I try not to complain on this blog. I like to focus on the fun, excitement and what’s special and different about our life in Poland. I try to ignore those “Welcome to Poland moments.” Today will be an exception.
As a Certified Public Accountant, I’ve had more than my share of dealings with bureaucrats at the Internal Revenue Service. There was one incident involving Federal Excise Tax, when I was working for a charter airline company, that went on for almost a year; my file with supporting documentation, copies of letters, and notes from phone calls was an inch and a half thick. I was ready to ask my employer if we could just pay the $1,000 the government wanted because it had taken up way too much of our time. Before it came to that, the IRS decided the airline was correct, made the adjustment we had requested and withdrew their demand for the money.
So, when I tell you about my adventure today and in recent months, don’t think that I’m saying it only happens here in Poland, but the bureaucracy in Poland is what I’m dealing with now. I will also be the first to admit that the process is complicated by the fact that my Polish is . . . limited, shall we say?
What I’m about to go on about is the process for a non-European Union foreigner to stay in Poland for more than 90 days. It’s true that my husband is probably the only person who cares that I’m here, but he is here at the Polish government’s request. Our non-EU household exists only to help the Polish Air Force accomplish their mission. Why do they make it so hard?
This is not the first time I’ve lived abroad – six years in two different western European countries, but on those stays, I was part of a military household. It simplified things a lot. Things aren’t so smooth for civilian contractors, even those supporting the military.
I’ll describe the general process before I get down to nit picking. As soon as I arrived in Poland, we had to go to a city office to get a document with a title that translates to “Check-in confirmation on temporary residence of an alien.” This is a half sheet of paper that summarizes my name, passport information, residence in Poznan, and family history. (Yes, Mom, they want to know who you are.) I’ll refer to it as the short-sheet. To get this, we filled out a form in Polish and supplied the lease on our flat and my passport. The original short-sheet which was valid for 90 days, involved two trips to this office, having our landlord amend and notarized the lease to suit the person behind the counter. The form basically lets the city know who I am and that I do indeed have a place to stay. (Unless we skip-out on the lease and take up residence in the train station. I fail to see what assurance this piece of paper provides.)
The short-sheet is just one of the necessary documents to get a resident permit that will allow me to be in the country for more than 90 days. Other things that were needed:
- –a letter from my husband’s employer stating my husband’s compensation and that I was covered on his international health insurance plan
- –a letter from my husband saying that he would provide for my support since I’m not allowed to work
- –a copy of our marriage license
- –the above all had to be translated by a certified translator (just under $100)
- –an eleven page application completed in Polish
- –passport size photos (taken at an angle, showing one ear)
- –my passport and copies
- –and most of these items should be supplied in multiples of four
- –a bank deposit slip verifying that I had paid the application fee of $120
After waiting in line for an hour (and that was shorter than most), and having all of my documents carefully scrutinized, I was sent out to have my photo taken again. It’s now to be head-on, and to have copies made of the page in my passport with my most recent entry stamp. Funny, there was no mention of these requirements on the application and when my husband arrived in the country the previous year, he did neither of these. I spent an hour fulfilling the additional requirements and went back to wait in line for another hour to see the ONE person who collects the paperwork.
In the coming weeks, I received three different certified letters, asking for more information, and made three trips to wait in line with my paperwork before the letter arrived saying that a decision had been made. I could stay in Poland for four more months. That gave us a break of two months before we started the process again.
Today, we went to the city office to update our short-sheets, the first step in the application for a second resident permit. I was sent back to the check-in desk. The clerk had only given us one number (picture yourself in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles), and apparently I must have my own. Last time, the same clerk did both of our forms even though our second number had been called at a different window. We are showing them the same lease after all. As Ed and I stood next to each other at different windows amending our forms as needed, I was asked to provide information that he was not. We both have valid resident permits, we showed them the same lease, and our expiration date on our new short-sheets is the same. Why the inconsistency? It says to me that to a certain extent, they’re making it up as they go; this information is never used or looked at again, and their work is not audited. It wasn’t so much the tediousness of this seemingly useless process that was upsetting. What bothered me the most was the hostility and sheer annoyance coming from the clerks on the other side of the counter – you’d think my goal for the day had been to make their lives hell. Maybe they also see their work as useless.
Updated short-sheet in hand, you know how I’m looking forward to starting on the resident permit again, :'(
Let me wrap up all of this complaining by saying that I love Poznan, and I wouldn’t trade the experience of living here. There is an appeal going out for English speakers to volunteer during the upcoming UEFA EURO 2012 matches. As I native speaker, who lives here and has time on her hands, I hope I’m selected. I know the city and would like to help present it in a positive light. Fortunately for the players, the fans and the media, they won’t be here long enough to deal with the application processes I’ve belabored tonight.
So as I continue to blog about the fun side of living here, remember that for every trip to an exotic destination, for every meal eaten al fresco in the old square, it’s offset by outings to government offices to to fill out meaningless paperwork for very cranky people behind glass partitions.
PS – I’m sure my Polish expat friends have their own horror stories about their process in my own country and others. Let’s hear it!