chapel and puts on a play of some kind)

So what will we do? At this point, I’m leaning towards just heading to the airport on Jan. 21st and letting the chips fall where they may. I’ve heard from others (and this was the case for me in October) that if you’re within a month of your expiration date that they don’t give you too much grief. I know several others who have been threatened with a larger fine but ended up paying just 100,000 ugx (about $50). I have never heard of anyone being refused exit.

Alisha & the boys watching the show at the school chapel
I also think that the fact that 5 out of 6 of us will be legitimate will help. I’ll hand them our 5 ‘good’ ones first so hopefully he won’t be into checking details by the time he gets to Alisha’s. If he makes a fuss about it, we’ll have $50 on hand and hope that he goes for that. I do plan on trying to resolve it this Tuesday when I go to pick up their special passes, but I have little hope of being able to make headway since nothing short of a mistake on their part would really be possible for them at that point (the person you pick them up from is different from where you submit it, which is different from where it is approved, which is different from where you pay! So, please pray for this all to work out somehow. We’ve tried to do it ‘by the book’, but apparently that isn’t going to work.

We had a Christmas party to honor our local staff. We hired a matatu to pick up all of the local staff and their families to bring them to the office for the party. All of us international staff cooked our best rendition of Ugandan food for lunch. In all close to 60 people were there!

I think what is going on with the Immigration Department has a lot to do with the fact that they have no computers. The amount of paperwork floating around that place is staggering, and it’s no wonder why the process is bogged down. Actually, I think it’s amazing that anything is able to be accomplished at all given the amount of paperwork. Room after room is filled with files that are labeled alphabetically by hand, crammed together so that 10 files come out when 1 is pulled.

The eMi guards - (L ot R) Head of Security Stephen, Richard, Gideon, Yokannah, Patrick, Emma, Joseph, and in front is Wilson. These guys play a huge part in our ministry - at any time of day or night 24/7, one of them is at the office and another at our house.
Obviously, there is no money for the Dept. to be overhauled with a new computer system – this is afterall a developing country! But I now have new found patience and tolerance for the DMV back in the states – there, at worst you experience a ‘bad day’. With a computer system, I think the Immigration Dept. here would probably improve to a similar level…so if anyone knows anyone at HP or Dell and wants to donate a few million dollars worth of equipment to the Ugandan Immigration Dept., please leave a comment on this post and I’ll put you in contact with the right people. If you do it quickly, it might just win me favor in getting Alisha that extra month back on her visa!

Not your typical Christmas season picture, but it's how we're spending this Christmas season! ...Hey, does this mean we can be members of the 'Polar Bear' club back in the states for swimming on Christmas and New Years Day?! I do feel bad for Santa having to wear that thick, cuddly suit in this suffocating heat and humidity!
If there were snow, Jonah would be making a snow angel. But as it is, he's warming up in the sun on the warm pool deck. (Doesn't it feel like we're a world away?!)

All of this visa stuff notwithstanding, one month from tomorrow we depart!!!…

Comments

Anonymous said…
Please take enough money to the airport to buy the whole airport if necessary. Mom and I will reimburse you. Love, Dad B

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