Monday, June 02, 2008

Immigration rant

My visa expired last April. Yes, nearly two months ago. But more than two weeks before, I’d gone to the immigration office in Yokohama to renew my visa. I took the same information that my co-worker, Tracey, took when she went to do hers, a tax receipt for the past year and proof of current employment.

So I get there early, because if you don’t, you’re waiting in line for hours (my roommate waited an hour and a half when he went in the afternoon), and take my number, then go fill out my application, making sure to request the 3-year visa. I’m number 18, twelve people behind who’s being served now. I get up there, hand over all my documents, and the lady asks me for information on my previous job. Previous job? That was more than a year ago. But she still wants the info, and asks for two specific things, proof of employment at the previous job, and info that I’d paid taxes. Why they didn’t ask Tracey, you got me. But anyway, I said ok, they gave me an envelope to put the stuff in, and I head off. I email my old company a few days later, and get all the stuff mailed off around the 1st of April.

And then I wait. Tracey gets her notice to pick up her visa around the time our visas expire (by an odd coincidence, we have almost exactly the same expiry date), but I don’t get anything. I wait more, and by the end of April I’m wondering if my roommate hadn’t thrown it out with the daily mound of junk mail. At the beginning of May, I call the info line and ask what’s up. They say it’s probably just been held up, April’s their busy month, and to just sit tight.

Fast forward to May 23rd or so. I’m tearing my hair out, paranoid that I’ll get pulled over by the cops on my bicycle and arrested for having an expired visa (we get a stamp in our passports that allows us to remain legal while the visa’s being processed, but our foreigner registration card shows the original date) by an overzealous cop who won’t care if I claim I’ve got a legit stamp at home. And they can keep you locked up for a few weeks without having to file charges. And I check the mail and I find that glorious little postcard telling me to pick up my visa before May 30th.

Fortunately, I’m off the Monday before then due to the sports day held over the weekend, so I can go in. I get up early, about the same time as usual since it’s a longer haul to Yokohama than to work, and set off. I’m still groggy and the morning caffeine hasn’t kicked in, so I miss the station I was supposed to get off at. I switch trains, go back one stop, get off, and promptly go out of the wrong exit. And there’s no way back to the correct exit through the station, gotta cross the river over the little bridge with the ramp in the middle for bikes. As I’m walking down the stairs on the far side, I somehow miss and step half on the step, half on the air above the ramp and do a superman down the stairs. The slope was shallow, so there was no tumbling, but I managed to sprain my right ankle, one that has been weak for a while. And it hurt. Bad. I’ve never sprained it this badly before. It hurts like hell, but the only thing going through my mind is, I don’t wanna get deported, gotta get to immigration now. So I limp the 15 minutes (20 with a bad leg), go into the convenience store to buy the stamps. It’s $40 for the visa renewal, plus another $60 for the multiple re-entry permit (if you leave without one, your visa is automatically cancelled and you can only re-enter on a 90-day tourist visa – goodbye job). I limp my way up to the 5th floor and get in line. This line typically goes faster than the initial application line, so even though I’m twelfth, I get up to the front pretty quickly. The kind lady takes my stuff, puts it in a folder and gives me a waiting number. About 20 people ahead of me, but that’s not so bad. I sit down and crack open my book, trying to ignore bawling kid next to me and the pain and swelling going on in my foot, and try to tough it out. Eventually, my number gets called and I limp up to the counter. The guy shows me my passport, checks ID, then shows me my visa stamp. “Here’s your one-year visa,” he says. Wait – what? One year? I ask him, and he says something to the effect of, “Yeah, that’s what you had last time.” I try to explain that I had a 3-year visa, why didn’t I get another one, and you can see the wall go up. Either he doesn’t understand or he understands and could care less about explaining to me. I wonder how many foreigners he gets trying to argue their visa status each day. My throbbing ankle makes me completely unable to deal with any conflict, the soullessness of the atmosphere has sucked any combativeness out of me. I limp out of there, my reward for $100, a sprained ankle, and train fare to Yokohama? A one-year visa that I’ll have to do all over again next year.

This is the kicker. A three-year visa? Forty bucks. A one-year visa? Forty bucks. That multiple re-entry stamp? Good for as long as your visa. So Tracey, who’s in the same position as me, gets a three-year visa with a smile from Immigration. I get grilled on past employment and a dinky one-year visa, despite having lived here for 4 years, 3 of those on one visa stamp. I suppose I would understand and accept it if there were rhyme or reason to it, but there’s not. It’s completely arbitrary. I checked the little box that asks if you want a 1-year or 3-year visa, so why didn’t I get it? I’m not the only one, either. This has happened so many times. People who arrive around the same time will go in together to renew their visa, and one will walk out with a three-year, one gets a one-year, but both apply for a 3-year, and have the exact same work conditions.

It sounds like whining, and it is, but part of it is the fact that I will have to go spend another $100, plus 2 days taking the train to Yokohama, possibly missing work, just to do this all over again. Theoretically, if I do this again next year, and they give me the same damn one-year visa, I’ll spend $300 whereas someone else who gets the lucky strike only shells out $100. Like I said, if there were a method to this madness, I could accept it, even if I didn’t like it. But there’s nothing. No explanations, nothing. This sucks. And my ankle hurts.

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