After three days, spent almost entirely at government offices, we’re finally official!
I had read horror stories about dealing with the BVI government, so I knew clearing Immigrations would be frustratingly slow, but darn it, I was prepared with everything we could possibly need. There was nothing they could ask for that we hadn’t already given them or didn’t have in-hand. Or so I thought. When we walked up to the Immigration desk at the airport, operation “Teach the Americans a Lesson” began.
Being the obsessive-compulsive, anal person that I am, I made sure that we arrived on Tuesday evening with all the necessary paperwork for Immigration, exactly following the instructions in our approval letter and double-checking any “gray” areas through phone calls and emails with high-ranking Immigration officials, all of which were meticulously documented.
When we arrived, the Immigration officer slowly scrutinized our paperwork and inquired as to where our criminal records were. I told her that we had both mailed and emailed them to the Chief Immigration Officer, and obviously he had seen them and been satisfied, as he’d granted us approval to reside. And, anyway, bringing our criminal record reports with us was not specified as a requirement in our approval letter. Unimpressed, she turned to her supervisor, who reiterated that, “you must present official copies of your criminal record upon arrival.”
Long story short, it turns out that the person who typed up our approval letter and spelled out what we needed to bring with us upon arrival just happened to forget this one item. Of course, it was after 4pm when we arrived, and the government offices close at 3pm, so there was no way to verify that the main office had previously received our criminal records. In order to get into the country, we had to turn our passports over to the Immigration officer, who gave us a receipt for them(!) and instructed us to call the main office the next morning to verify the documents were ok and retrieve our passports.
So the next morning came and I called (having already learned that calling in advance can help you get some of the “I don’t know anything about this,” or “that person isn’t in the office” hassle out of the way) to be sure someone was looking into the mystery of our “missing” criminal records . We were instructed to come to the office to get everything straightened out. So down to Road Town we went, passport receipts in hand, not really sure what to expect. In a somewhat fortunate turn of events, the lady working the front desk at Immigration was someone I had spoken to via phone numerous times over the past several months, so there was a bit of rapport already built. She instructed us to come back at 2pm (it was approximately 9:30am) when the Chief Immigration Officer would be back at the office. So we made use of the day by learning our way around town and picking up some essentials for the apartment. And back to the Immigration office we went around 2pm.
The CIO finally arrived around 3pm, but instead of speaking with him directly, our “friend” acted as our intermediary, supposedly relaying our comments/concerns, and coming back to us with his “official decision.” In reality, it was she who wrote our letter, so I think she was trying to save face and cover her ass, since it was her mistake that got us into this predicament. In the end, the CIO, in the intermediary’s words, “realizes that it’s our (the office’s) mistake, so he will grant permission to process your residence visas, but you have to produce the required documents (criminal records) within six weeks.” It was now approximately 3:03pm, and the processing office was closed, so we had to come back the next morning to get our visas processed.
On Thursday morning, we made our (now routine) trip down to Road Town to the Immigration office just before the official opening time of 9am. There were already about eight people in the waiting area, so we took our number and sat down, expecting at least a 20-30 minute wait.
Side note: Based on our experience so far, I can safely say that all government offices have a process. You walk in, announce “good morning, or “good day” to everyone in the room, take a number, and WATCH THE CALL BOARD LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT. When the “now serving” number comes up, if you don’t jump up within about .5 milliseconds, the attendants move on to the next number, and you’re at risk of losing your place in line.
As I mentioned, this morning, there were about eight people in the waiting area before us, so I expected a wait and started checking email. Within less than three minutes, our number had flashed for the customary 0.5ms, and the next number was staring me in the face.
I walked to the desk and begged to take the next place in line, but in the end it didn’t matter, because it turns out that AGAIN, we not informed about a requirement that we had to fulfill before our visas could be processed.
Everyone (family, friends, blog readers) has been spared of the details regarding the medical tests and procedures we had to go through here in the U.S. in order to fulfill the BVI immigration requirements. You’re welcome. But these ridiculous, almost humiliating tests aren’t enough. No, the U.S. doctors apparently can’t be trusted, so you must take your medical records to the Tortola hospital and have one of their doctors approve them before you’re granted residence. And of course, nobody told this until Thursday morning, when we naively expected to have our visas processed that day.
So off we slogged to the hospital to have our records “checked” by a BVI doctor, and at exactly 2:50pm, we finally got the medical records back with the necessary approvals and high-tailed it back to the Immigration office. Did I mention that they close at 3pm? The deputy at the Immigration office took our applications and instructed us to come back Monday, as processing takes two days.
At this point, I was having a really hard time keeping my cool, but once again, she had our passports in her possession, so I sucked it up and nicely buy urgently informed her that I had to go back to the States over the weekend, so I would just have to bring my passport and application back the next week to be processed. She looked unfazed, but dryly said, “Ok, come back at 1:30pm tomorrow.” *Sigh* I said a little prayer that she would keep her promise and not fall ill or get hit by a bus overnight.
We made use of the next morning by going to the DMV and purchasing a drivers handbook – again, taking a number and watching the call board. Then we found another “department store” (think Big Lots, with many items of questionable origin) to pick up some more things for the apartment. At approximately 1:30pm, we went back to the Immigration office, and 30 minutes and one rude government worker later, we were official! I can’t remember the last time I was so relieved and proud. Maybe this is their strategy – make it so difficult to obtain residence that once you do, you never complain about “island time” or the government again.
The best part is, we had just enough time to get to the bank and open a bank account and swing by the postal service to get a forwarding address set up from Miami. So now we’re officially residents of the BVI, we can spend money, and we can get mail. Life is good.
Until we go to get our BVI drivers licenses.