02.04.2011 Visa Hassles
Well, what did I expect? A smooth ride? An administrative system that WORKED? Less bureaucracy and more efficiency? What nonsense!
The whole visa situation is so dull and tedious I am loathe to write about it but I have to because it puts some of our experiences into context and in any case impacts our lives (and lives of those around us) to such an extent I can’t ignore it.
Basically our initial visa was for 3 months, which would be extended by another 9 months making a year, providing we didn’t do anything silly like insult the government or something. A relatively smooth process was of course spannered by all sorts of silly things like the fact that they didn’t have an official government for a few weeks so the visa committee didn’t bother having any meetings which means the backlog is enormous. At this time they also decided to introduce another level to the whole procedure so your application now has to go via your sponsoring ministry (in our case Health) to the Ministry of Home Affairs, then Foreign Affairs then something called the FACP which is the cabinet-level committee though no-one knows what it stands for. It’s completely bananas and meant that our very much longed for and planned-well-in-advance holiday to Thailand to spend time with my brother and his family, plus my mum and stepdad (Alfie’s beloved Mormor and Tony) was, well, kyboshed.
When it looked like we may not get our extension before our current visas expired (31st March) we took the decision to leave immediately and at least get just over a week of holiday before coming back on our expiry date. This did mean however that we only saw my mum for one afternoon which was lovely and tragic.
Of course it meant that all the work our landlord had planned to do in our absence had to be brought forward at short notice and would not be finished in time, plus poor old Amber had to come in every day to supervise and help out instead of having the time off with her kids we had intended.
Not only that, but we had a whole bunch of forms and paperwork (and fees!) in order to leave the bloody country too. Good job someone at Pete’s work mentioned this, otherwise how would we know? The trouble with secretive governments is that so much of their processes are shrouded in secrecy that it’s impossible, as a foreigner, to know what is the right thing to do. It’s not like there’s a website you can go to that tells you these things. Plus they seem to change at a moment’s notice though again, how anybody gets to know about this is a mystery.
By far my favourite part of the journey was watching the immigration guy struggle with all our passports and forms. He didn’t have a clue bless him. It doesn’t look terribly authoritarian when a middle aged bloke in crisp white and gold uniform dithers over forms. Eventually, his pen having hovered over it all for a good 3 minutes, he started simply writing down all the numbers he could find. Brilliant, great. I’m sure it must be somebody’s job to make sense of that but I can’t believe the bit of paper with all the numbers on gets any further than the bin.
So, off we went and had a lovely time despite rain and floods (see separate post). On the way back Air Asia got a bit antsy in Bangkok airport and for a full hour told us that Pete would not be allowed to travel as his visa had expired (his stamp looked different to mine and Alfie’s). The officious lady told us that she had telephoned Myanmar Immigration and they had informed her that indeed Peter Wilson’s visa had already expired. What?? Are you crazy? Why did you call them and more to the point why did you believe them? They DON’T KNOW ANYTHING you stupid woman. And you were ALL WRONG as we were finally able to establish (we did, handily, among the mountains of paperwork, have a letter to confirm that our visa extensions had been approved and was wending its way along the system. Just not in time to do anything useful).
And finally, in an ironic twist worthy of some ironic twisty person, when our passports were finally stamped again on the way back into Myanmar, Alfie and I got an expiry date of the same day, i.e. 31st March (so that immigration office does a good job eh?) and Pete got a stamp taking him up to 9th June 2011. RANDOM ain’t the word!
The lovely upshot of all this is that we are now without passports on the eve of the country’s annual holidays and can’t even travel within the country if we wanted to. We are not the only ones, our neighbours are similarly affected and also have a long established holiday to take. Not to mention our other neighbour who has waited 5 months to see her husband and father of her little girl (he is now here on a tourist visa and is STILL awaiting his business visa which he is perfectly entitled to as her spouse). In fact visa hassles, though a way of life here, have increased to such an extent recently that even the NGO’s are struggling to get people in. Some key staff in a World Health type organisation are on first name terms with the tourist visa issuing office in Bangkok, they use it so much. And practically everyone you meet has a visa nightmare story to tell.
Myanmar Immigration Office, I salute you.