Immigration

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that anything that has to do with immigration gets my gag reflex going. For those of you who want to know if we got married in the U.S. or Costa Rica first (because yes, it matters in the process), we married in the U.S. first and then got it certified in CR. We turned in our paperwork almost right after getting back from our wedding, but there were some complications and one of our papers expired before we could get scheduled for a meeting with immigration. Side note: we were paying a lawyer (who was a family friend) good money to take care of these things for us, but we found out too late that she was not doing her job very well.

While reading over our documents one night, it hit me that my tourist visa would be expiring in one week and that due to the meeting complications, I was going to be illegal here. Not to mention that I already had a job … which if you don’t have the correct papers, can lead to a swift deportation. Don’t take this lightly, I’ve seen normal people deported from CR before. I started sweating immediately and we called our lawyer. She casually confirmed my suspicions and said I need to leave the country immediately (this was the moment that the family friendship started to deteriorate).

After a minor breakdown and hours of ranting, we bought bus tickets for several days later and hightailed it out of there. We went to Bocas del Toro, a small chain of Panamanian islands near the southern coast of Costa Rica. Minus the panicking and the exhaustion of several buses and water taxis, the trip turned out to be a blessing. It almost made up for the fact that we didn’t get to go on a honeymoon and it was honestly one of the first times since we had gotten married that we felt relatively normal.

While the trip was a blessing, the residency process was not. We finally were given appointments with immigration and did what we had to do, but no matter how organized I was, something always went wrong. Like “they lost our original marriage certificate” kind of wrong. I mean, I should have never given them the original document, but I was naïve to the ways of the Costa Rican filing system (i.e. possibly nonexistent).

I was also unaware of how difficult it was to get fingerprinted here. At the time, there was only one place in the capital to get fingerprinted for the residency process. The first time I showed up, I was oblivious to the line stretching out the gate and around the block. After waiting far too long, I overheard one of the guards saying something about running out of numbers. Only the first 50 people in line were allowed to be fingerprinted that day and I was not one of those first 50 people. The next time around, I decided I would be there when the doors opened at 7:30 a.m. Unfortunately, I was not the only person to have that thought. In fact, I wasn’t among the first 50 people to have that thought. Fail. I approached the guard and asked what time she thought I should arrive in order to be among the first 50. She thought getting there between 1-2 hours before opening time would suffice. Sooo, basically camp out at the crack of dawn. I’ll admit it; I had to have a crying/cursing Costa Rica session in my car to pull it together. After my pity party, I went back to the guard and asked her if there was any other way. She told me that sometimes they would give out more numbers in the afternoon if there was space. The next week, I rolled up in the afternoon hoping for the best. There were huned’s of people there. I went up to my guard (we were becoming fast friends) and she had sympathy on me. She took me to another line and told me to wait there. Besides getting the stink eye from all those people I had apparently just cut in front of, I was feeling pretty confident.

As I came to the front of the (shorter) line, another guard asked me if I had brought the correct seals. What seals? No one had mentioned seals, the instructions I had been given didn’t say anything about seals, and can I bribe someone to ignore the fact that I didn’t have seals? No. Go look around the block and ask at the banks and law offices, they probably have them. I literally ran around the block looking for the seals and of course, no one had them. Finally, desperate and furious, I stopped at a little soda (which is like a little hole in the wall restaurant), and the cook sold me some seals for 20 cents as she served up some rice and beans to another customer. What the…?

By now, I’m panting and sweating and all my guard friends are cracking up at the poor gringa’s plight. I must have done something right though, because as they laughed, they let me pass everyone in line. Success. Not only did I get fingerprinted that day, but I made friends with some guards who clearly needed some comic relief and found an unlikely love for a greasy cook selling 20 cent stamps and Diet Coke.

And then we waited … a long time. About two years in, we finally called the immigration office regarding my visa and I remember overhearing Albin talking to the lady and getting increasingly frustrated with her (which is unusual because Albin is often much more merciful in situations like these). She refused to help us because she said it was impossible that my residency had taken that long and that residencies are processed within 90 days. Albin assured her that wasn’t the case for us and that we just had a question. Nope, a two year wait was impossible and therefore she could not answer our question. He hung up with a prompt “gracias por nada” (thanks for nothing).

Two and a half years later, I was finally given my temporary residency permit; even though it would expire after one year, there were tears of joy that day. I am currently waiting for my permanent residency permit that I get through having my baby in Costa Rica (anchor child anyone?) and I was told it would only take 90 days to be processed. That’s what I was told in regards to my temporary permit, so I’m not getting my hopes up this time. The 90 day limit is today, so I’ll keep you posted.

Immigration processes and policies are definitely a complicated matter. Albin and I have been praying about and considering moving back to the U.S., but we’re trying to come to terms with the inevitable high cost, long wait, and load of work it will take to make that kind of thing happen. It’s intimidating, overwhelming, and humbling (especially when immigrantion is a hot topic right now and people aren’t careful with their comments). Trying to do things correctly and legally through the immigration system is frustrating enough to make even Donald Trump think twice about his hateful assumptions (fun fact: Did you know Trump is married to an immigrant?).

Moral of the story: residency processes just suck. Accept it and move on. No matter where you’re applying, prepare yourself to receive a different answer from everyone you ask about ANYTHING, to spend a lot of money in filing fees (and seals apparently), and to wait. If you are married to (or are going to marry) someone from another country, you said “I do” to lines in immigration offices. Embrace it.Try to have a good attitude and enjoy the ride. All that hard work means you get to live with your foreign dreamboat, and even Trump can attest to that :).

Sidenote: If you’re not going through immigration processes, try to have some grace with immigrants despite the current attitude of condemnation that is so popular in the U.S. right now.  Not everyone trying to get into the U.S. is a druglord or rapist. As evidenced by the devastating story of the Syrian children who drowned this past week as their family tried to escape the war- you never know what extreme circumstances are bringing someone to take desparate measures. That Syrian father wanted was a better life for his family, can we blame him? That could have been you or me, risking everything to give our family a peaceful future. Don’t be quick to judge, friends, almost all of our families were immigrants at some point. 

Crossing the border into Panama

Crossing the border into Panama

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