Costa Rica’s Immigration Department has a logo suited to its mission. The logo is represented by the earth’s globe, but the country of Costa Rica has been mysteriously plucked from the isthmus of Central America and placed aside. There is a band, sort of like an arrow, that girdles the globe begining at the country in limbo. There are little people standing on the band. In fact, they appear to huddle there as though their lives depended on it. The arrow circumnavigates the globe– a bit like the bands of Saturn– only to end where the country has been plucked from the map. What one sees when they look at it is a continuous circle with people stuck on it like a perpetual chipmunk wheel.
You can probably tell, It’s time to renew our residency visas. They are due every two years. Actually, it was time to do that a year ago, but migracion told us expats that “due to the high number of residency requests, they were unable to process them all,” and “there would be a year’s grace period.” Translated, this means that the office was totally disorganized and had lost complete control over the process. They needed a year to see if the could rein in the chaos.
Alan and I have seen the interior of migracion before and if you have any neatness fetishes it’s a frightening sight. If you are anal-retentive, don’t go in there at all.
In 2003 our residency cards were stolen, along with my purse, our passports, and a few other essentials. It was hell getting everything back, but we managed. The lesson was so blistering that ever since then I have refused to carry original documents at all. I only carry photocopies despite occasional objections from the police.
One of the many visits we paid to migracion during that ordeal was an eye-popping view into how the place operated, or slouched along. The day we were there we were ushered into the maw of the beast and seated on a couple of worn out dining chairs along a wall and told to wait. Espera, por favor. The person who seated us then went off in search of our file.
From our vantage point, and with nothing else to do, we got an inside look into the guts of the place. They were remodeling, but that couldn’t begin to explain all of it.
Alan always likes to watch workmen where ever we are, so he was busy watching the remodel, which involved putting up some prefab walling right through the center of the office. He kept jabbing me in the ribs as one of the men attempted to straighten an unwieldy section by himself, or another man pushed in one direction while his partner pulled in another in an attempt to get a section up.
They had moved “the files,” manilla folders stacked helter-skelter, that now cascaded out of some sagging tin shelving that might be purchased at any WalMart and are ubiquitous in lower income family basements in the States. In fact, the more I looked the more files I saw. They were everywhere. Because of the remodel, or perhaps in spite of it, there were computers piled up on chairs in the middle of the room, wires haphazardly wound around their middles. On top of those were more files, some of them open. A worker hustled by and I watched as a single paper off the top of one file was sucked up in her wake, fluttered briefly, and then parachuted to the floor.
“I bet that’s someone’s police report, or a income validation form,” I told Alan. “They will probably be refused residency because their file is ‘incomplete.'” The worker stepped on it on her return through the department.
So, they’ve had a year to work on it, and get things in order. I was told I could begin applying for our renewal carnet, card, when our previous ones expired. That was last month.
Yesterday I called the new 900 number (that costs 50 cents a minute) and fully expected to be put on hold. But no, I was greeted promptly by a intake worker who asked what I needed. This seemed auspicious.
“We need to renew our residency cards,” I said. I told her when they expired and our names and our number.
“But you don’t appear in our system. Are you sure you are a resident?”
“Yes. I have the previous card here in my hand.”
“Well. I am very sorry Mrs. Sarah, but you will have to call migracion directly for an appointment.”
I called migracion and was put on hold. I listened to Musak for about two minutes and then was disconnected. I tried again with the same result. It’s the Dilbert Thing, nothing unique to Costa Rica. How many times up North have I been run through a scheme of a corporate menus only to discover that my question is not in the allotted push button options. With no way to retrace my steps, and punching zero only results in the message “I’m sorry but we don’t recognize that option,” the only option is to hang up and start again. Costa Rica hasn’t gotten that sophisticated yet, they just hang up on you.
I gave myself an afternoon away from the frustration, had a glass of wine last night and watched the Republican convention (which got my blood boiling again). This morning, fresh from a good sleep, I went after migracion again. Sometimes calling back and getting another operator has better results. That’s a lesson I learned over the years; always call at least three times to make sure the verdict is the same. Then act accordingly. The same is true up North too, by the way.
This morning I called the 900 number again and got Sara. Maybe having the same name bonded us in some bureaucratic way, I don’t know, but she was kind and helpful. But the story was the same; we are not in their system. She did assure me that we were not lost altogether, just unavailable to her and her computer. I would need to call directly for an appointment.
“But when I call migracion they put me on hold, and then cut me off.”
“Oh…,” she said in a knowing voice. “What number are you calling?” We went through all of that and agreed that was the correct number and she couldn’t– or wouldn’t– give me a number to the back room.
“Perhaps I need to have my lawyer call them. She would probably know someone to call and be able to set up an appointment,” I said.
Sara was delighted at my insight into how things work here. “Yes, that’s exactly what you should do.”
So, It will cost us an extra $100 to get the services of the gavilan or facilitator to do the business, but that’s how work gets done here.
Actually, this is how we did it before the modernization overhaul at migracion.