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My brush with the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO)
Well, Austria is the country where I was born and where all my favourite things, are, like the hills are alive to the sound of music and crisp apple strudel, shaped my life.
Coming to India is not my first overseas experience. Not at all! Even if it has been many years back, I still do recall the tedious process and paperwork that was required to receive permanent residency status in Canada. China was another cup of tea, literally speaking, yet India is where all internationalism and bureaucracy will not become a matter of routine but is put to the test anew. Incredible India!
While China had literally been a piece of cake taken along with the mentioned tea, whenever it came to visa renewal and registration. China has clear rules and all foreign employers know that if they want to reap the benefit of employment in the country of the awakening tiger, they must obey by these rules. The employer, who wants to reap benefit of the foreign expert, usually takes care of visa renewal as well as tax deductions. I only recall a two hour wait once at a registration office with 20 other newly registered teachers. People who are somewhat falling through the cracks have to leave for Hongkong, to get a multiple entry visa and visa renewed.
In India, I had my first challenge after my first year of employment was successfully completed. Even though employed by a renowned international school, my employer was not able (or willing) to help me sort through nationality/tax/visa procedures as one would expect. Only with the help of an experienced immigration consultant, I managed to honor the contract I had signed in April, for another year and return to work in India after the summer vacation.
When it came to visa renewal for the third year, it was the same paper routine, redrafting papers and figuring out numbers that made sense for a sustainable living away from my home base.
Once the kafka-esque visa bureaucracy has been managed for the third time, there is still registration at FRRO waiting to be dealt with.
Coming back on a new visa for another school – “Look, there is only 10 days delay for registration”, I warned my employer, but it seemed to no avail. It took more than ten days to get documents together and a friend accompanied me to FRRO here in Telangana. It turned out that not only were more than half documents requested missing, it turned out that my guide really did not know much about the rules and regulations at FRRO and I had been too trusting instead of reading what was on the endless tick list.
This is when I got connected to the same immigration consultant who explained to me patiently over the phone how to read and interpret the checklist FRRO provides. Ready to get my act together for the second visit!!
The second time, my file had grown by at least 10 -12 pages and I was confident that I was equipped with all necessary documents requested.
Hell! No! Another unsuccessful trip, a 1 hour taxi ride each time from work. This time, it turned out that the wording of the undertaking letter as well as the invitation letter were not done according to standards and thus, I had get used to the idea, that trip number 3 to FRRO was just around the corner. By then, I would probably be able to call the agents by their first name, if only this was part of Indian culture!
It took me about another week and we are a month after arriving in India which means a 30 dollar late fee has long been applicable. I even had to convince my employer that this was part of their responsibilities, never mind what’s stated in the undertaking letter. Getting all required documents from my employer and take not only a taxi but also my courage and leave from work for the third time to sort out this damn registration business by now really had become a scene out of a Kafka book.
Indeed, the third time I did have enough waiting time to learn all the first names of the FRRO agents. It turned out that despite the eminent thickness of my file, there was an empty spot where it said ID proof of employer. Thank to modern telecommunication this could be dealt with via scan since luckily my employer did pick up the phone and was at the office, ready to help. What irony, that we teachers always tell children in the Primary years to read instructions carefully.
Well, I did leave with a stay visa in my passport pocket, never mind that it is only valid until the end of January, which is when my apartment lease expires. This is something I did not know either since the school has given me residency for the term of my contract until the end of May.