Announcing a new series, “Life in Kurdistan”, where I’ll be talking about what it’s like to live in Kurdistan, in a slightly different vein than I have been so far. As in, what it’s like to be an expat here, rather than simply traveling through.
On to the topic of the day: RED TAPE.
If you decide you want to live and work in Kurdistan, you will obviously have to make a trip to the Immigration Office to obtain a visa/residency permit. The office is in Sulaimaniya, and is called “Directorate of Sulaimany Residence” (No one bothered to do a spelling/grammar check before posting it in giant letters in the front of the building? Then again, this is the least of their worries).
Good luck, my friend, trying to get past all the red tape. Because you will be COVERED, and TANGLED, and SWIMMING in red tape. My trusty *fixer will have to come cut you out of it.
So this horribly grim building is where I spent 6 hours today (SIX! SIX!!) getting my 2-month work visa renewed. First of all, I’d like to point out that a 5-hour trip to the immigration office already happened in early September when I first got to Kurdistan. Both times were a hectic shuttling back and forth between stuffy offices filled with unhappy men and women clutching their passports and shoving stamped papers at any official-looking person’s face. People seem to be under the impression that the more stamps and signatures, the better. Umm, excuse me?? Certainly not when getting each stamp and each signature means running to yet another office, shoving past the milling bodies to wave one paper or another at an official’s face, only to fight your way out of that office to the next. And repeat, about five or six more times. Actually, I’m not sure how many times our fixer had to do this. All I know is, both times at the immigration office Anna and I were deposited in a stank room or hallway and told to wait, only to be called an hour later to go stand in another stank room for 15 minutes, and then back to the hallway.
*Clarification is probably good at this point: whenever I refer to our fixer, I don’t actually mean a fixer – at least in the sense of using “illegal and unlawful means” to arrange things. He does arrange things for us, and is the only reason Anna and I have our work visas today. When we arrived at the Immigration Office this morning, it was raining and there was a sad queue looking miserable in the rain. We joined the queue and took on equally miserable faces, until Mr. Fixer caught up to us, talked with some guys at the door and voila! We’re in. Though I failed to appreciate it quite as much in the following hours, I’m pretty sure a lot of queue-jumping was thanks to him. I’m not actually sure how he gets us around the waiting – hahaha funny I say that, because we waited around for 6 hours today, but we probably would’ve waited longer without him. Maybe he’s really well-connected, or he knows all the right things to say, or maybe he has in fact greased the right hands. Who knows. I wasn’t about to question it.
Anyway, so lots of handing back and forth of our passports, signing of papers, and the first time around, getting blood drawn. Which was a horrifying experience because 1) I’m irrationally afraid of needles, 2) I have a history of vomiting on people who try to take my blood, and 3) the “clinic” was one of the most unsanitary clinics I have ever seen. I won’t bring up my qualms about germs in most other places, but a place where someone – hopefully a qualified medical professional – is going to stick a (hopefully new, sterile) needle into my arm to draw blood better be hygienic and reeking of disinfectant. Now, I’m not sure what the purpose of a blood test is in relation to obtaining a work visa. My best bet would be to make sure immigrants are not bringing in diseases into the country – which is ironic, because I felt like I was probably going to get a disease while trying to get a visa, rather than the other way around.
So what I’m trying to say is, there is a LOT OF RED TAPE and unnecessary bureaucracy involved in getting a visa in Kurdistan. Or really, getting anything done. Instead of other countries – i.e. Korea, Korean efficiency, how I miss thee – where you go to a specific office and see one person who sorts you out, here in Kurdistan you are required to run around to every single office to get the signature or stamp of every single official in the building. I exaggerate. But only slightly. I wasn’t able to take any pictures inside, but there were people lining every corridor and pouring out of every room in the building, all holding heavily stamped pieces of paper. And shuttling back and forth between rooms and officials for inexplicable reasons – from what I could see, they were all doing the same thing. So why must we see so many people just to get one thing accomplished? It’s not like the Kurdish government wants to make people’s lives more complicated, so it must be to create more jobs
and keep people complacent and happy with the inefficient, corrupt government. The more people who feel important and powerful, the more people who are okay with keeping around the government that keeps them around. Patronage at its finest.
This is my advice to you. If you would like to spend some time in Kurdistan and need a visa, find yourself a trusty fixer, take a good book and be prepared to waste away your day knee-deep in red tape.
I’ll end with the best moment of the day:
It’s been 5 hours and I’m ranting about the inefficiency of the system. A lot of incoherent half-sentences and mumbling about how this is so much worse than Kenya; Kurdistan is not a third world country; y’all need to GET IT TOGETHER; and the like.
My trusty fixer: “but this is the best organized place in all of Kurdistan“.
Stunned silence, followed by hysterical laughter.
Oh dear. Sweet baby Buddah help us all.