Buckle up for the pinnacle of Immigration Office Stories. First there was TIE Card Hell where we couldn’t get started because there weren’t enough employees; couldn’t collect the card because the bus was on strike; and one of the cards wasn’t filled out correctly so we had to fight for a new one. Then there was Renewal Hell where we got in shouting matches with people who told us “no” without even looking at our documents.
Both of those experiences were better than the absolute bullshit we got ourselves into on Wednesday. The big difference is while those two stories involved inept immigration officers, this time we made the mistake. For the first time ever with government paperwork we made a boo boo. A boo boo that led to 5 hours, 4 offices and 8 people to repair.
If you’re going to make a mistake might as well make it a big one. So buckle up for the FINAL INSTALLMENT of TIE CARD renewal Hell as we’re never doing this again (no really we’re moving to a new country).
In which the authors rationalize their mistake
Brexit is going to … happen? on October 31st. So every Brit in Europe is scrambling to catch up on paperwork. For this reason you can’t even make an appointment at the Immigration office. No joke, you enter a date, any date and you just get an error message.
So we couldn’t get an appointment. No one can. The Conselleria (our “employers”) made a deal with the immigration office saying “take 5 of our teachers every morning so we don’t have 320 illegal teachers on their hands.”
So they arranged to send 5 of us a day. There are limited spots (since this is an unusual deal) so we signed up for the first available one. The problem was none of our paperwork was ready. Well, all of OUR paperwork was ready. We had all of our passport copies, papers in triplicate, photos and papers. The problem was that two offices (the government and the conselleria) weren’t getting their necessary documents back to us.
First Chris got a new passport. With it comes a new passport number. And with a new passport number means we need to get our employment documents re-issued with the correct/current number. These documents are actually the most important document to the immigration office because they’re the very thing sponsoring our visa. We gave them the new number 2 months ago and said please reissue the paper. Nothing. We remind them. “Hey I sent you the passport number” and got an email that said “Yup, we got it, thanks.” Well… I’m not just telling you for fun, I need the new papers. “Yup I have it all written up I just need to send it to you.” “Well I need it now.” “Yup, I have it written.” And on it went.
The second problem was our extension. We applied for the extension of stay back in June (at the Fish and Agriculture office if you remember). All the paperwork made it to the right people but they’re so gunked up (with Brexit) they didn’t get around to approving or denying it. And we need the paper with a decision. So we’re between legal and illegal since we applied for the correct visa, but they haven’t given it their blessing.
Well the night before our appointment we got three text messages and an email from the government about the extension. They said “please check on the decision of your status with the official Government of Spain website, ‘Cl@ve'” (Clave means key but with an @ sign to look cool). Well Cl@ve doesn’t work unless you have an account. We can’t get an account because we can’t get a social security number. We can’t get a social security number because we don’t work in Spain. We don’t work in Spain because we have a student visa. The same student visa we were trying to extend. The same extension they just made a decision about. So they know damn well we don’t have Cl@ves and yet told us to check there for the decision. This is basically government-speak for “go F yourselves”. Thanks, Spain!
We were both frantically making phone calls, sending emails, printing emails (as proof we had done every conceivable thing on our end). We couldn’t reschedule the appointment because there aren’t any other available appointments. It was go with the papers we have and pray they didn’t send us away. In the middle of coordinating these papers and phone calls we made our big mistake.
To pay the visa application fee, you have to fill out a magic little piece of paper. To do this you need to:
- Find the paper online
- Print the paper at home
- Bring it to the bank
- Pay the bank
- They stamp it (and wire the money to the government).
I looked up the form we needed. Four different websites said it was Modelo 790-052. This is our third time doing this so something didn’t sit right. We had just paid the same form for the extension of stay. Chris checked, I triple checked. People kept saying 052 for “renewal” not extension but they’re essentially the same thing (well, they go together). The government said it was 790-052. Meanwhile fees have changed so some people were saying €15.12 others said for €17.15. Madrid even had a different form with €19.50. Too many different numbers, prices and form names.
So we printed 790-052, brought it to the bank, paid 17.15 each . Then kept worrying about the other two documents.
Our big day out
We woke up at 6 am, walked 20 minutes to the train station. Took a one hour train ride to Palma then power-walked 30 minutes from the train station to the immigration office (it was faster than waiting for the bus). And of course there’s a line around the block for 9 am appointments. Shit.
We wait. And wait. And then go in. Wait in a line to take a number. Take a number. Sit. Wait. Get called up. Here are all our papers…
“Yup you’re super illegal. You didn’t fill out the extension of stay.”
