It is coming up to almost one year since one of the most stressful periods of my Berlin life. Around this time last year I submitted my first set of documents to apply for a sponsored work visa. My working holiday visa was nearing its expiration date and I had found I wasn’t ready to leave my little life in Berlin just yet. I procured the necessary documents from my employers, filled in all the forms, attached photocopies of my degree and other documents and booked my date at the Ausländerbehörde online. Everything was set and I was well prepared. But I knew what to expect. I had sat through my colleagues fretting and stressing for the three months as he was messed around by the bureaucrats of various German offices right up until the week his visa was due to expire. I knew that I would be lucky to escape this performance.
As I was soon to find out, it did not matter how many months in advance or how prepared you were, the team of sadists at the Ausländerbehörde would send you on a wild goose chase till your hair was grey and thinning and your stomach lining was barely intact anymore.
The first appointment went well. I was accompanied by a colleague from work who spoke German and we submitted the paper work to a reasonably friendly member of the staff who assured me that I would hear from them in due course.
The offices of the Ausländerbehörde itself, is one of the most depressing, soulless buildings you may ever visit. There are three 'houses' divided by nationalities. I was to go to House C where New Zealanders, Australians and about ten other nationalities were sent. The inside of the building resembles a dreaded hospital waiting area with rows of plastic chairs upon grimy linoleum floors.
After about two weeks a colleague from work told me she had been contacted to say that a copy of my degree was not included in the documents I had submitted. I had painstakingly gone through each document in a fastidious manner prior to handing them in so I knew that they had either lost the document or they were trying to prolong things. Either way it was a bad sign.
A couple of months later I started making enquiries. At first a couple of colleagues were making calls for me. But of course the helpful staff at the AB were impossible to get hold of. One day someone made contact and they were told that the company I worked for needed to send a revised copy of my contract. They said essentially that my salary was too low. So we faxed over a new revised copy but had no way of knowing if it had been received. We tried to call them to confirm their receipt of the new contract but could not get through.
I decided to go back to the dreaded gates of hell myself and enquire in person. I organised to meet my boyfriend there at 8am but his train was delayed, so I was on my own. It was a little difficult, because despite being the office for foreigners, the staff members at this place refuse to speak any English. I struggled my way through my basic German sentences in the vain hope of portraying the full story up to that point. I needed the girl to understand that I had faxed over a new copy of the contract and that the old contract should be excluded from my submission. She seemed to confirm and I left feeling somewhat assured.
However, a week later a letter arrived in the post rejecting my application for an extended visa. It stated that they had decided my position was not specialised enough and that any German speaker could do my job. I was not a necessary asset to the company. It was a very hard night, despite being warned by others that this was standard and everyone had received the same letter, I felt depleted and panicked and frustrated. The next day I went back to the AB with my German speaking friend as we were sure that their decision must have been based on the initial contract and not on the revised copy we had faxed in. The man we met with agreed that it was probably based on the initial contract but also said that my position as it was presently described was not “specialised” enough, meaning that it did not expressly portray the need for a native English speaker. He assured me that the AB would grant me a bridging visa if it got to the point where it was a week before my visa was due to expire and I had not received their decision.
How sad is this pitiful little basket of toys next to the rubbish bin?
I explained the situation to my boss who promptly set about tailoring my contract to reflect that
it was critical that an English speaker work in my role and that I could not be easily replaced. A friend of mine typed up a letter explaining how specifically English speaking my role was and we even changed my job title and description. A week later I returned to the AB with my new contract and documents. The women we met with ushered us in just as far as the door way, took my documents and said that I would hear back from them soon. There was no formality involved, no invitation to sit down and discuss the options, no assurance of a bridging visa. It was 2 weeks before my visa was due to expire and I had no idea where I was left. Should I book a flight out of the country? Should I start packing up all my stuff and hand in my resignation at work? I was utterly infuriated by their nonchalance and blatant disregard for the precarious position I was in. I left the AB on this morning in tears of anger and frustration at not being able to do anything, feeling completely helpless and ignored.
I spent the next week looking at flights to Auckland, flights to London, looking at different dates and prices.
On Wednesday the 28th I was checking my emails and deleting spam. On a whim I clicked on one of the spam emails and then I got distracted but left the window open. About an hour later I clicked back into the spam email to delete it but at the last moment I realised it wasn’t spam. It was a letter from the AB simply informing me to go back in on the following Wednesday at 9am to collect my new visa. I had gotten it and that was their means of communicating the news to me. I received no formal letter or phone call and if I had deleted that email I would never have known my fate.
The whole experience was worse than I had expected, although I had been warned and heard other peoples experiences I didn’t realise just how drawn out the process would become. It was so much more emotionally straining than I had anticipated and by the end I felt a like I had been so messed about I had given up any hope that I had armored myself with at the beginning of the entire debacle. I felt a little bit like Red from the Shawshank redemption going for yet another review with the prison board at the end of the movie where he utters his classic line: “So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I dont give a shit.”
The day I collected my visa. I think my posture in this photo says it all.
But in the end it worked out and I am still here. Although I had applied for only a one year extension, I have a bright pink visa on the page of my passport valid until 2015. As Aragorn would say of the Ausländerbehörde – Make an appointment and prepare your visa documents but do not expect efficiency, "it has forsaken these lands”