Living as a foreigner in a foreign country has certain pluses and minuses and these are going to be different for everyone involved, but one thing remains the same for everyone – dealing with immigration to ensure your resident status.
In the seven years I’ve lived in Lithuania, I’ve had to deal with it every year and every year, it’s been a different experience. This year was the most harrowing of all, though.
It was a perfect storm of anxiety and waiting, starting back in November. My resident card was about to expire so I needed to get it renewed, not a big deal in itself. Except here, you need to register your living place and all three of us (Rasa and Monki and me) needed to be living in the same place – which was different from last year. And since it’s a pain in the ass to get our landlord to sign off on our living situation, I tried to bypass it by stating my living place as a dorm with the university. When I went to immigration, they looked at that and noticed that my wife and child didn’t live there so they asked:
“Did you get divorced?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then why aren’t you living in the same place as them?”
So back to our original plan and arranging to have us all registered at the same place.
Then, because I was now applying as a married person, my resident visa should be good for two years – but in order for that happen, I needed to show two years worth of income. Again, not really a problem in years past, since it was only one year, and I had a year long contract from the school (renewed annually). For a two year visa, I needed a two year contract, or I needed to show enough money in the bank to cover those two years of expenses. And since I was doing this in November, my school contract was only good until the following August.
Once again, friends to the rescue and I was able to show enough savings for the two years and finally, on the day before my resident card expired, I filed all the paperwork, paid for expedited service, and felt okay about things.
Then time passed. I had three months as a tourist while I could still be here legally. But as more time passed and I had fewer than 30 days I contacted the university liaison who handles these things (and who had advised me about doing the dorm thing) to ask about the process. Now, to be completely honest, I haven’t had the best luck with the people assigned this task. My very first dealing with immigration, I was informed I needed a black and white photo but no, it was a color photo. And there were several other mishaps, but now that there was someone whose specific job it was, I felt a little better. So I called and asked and was told that as long as the application was “in process” I was okay.
What this meant for me was that I breathed a little easier and didn’t worry so much when my 90 days as a tourist came and went. Sure, I was a little annoyed that I had paid for the expedited service, but the immigration department is having a hard time right now, so I figured it was an internal matter.
Then I got a gig going to China and needed a visa. In order to get the Chinese visa, I needed the documents that said I was legally a resident of the country from which I was applying. So I tried to find out what was up with my application. No word. Rasa was sending daily emails and I was going down to the office to ask until finally, I got notice that everything had been processed. I went down to get the picture taken for my resident card.
When I got there, I got some…interesting news. Seems I should have clarified what “in process” meant. According to immigration, it meant that as soon as you came in for your picture, after the decision about your application was made, that you were “in process.” Those three months of waiting? Not so much. And of course, I was now past my tourist deadline. I was here illegally.
I could have bypassed this by leaving the country and coming back, getting a stamp from somewhere, but I didn’t. So for a brief moment, I was told I might have to, at the very least, start the whole process over. The worst would have been deportation and document seizure.
Thankfully, having a wife and child, and a job, helped and after much wrangling, I was given an official warning and was finally “in process” for my resident card – only one year, mind you, because I had been so close to the deadline. Here’s where I learned something else — it seems that if you renew sometime between three and four months before the deadline, it gets handled at the local office. Within two months of the deadline, it’s sent to Vilnius as a problem case and takes more time and leaves things open for complications. No one had ever bothered to tell me that. I mean, it makes sense you come in as close to your deadline as possible, that’s what a deadline is for, but nope. So next year I’ll cut several months off my resident time and do the same every succeeding year until I literally am going back in time.
So here I am, on a Wednesday at the immigration office, terrified I’ll get put on a plane and sent back to my home country but thanks to a couple of nice people having everything turn out okay, and asking for a note to take to the Chinese embassy so I can get my visa the next day, since they’re in Vilnius and only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-11:30. Immigration says to just take the note I received saying I had been approved and that should be enough.
You know what’s going to happen next, right? It’s not enough. Not only that, but there’s also a moment of panic when they woman at the embassy isn’t sure they can issue the kind of visa I need and has to call Beijing to enquire. Turns out they can, but I still need the actual resident card, which I should be able to get the next Monday.
Thankfully, getting the resident card itself goes off with nary a hitch (I thought I was going to need some other papers, but they never asked so I never offered and away I went, legal for another year in the country.
But then it was back to the Chinese embassy with revised paperwork (I’d gotten new information the night before) after an early morning stop at the office to print everything and a too delayed train which necessitated eating the train ticket and taking the less comfortable and more expensive bus to ensure arrival in time, only to discover that the resident card wasn’t what they needed, but instead a copy of the card.
I couldn’t find the copy place the woman working at the embassy directed me towards, but a nearby travel agency was nice enough to make the copy for me which again led me back to the embassy. I felt like a contestant on the Amazing Race. Finally it was my turn again, I handed everything in and it all seemed to pass muster.
“Do you need this expedited?”
“I think so.”
“Great, so you can pick it up on Thursday.”
“I can’t come on Thursday, can I get it next Tuesday?”
“Then you don’t need it expedited.”
“But it will absolutely be ready by Tuesday? Because I fly out on Wednesday.”
“Absolutely. Just make sure you pay for it and bring the receipt with you.”
Now, in a piece of fiction, that above dialogue exchange would be portentous at best and downright blatant foreshadowing at worst. One would read it an just know that come Tuesday, something would go wrong. The visa wouldn’t be ready or the payment receipt would be unacceptable or something else heinous, like a train collision or once in a century blizzard preventing all traffic to or from Vilnius on the day in question.
Fortunately, as Mark Twain has pointed out, the difference between truth and fiction is that fiction must make sense. In this instance, that holds true and now, on Tuesday afternoon, after getting up early, taking the hassle-free (if inordinately busy) train into Vilnius, arriving at the embassy before the assigned 10am pick-up time, waiting until the day’s assignation of completed passports were brought in and receiving mine, with shiny visa affixed inside, and then returning to Kaunas, I am actually legally ready to undertake the coming trip.
That said, not sure how emotionally ready I am to leave Rasa and Monki for 11 days (Obviously, I’ll see them both on the days I leave and return). Last time I did a trip like this was in October and then, Monki wasn’t quite the little person she is now (she turned 20 months yesterday). I’m certainly going to miss our nightly dance sessions and I don’t know how I’m going to get ready without her to make sure I have my shoes. I’m going to miss seeing her learn new things and make all sorts of discoveries. But I will (hopefully) get to Skype with her on a daily basis and bring her back toys and treats.
Ah well…new adventures await. And soon enough, she’ll actually be able to come with me!