Wednesday, January 15, 2014
The FRRO Again... and Again... and Again...
If you read my latest post, I introduced you to the lunacy of the FRRO. This new process is significantly worse than the old way. For starters, they refuse to allow any appointments without the online form, and you can't get the form until you have uploaded the photos. My helpful team at work said they would try and see if they could talk themselves into the FRRO speaking Marathi and get an idea of what my options are. They were told to get an agent. The FRRO staff were very unhelpful. For every question, they repeatedly suggested getting an agent. One of my team members was finally able to upload the photos using a PC and Internet Explorer and finally got us appointments.
Now, agents run the gamut of cost and services. Most are completely useless. You still end up generating your own paperwork, you still have to show up at the FRRO. The only difference is that the agent is sharing a portion of his fee as a kickback to the FRRO personnel. Hence the speedier service. Typical charges are anywhere from 10,000 rupees to 40,000 rupees per person. Thomas Cook were the people charging the most and provided the least amount of support when we met with several of them.
We decided to continue to go through this alone to save the company money. Silly me. After we provided all the paperwork and then some, they wanted more. They wanted a Form-16 (like a W2 in the States) even though I work for an American firm and get paid in the States in US dollars. I pay my taxes in India on this US income since my legal domicile is India for 365 days a year. There is a tax treaty between the US and India that keeps expats from paying double taxation in US and India. For this, I need to pay my taxes directly to the Indian government and for that I provided challans (receipts), along with a Form 26AS showing proof that my taxes have been paid to date. Because of their request for a Form-16, I had to get a second letter from my company explaining this. Of course, it needed to have a corporate stamp. Doh.
The next visit required another police verification, beyond the one we had already done with the landlord verifying our new address, getting the new lease notarized, etc. This one required the police to physically come to the home and verify that we were actually living in the house. Of course, they came bearing sad stories about how underpaid they are and how they have families, to which I replied, yes, me, too. And I'm a single woman raising a child alone. And I'm putting him through college alone. They were looking for a bribe. Will walked them out of the house with a couple hundred rupees each. We went back to the police station the next day for a sealed envelope for the FRRO's second police verification.
By now, we had visited the FRRO four times. I thought we were done. Of course not. All the paperwork is scanned and they tell us we're all done, but there is nothing written into our passports, no paperwork saying we're in process, no acknowledgement that we are legally allowed to be here. At this point, we're illegal. Our visas have expired. The telephone companies, our satellite TV vendor, even our wifi service has been calling stating they're turning off our services because we have to supply updated visas by law. The woman behind the counter explained that everything has to go to Mumbai for processing. Oh, just fu*king kill me now.
I'm having flashbacks of Gurgaon, where it took nearly 8 months to finalize my visa, but here, they won't even grant an emergency one-month visa. If something happens to our family back home, we can't leave the country. We were planning on visiting Burma in the Spring, but that's now cancelled. We can't fly domestically nor travel by train until this is solved. My son was supposed to go on a class trip to Jaipur for the Jaipur Literary Festival today. He went to the train station only to say goodbye to his fellow students. It was a huge disappointment. Thanks, FRRO.
It is, by far, the worst experience the typical expat goes through in India. Think of your worst experience in an American Department of Motor Vehicles and add steroids (to them) and a hangover (to you). I think they actually enjoy screwing with expats. I seriously think that's what gets them up in the mornings and eager to go to work. Will is constantly telling me not to react because i get so upset dealing with these morons who can't make it clear, who deliberately obscure the process to make it so vague they can capriciously decide what paperwork is required for you when you approach the counter. It's never, ever, ever the same, and this is my sixth year doing this. It's enough to say, "Fu*k this country. I'm leaving". But then again, I can't leave until they give me a new visa.