Obtaining a two year residency visa, in Poland, is supposed to be a 90 day process. Our family first began the application ordeal back in June. I need to help you understand a few things before you can get a clear picture of what we’ve been up against. Poland came out of communism less than twenty years ago and the remnants of communist paperwork and bureaucracy still remain. In the last year Poland has closed many of its immigration branches in smaller towns, forcing foreigners from different parts of Poland to travel into Warsaw. Their system is not computerized, that’s right it’s still a paper/file system. Imagine the insanity of your local DMV in the states, multiply it by five and take away all computers, and that’s what you’ve got. Each of our applications had to be filled out by hand and in triplicate. As a matter of fact, every paper they required of us had to be in triplicate. The line for handing in your visa paperwork begins forming outside the building at 6am which is two hours before the office opens. On any given day, three or four men in the front of the line are standing there hoping to sell their spot to an eager foreigner. This will set you back about $40 but some deem it worth the cost. On our first trip to the immigration office I literally carried 15 lbs. of files in with me. We were pleasantly surprised to have all of our applications accepted on the first try, this doesn’t happen all the time. The next thirty days were quiet, but then we got a call from our case worker saying he needed another document. After hanging up, I remember being frustrated because this new information he was looking for was already in the thirty pages of my application but he either couldn’t find it or refused to look for it. I now was going to make the 120 mile roundtrip into Warsaw to drop off one, single paged, document. Little did I know that I would make this trip another 14 times before they were satisfied. Yeah you read it right, 14 times. Each time he requested one more document, each time I knew that the information he requested was already in our applications, but what can you do. Just before Christmas we were told that our visas were finished, we made the trip in only to find out that they changed their minds, but because of the lag time in a paper system they never notified us. I’m really not whining right now---I’m venting, no just kidding, I’m trying to set the stage for you.
Two weeks ago we called into immigration to check on the progress of our visas only to find out that our caseworker, the guy who’d worked with us from day one, had quit. Yeah he quit. I crossed him off our Christmas card list too. Now the new caseworker, rather than looking through our files began to request the same information again. Finally, after our co-workers advocated vehemently on our behalf, we were told that we could pick up our visas on Tuesday of this past week. Ginger and I left early Tuesday morning so we could get there right at opening. Upon our arrival I pulled ticket number 141. ARE YOU SERIOUS???? THIS HAS GOT TO BE A JOKE!!!!! The office closes at 3 pm; there was a good chance that we wouldn’t get in at all that day. You have never seen lines like this. One time I was waiting to turn in a document and it was about 30 minutes until the office closed. Probably 50 people were waiting in the hallway and an employee came out and said. “For the next 30 minutes its first come, first serve.” The rush to the office door was pretty intense, fortunately I had spent years building my body mass (at places like Old Country Buffet) for a moment just like this. It’s the kind of insanity that you can only laugh at. Anyways, back to the present, Ginger and I finally got into the office around 2pm. Thirty minutes later they had finished with four of us and Caleb’s visa was the last one to hand out. The office clerk told us there was a problem, they had no proof that we had paid for his processing fees. Let me say, that I clearly remember the day when I paid the processing fees for my entire family because it was nearly $1000. But somewhere in the process our old case worker had apparently lost the receipt and rather than admit his mistake he decided to blame us for the oversight. I asked the clerk what we could do, because we certainly didn’t want to make another trip into town. She told me that if I could make the payment down in the Cashier’s office in the next ten minutes then I could have Caleb’s visa. Well, I ran downstairs to the cashier’s office and filled out some more paperwork and when they begin processing my debit card the computer completely froze. My options are to give up or run two blocks to the nearest ATM. There’s about 8 minutes until close but I decide to go for it. Well I was able to get the cash out and when I was running back to the immigration office I noticed that the traffic police were going down the street and issuing tickets for cars whose parking had expired. It’s at that point that I realize that our ticket expired at 2:45 and its now 2:56. The traffic cops are about 100 yards from our car. I can go and put more money in but the office will be closed for sure by the time I return. On the flip side we were already spending an extra $120 on a second processing fee for Caleb; I certainly didn’t feel like shelling out another $100 for a fine. I decided to put the fine out of my mind and I ran back to the office to get the visa just before closing. We now have visas that are valid for two years, thank you for your prayers. While Ginger and I were trekking back to our car we saw a beautiful thing. The police never made it to our car because they came across a couple of hooligans and were now questioning them about 20 feet from our car. What a day but it’s finally done, I almost lost my testimony seven times, but it’s done.