“No no, we did fill it out. And submitted it. Here is proof (we produce six papers that prove we applied, submitted, and checked on the status). We applied on June 18th and they have been processing for four months.”
“Okayyyyyy well you’ve been here illegally since May” the lady says. We lay all the papers out. We have done everything we could possibly do. The ball has firmly been in Spain’s court for 4 months. She clicks a couple things. “Nope, actually looks like they approved it last night.” This approval should have come with a special piece of paper that we needed to apply for the visa renewal, which we didn’t have because of the whole Cl@ve thing. Luckily she chose to ignore this.
We hand over more documents. “Hmmmm.” She says. Always a bad sign. Something is wrong. She turns to her coworker. “How much is the fee again?” “€18.92.” I’m looking at my paper that says €17.15. None of the research ever said €18.92.
Oops. We’re €1.77 off.
“I’ll finish processing everything then you can go to the bank, pay it, and bring it back.” That seems nice. A very good deal.
She gets to Chris’s passport number. “Hmmm… a new number? Okay, updated.”
The two things we were most worried about were all good. The thing I checked three times and had a moderately bad feeling about it was catastrophic.
Fixing the mistake by making bigger mistakes
We leave the office and walk 15 minutes to the nearest bank. We wait in line. Get to the front of the line. “Nope we don’t do that here. Pay at an ATM”
We stab at the ATM for 5 minutes. There’s nothing we can do. I can’t just miraculously pay a government fee on an ATM. I find another assistant teacher like us and she tells us how she did it. Scan the form with the barcode at the top (ATMs have hidden scanner bars). Then just wire the money that way. Simple. Thanks for the help.
We scan the form and pay €18.92. Wait, did we have to pay the whole thing again or just pay €1.77 to make up for the mistake? We try to scan the other form. It doesn’t scan. It doesn’t scan?! Why did one scan?? Oh shit that one probably shouldn’t have scanned because we had already paid it?? Or is his just super broken? Chris fills out a new one on his phone (after 5 re-directs that try to make him pay €32.40) and scans it from his phone. He pays it.
We go back to the immigration office. Wait. Get back to desk. Show her. She’s pissed. She says “I’m not sure why you made such a stupid mistake when I explained it perfectly.”
Her office doesn’t accept 790-052. Her office only accepts 790-012. We were so focused on the 18.92 we didn’t realize it was an entirely different form.
Chris actually accidentally succeeded when he created a new form on his phone. But the proof of payment isn’t enough anyway, she needs it all printed out. And also, I have now just paid 36.07 to no one. I have to go pay a third time, get a new form, and print it: somehow. And the money we paid? We paid, between us, 53.96 accidentally to the government. Mistakes are mistakes and you should own up but I kinda feel like I should get at least some of my money back. “Can we do something to get it back?” “Nope. It’s our system now.”
So we ask if we can just print it right here. “No, we can’t print those forms” (These are forms made especially for paying money to this office, just to be clear). Great. Luckily the bar across the street has a printer you can use. We leave the office for the second time. Find a printer. Print. Back to the bank. Pay again. Back to the office. Wait. Wait some more. The lady is just gone. Not even at her desk anymore. Wait more. We had a 9 am appointment and its now noon.
Where is the lady? We finally snag a different employee. She checks it and staples it to the rest of our documents. We get the magic paper that says we’re done. We’re done!
Yeah except we’re 53.96 in the hole. We have paid 53 euros to no one and would like it back. But it’s us vs the government. So how much is 50 euros worth to us? That’s nearly $60 USD. It’s groceries for over a week.
“Can we do anything about the mistaken forms?”
“Of course!” the new lady says. “Yes, of course (it happens all the time, obviously). You just need to fill out a form with my colleagues at the front desk.”
Get in 20 minute line for the front desk. Get to the front of the line … It’s the same lady. She rotated places with someone else so we talk to her again. Feels like I’m going crazy. “Yes of course, here is the documen- wait that’s not a 790-052, is it?” “Yes.”
“Oh no. The 052 is for an entirely different branch of the government. We can only give refunds for 012 forms which is our branch of the government. You’ll have to go to that branch of government.” She waits for us to leave. No. If there is anything I’ve learned in Spain it’s not to leave any office or line until you have directions or a name of where to go next. They know they just don’t say unless asked; they’re like genies, you have to be very specific with your wishes and intentions. No one is ever going to help you unless you demand specifics. We learned this in Andalucia and use the technique now.
“Thanks but, sorry, which branch of government? Where, exactly, is their office?” She tells us it’s just around the corner. We go. There’s a computer to take a number. We can’t even take a number without an appointment code. There are huge posters in blood-red letters saying they absolutely will not see anyone without an appointment. The door itself says do not enter: forbidden entry without an appointment.
