In which I try not to sound too much like an annoyed expatriate…and probably fail (2 of 2)

So, Meru Cabs sucks. Got it.

Complaint Number Two: I am not even going to start on the idiocy that is the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO). It is the bane of the expat. India has this ludicrous law that requires foreigners to register with the police, ostensibly so that they can be tracked / monitored. OK, I get it at a certain level – you’re coming here on a visa, we want to make sure you don’t overstay your visa or commit visa fraud. Monitoring of such things is required, and expected. Happens in the US as well, I’m sure.

But the process – as my friend Niti called it, the “babu-dom” – of it all is maddening. First, I registered with the FRRO in Hyderabad. Took a full day. But it was done.

Then I moved to Mumbai.

So listen to this. I had to FLY TO HYDERABAD and report to the FRRO, in person, to request a transfer of my registration to Mumbai. You should have done this before moving, you might say. Ah yes, that’s true. Except I need proof of address (i.e., a lease) in Mumbai in order to request the transfer. In short: not possible.

Fine, I went to Hyderabad for the day, reported to the FRRO with documents in hand (and lots of passport sized photographs) and obtained my transfer stamp.

Waste of a day: check. Got my transfer stamp: check.

Then, I had to go to the Mumbai FRRO office, known colloquially to expatriates in Mumbai as “the seventh circle of hell.” In this office, a cadre of inefficient babu-bureaucrats carry on a paper-only process of registering hapless foreigners, requesting additional documents that you don’t have or can’t get, and generally making things difficult.

First of all, in the home country of Wipro and Infosys, you would think that such an office would be paperless, or at least computerized, by this point. But no. Paperwork rules. And as for process, I blame the British. You damn limeys instituted the worst bureaucratic processes in your colonies, and your legacy lives on. I hope you come and visit India often, and are equally stymied by the descendants of your Raj-era colonial processes. Serves you right. That and your food sucks. Really, British food: suckage. (Exception: scones.)

Anyway, I brought my paperwork to the office. I gave them what they needed. But no – they needed some additional document, sent from the Hyderabad FRRO, in order to extend my visa to allow me to go back to the US (where, by the way, I will have to re-apply for a new visa. What’s up with 1-year employment visas?! Too short).

Grrr. So I was told to come back, to obtain a request letter that I could then get to Hyderabad, so as to speed up the process for Hyderabad sending the document in question to Mumbai so that I would be able to extend my visa. Stupid, but OK. I’ll play along.

So on Friday, I called the FRRO office, and was told that the letter was ready. So Ravi, our amazing office guy, undertook the 1-hour train trip to the FRRO to pick up the document. I said I’d go myself, but was talked out of it by people I work with.

4 hours later, Ravi returned, empty handed. But the letter was ready, right?

I called the FRRO office to see what happened.

Rob: Hello, I called earlier and was told that the letter is ready.
FRRO: Yes yes, letter is ready.
Rob (confused): OK, well Ravi came to pick it up and was told that it was not possible.
FRRO: No, letter is ready, but I do not have the letter.
Rob (really confused): Wait, why don’t you have the letter? You told me it was ready, right?
FRRO: Yes yes, letter is ready. But your file is with another man. When I get the file back, I will give you the letter. But not today.
Rob (livid): So you’re telling me that I asked my colleague to go all the way downtown to get the letter, on YOUR assurance that the letter was ready and could be picked up, and you’re telling me that this was never possible in the first place?
FRRO: No no. Letter IS ready. Come on Monday and pick it up.

You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding.

Welcome to babu-dom.

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About Rob

Twitter @robertkatz
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8 Responses to In which I try not to sound too much like an annoyed expatriate…and probably fail (2 of 2)

  1. Dad says:

    We may think that we invented the term “red tape”, or maybe it was Pope Clement
    , but it seems like India invented the practice and had it down to a fine art while the Visigoths were still sacking Rome and the smoke was curling above the ruins!

    As they said in Latin, “Illigitimi non te carburundum!” Unfortunately, I don’t know the Hindi translation!

  2. Minna Katz says:

    you will forgive me .if I laugh a tiny bit.
    Because,when I went to visit Judy,when she was studying in Egypt,in 1975/6(I was there for a month,in early ’76 )we had to go downtown to some BIG office,where I had to be registered.
    My passport was checked,and lots of info was put in a BIG book,the book was then thrown on top of other BIG books,and we left.
    In theory,if a war broke out-they would know where to find all the foreigners!!
    Do you think Judy and I believed that??
    No way!!
    I hope you will look back on all of your adventures,and mis-adventures,and know that you had a wonderful time!!

  3. Wilma Stern says:

    Ha-ha! First year love affair is wearing thin. Beginning of return starting to fester. You must register in Austria too, and when we last did it we had to indicate religion. Easy to round us up. Scary. India has great system for pre-industrial age. No one ever moved then.

  4. Aunt Martha says:

    When I spent my junior year in Austria, we had to register as well, but the program took care of that. When I lived in Israel (1971-1973), the paperwork to get my driver’s license was incredible–and that was without having to take the test! I waited in line for a long time; the lines shut down for tea break mid-morning, and then it was another couple of hours. Same kind of bureaucracy to buy a new balloon (cylinder) of cooking gas, etc., etc. — and the same legacy of British officialdom!

  5. Judy says:

    ditto to Grandma and Aunt Martha. In the depths of US bureacracy, particlarly related to immigration, there are probably similar stories, but we typically do not get to the depths of it because we typically don’t need to…

  6. Maria says:

    In this ex-portuguese colony (Brazil), registration is also required. And given the fact that I’m on about my fifth resident visa and last week was the first time I received my laminated, official, etc. foreigner ID card I understand your plight. For the last seven years I’ve been carrying around a folded piece of paper with typewriter print and my photo glued on. Though despite all that, the federal police who do foreigner registration here are actually pretty fantastic. The drivers license process was infinitely more painful.

  7. Rob says:

    Thanks for your stories about Austria, Egypt and Brazil. Frankly, makes me feel a little less crazy about the whole thing. I need to look at what we (the US) make foreigners go through upon arrival and registration and do a little comparison. I think it’ll make me feel less proud to be an American, but it’ll be a good exercise nonetheless.

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