Worse than the DMV

Yesterday, Alvaro and I went to his Aunts’ house for lunch. When I walked in, his Aunt Carmen gave me a huge hug and proclaimed, “Congratulations!!” Confused, I looked at her and said, “Why?”

“You haven’t heard? The application for your work visa was approved! You’ll have your visa a few days!”

I didn’t believe it. Throughout the part four months I have heard a lot of supposedly good news only to find out that the good news comes with several conditions and/or won’t be real for a couple of weeks. Once Cecilia arrived for lunch, she told me that my application was indeed approved and that all I had left to do was to go to the Immigrations office, submit my paperwork, pay a fee and have my card made. The details on how this was going to work were extremely vague, so still, I wasn’t overly hopeful. I took this as a very positive step towards the end of the ordeal, but wasn’t prepared to celebrate until I placed my card in my wallet.

This morning, we left around 7:30am in order to arrive at Immigrations before they opened. Upon our arrival, we noticed that we were joining about thirty other applicants who were in line before us. As the office opened at 8am, the lines split into those receiving a new visa and those simply renewing an existing visa. Thankfully for us, most of the applicants were renewals and I was sixth in line for the new visa line.

When we finally reached the front of the line, I had to review all of my information and make sure that it was correct. At the end, the clerk asked me, “Religion? Catholic?” and I said, “No, Protestant,” then he clicked on the drop down menu to the only other option: “Other”. Evidently, in Peru, if you’re not Catholic, it doesn’t matter what you are. After checking all my information the clerk told me to simply wait until my name was called to take a picture. The inefficiency and disorganization of this Immigration limbo, was astounding. The space was simply one giant room that served an array of immigration issues. Out of the twenty small windows, only five were operating today, which resulted in long lines. Except, these lines were self-enforced, there were neither painted lines on the floor nor velvet ropes separating Window 6 from Window 7. For the better part of three hours, all I heard were small scuffles as people tried to find their appropriate line. This monotony was broken only by a pregnant woman who skipped to the front of the line, “simply to ask a question, and I’m pregnant...” but then continued to have a normal appointment. Those behind her lost patience and weren’t as kind when she returned thirty minutes later for another skip.

I was called to form a line to take my picture. I stood behind a woman with bright blond hair. As she was taking her fingerprints, I sat down in the photo-booth. It seemed to be taking an unusual amount of time for the computer to save her information and then I was asked to step out of the booth and allow her to take another picture. She did and as she walked out of the booth I heard the dreaded words: “The system has crashed.” Immigration employees kept coming into the small office to ask if it was true, “The system has crashed?” Unfortunately, it was true. In about twenty minutes they were up and running again. I took my photo (which due to the clerk’s insistence that I tuck my hair behind my ears, made me look bald), digital fingerprints (which are actually very cool!) and perfected my signature. I set out to the waiting abyss very hopeful.

The applicants before me all took their pictures and received their visa within fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes passed. Then thirty. Then a full hour. Somewhere around an hour and a half, a small whisper began to make its way through the crowded room: “The system has crashed...” Again. The blond woman before me had already received her visa which told me that once again, the system crashed just as I was about to be set free.

Upon hearing this I thought, “What has she been doing for the last ninety minutes?” During the past hour and a half, a very overworked Immigration office employee came out into the crowd every ten minutes or so and handed out either passports or visas. Rumors began to spread and we found out that the system had crashed the day before as well. At noon, during the peak of their office hours, the system crashed and there were unable to recover it. Meaning that all of yesterday’s applicants came in today which created an organizational mess in an already disorganized environment.

Almost two hours after I had taking my photo, the aforementioned overworked employee came into the crowd and called a name that sounded something like this: “may- gone, e-lan-aye,” I took this to mean Meghan Elaine, followed her and discovered that the server “deleted” my photo and I would have to take them again. At this point it was 12:30pm, I was hot and hungry and hadn’t seen a chair since 7:30am. I took my place in line behind four men and hoped that things would finally go my way.

I took my picture, retook my fingerprints and when the clerk saw that I had already signed my paper I replied with, “Yes, two and a half hours ago.” I went back into the waiting area and thankfully it had thinned out and there were now chairs available. Nearly forty minutes later, our favorite overworked, bitter employee came out and again shouted: “may-gone, e-lan-aye!” I followed her into her wood paneled office and delighted at the sight of my work visa sitting on my desk. The catch? She wasn’t going to give it to me. I still had to pay a small tax on my card and since it was now 1:30 and the office was technically closed, she said we would have to come back tomorrow morning. Cecilia insisted over and over again and just before the discussion elevated, the clerk caved. Cecilia grabbed my visa, ran downstairs, payed the tax and remerged in less than ten minutes. After six hours at Peruvian Immigrations, I finally had my work visa and a residency stamp in my passport. I am finally legal.

As I waited and waited and waited some more, with little hope or end in sight I began to daydream about going to the DMV. Nashville areas DMV looked and felt like a summer vacation compared to Immigrations. At least DMVs have chairs, AC, reading materials (albeit materials regarding road rules) and the best part? At the DMV you receiver a number and can watch the countdown as it gets closer and closer to your place in line. At Peruvian Immigrations, you are left resting on a little bit of hope and a whole lot of mercy from the overworked clerks.