Something else I’ve learned in Spain is you can jump to the front of the line if you have a really fast question. In the USA this is rude but here it’s pretty common. Things are confusing (obviously) and even locals are constantly confused. If you have a two second question like “is this the office where I can do X?” you can jump to the front to ask it then go to the back of the line. Why wait unnecessarily? So we, for the first time ever, tried this cultural thing.
-Chris bravely went in the do-not-enter-without-an-appointment door. Surprisingly no one shouted at him. “Is this the office for me to get a refund for the 052 form?”
No of course it’s not. But he tells us where we can go.
How much is 50 euros worth to us, again? Actually a lot. We’re not quitters! To the next office!
Big mistakes require big government offices
The directions we were given this time took us to a more legitimate office. We even needed a visitors pass to get in. You know you have royally fucked up when you have to register and get a visitors pass. I felt like we had truly arrived at the pinnacle of mistakes.
We walk around in the most government building you’ve ever seen. It’s a big square so you can walk around and around in circles.
We managed to find the office that owns the 052 form. We explain to two people. One is deaf so we’re actually shouting at her. “WHERE. CAN. WE GET THE FORM?” “THE HORN?” “NO THE FORM!”
Ohhh, the form. Nope. Not here. Obviously.
“That office is at the end of the hall.” Ha! The building is a circle. “Go to the end of the hall” in a circular building the most government thing I’ve ever heard.
We go to the end of the line-of-sight from this office. That’s like… the end of the hall for them, right?
A secretary in the next place is on the phone making a personal conversation and laughing loudly. We wait. We wait more. Finally she cups the receiver, “what do you want?!”
Deep breath and recite the now-memorized words (this is person #7 we’ve said them to) “We paid this tax accidentally but we were trying to pay 052 and we need a refund.”
Expecting an eighth rejection we were surprised to hear “oh yeah, totally. One minute.”
She goes into the… drum roll… The Office of Fish and Agriculture. No. Freaking. Way. This was the only government office that has ever worked for us. They’re the only ones who would submit our forms for us when we were extending the visas back in Manacor. No. Way. We have leveled up from Manacor Regional Office of Fish and Agriculture to the Boss Level: Sub-delegation of The Government Of Spain Balearic Islands Office of Fish and Agriculture.
And like last time it’s an absolute dream. We wait in comfortable seats. A kind woman not unlike Mrs. Claus comes out and ushers us in. She pulls chairs out for us and asks what she can do for us. Soft classical music played behind her desk. I could’ve cried at the relief. What a wondrous place. The regional office was great, but this one is amazing. What must the top National Office of Fish like in Madrid be like? I must go someday.
She smiles and prints two forms for us. She is patient and kind. She helps us research something and assures us the government will be slow but we will eventually get our €53.96 back.
This is a long blog. But I want to just add that our day didn’t end there. It was now 12:55. We had been in the government complex since 8:55. But we were not finished with the government.
We still had to pick up our insurance cards from the Conselleria. Their office closes at 2 and it was a 40 minute walk or 50 minute bus ride away. It was power walking time across 2.6 miles. Ready, go!
We arrived at 1:41. They were dicks. None of them spoke Spanish, only Catalan.
“You need to sign this paper.” She looked at us expectantly. We look back. “…don’t you have pens?” She snapped. This is super representative of the Conselleria. What government office doesn’t even have pens for people to use? We dig some out of our backpacks. Didn’t realize it was a bring-your-own-pen party. We ask about the paper they never gave us. She looks at us blankly. “The paper we needed you to change and email back to us?” “Oh, yeah a couple more weeks. I have it all filled out and ready to send” “Well we needed it today at the immigration office.” “It’s finished. I just need to send it.”
Yeah, you said that.
I will leave this review of the Conselleria I found on google. Because I love it so much. I didn’t write it but translated it from Spanish.
While getting information via phone is impossible, the situation gets worse when you decide to go in in-person. You leave there not only with the same doubts you came, but also with new questions. Where is the attention to detail in a place dedicated to customer service? Where is the education in the Ministry of Education. Are they not dedicated to this discipline? Where do I go to get the information they should give me there? How have they achieved these jobs for the public without a dash of sympathy, kindness and empathy? SHAME!”
So it’s not just our lack of Spanish or Catalan. Government sucks everywhere for everyone. Things are confusing. I told this story to my coteacher and she said she did the same thing with 80 euros. So we’re not alone; we’re just the assholes that fought for our fifty bucks back.