Saturday, September 14, 2013

The FRRO - why does it strike such dread in the heart of ex-pats in Bangers?

The FRRO - foreign residents registration office - is an annual day of anguish for most ex-pats in Bangalore.

 On arrival in Bangers one has 30 days to register at said office where one is, hopefully given permission to reside in the city for twelve months and therefore every twelve months one needs to extend one's residency permit.

The 'new'FRRO building is pretty innocuous looking  - its that yellow and red building. On this picture it looks very clam and quite. However by opening time there is a queue of 'foreigners' and their agents amassing in something which could almost by called a queue. The road is currently half fallen away due to heavy monsoons and the remainder is a sea of mud.

To those of us acclimatized to India and Bangers the building itself is pretty average. Whether the bright colors are to give a facade of joy and happiness to disguise the potential frustrations within or just because these particulars colors were on sale I'm not sure. The poor newbies can be seen clutching bottles of hand sanitizer, extra strength, which is liberally applied as soon as any surface is touched, and if they need to use the pretty basic bathrooms you can see their faces go pale at the prospect. To be set down in India, probably in a pretty posh hotel while you house hunt, school hunt and generally get your bearings is one thing but to then have to register at the FRRO is quite another.

The system has got way more streamlined since we were the newbies nearly three years ago, when the brats were younger and less inclined to sit for long periods of time and this 'new' building is way more civilized than the previous one. But it is still a challenge. Even for us with an agent (who does as much form filling in triplicate as possible, ensures we bring/complete the right documents etc.etc) and as English speakers, this is not a pleasant day! The non english speaking students seem to have the hardest time.

This is bureaucracy gone bonkers. Whether this extreme need for multiple papers in triplicate to sign, initial or officially stamp is a hang over from the British need for order in the chaos during their period of rule here or not I don't know. I'm beginning to think the higher of stack of papers you arrive with the more the petty bureaucrats see you as a semi-kindred spirit and the more likely there are to move you along through the process a tad quicker.

The brats, obviously potential terrorists, anarchists or another type of undesirable have to prove they go to school, to an accredited school no less. This is a new stage in the process for 2013. Instead of a short one line "Adam Towers goes to Indus' on letter head with an official stamp, there is now a form which has to be logged on a website which generates a number, which has to be inserted on the hard copy, which needs a passport photo which all needs to be signed and stamped...... I was at Indus twice, second time for an hour to get this done and to pick up the couple of certificates to verify Indus credentials. Needless to say our man at the FRRO didn't even look at this.....but then if we hadn't had it, he would have!!

Once you have stood in the outside queue and the doors are finally open there are various checks and more lines to go through until one gets a token. Then more sitting and once your token number appears on the LCD (there is some hi-tech penetrating the process albeit slowly) you proceed upstairs - now in the serious business part of the building. By now you know the desk you will be going to when your number is up and can see the FRRO official and can try and calculate his mood and thoroughness. You hope the people in front are not 'problem cases' and have all the right documents for their sake, as well as yours!!

We saw one young African guy -maybe a student who was missing some mysterious form 16 and whose stay in India was about to be abruptly terminated and some poor girl who was working for a charity but because she didn't earn the requisite salary could not be allowed to be a resident - from what we heard if she didn't earn anything and was a volunteer that would have been OK but then of course she wouldn't be able to live......Anyway she was given until the end of the year arrange her departure.

Our fear is not that our Visa wont be extended but that we have to make multiple visits due to an "i" not dotted or a "t" not crossed. We did see our official at desk 'B' try to smile a couple of times so when our  number was called we were full of hope. And yes this time all was in order but sadly the process does not end there. Someone has to pay for this brightly colored building and its generally sour annal employees and that is the next stage. We are presented with a cost sheet for our time spent chez FRRO and the stamp in our passport. Our agent goes off to the bank to get a payment draft and we head off for coffee - a lot of successful coffee stops near the FRRO. An hour later we have the draft which Simon drops in and is then told the time to pick up our stamped passports -yeah we have time for lunch and time for Simon to drop us home before he returns for the last step to render us legal for another year. He only has to wait an hour and a half. All done by 6.00pm, after getting in line at 8.30am.......well at least all done in one day!!

Hence my FB status:

It's not fun to be at the FRRO
It's not fun to be at the FRRO

Expat, expat there's a need to feel down,
Expat, expat, throw yourself on the ground,

It's not fun to be at the FRRO

Ok, doesnt flow as well as the Village people at the YMCA - but you see my point!!!

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