Thursday, May 12, 2016

2016: An Ikamet Odyssey

Tales of pell-mell races across the Eminyet courtyard and sharp-elbowed scuffles at the residence-permit application counter were swapped over Efes like war stories among expats when I initially arrived in Turkey. By the time I made my own first application, things had settled into some manner of organized confusion. But, like the course of true love, bureaucratic progress did never did run smooth. One particularly bad year, a friend had to queue in front of the Emniyet in the middle of night, where she reported people were selling places in line. When the process was decentralized to local police stations, crowded waiting rooms were replaced by bored young officers flirtatiously or sadistically (it was sometimes hard to tell which) quizzing female applicants on American sports teams or the capital cities of random English-speaking countries.

This past year, the mass influx of Syrians and other refugees led Turkey to set up an entire new bureaucracy for processing foreign residents, the Göç İdaresi (Migration Administration). Those of us who'd already been in the country for a while were promised efficient new electronic renewals, under which "the foreigners shall be informed through their e-mail addresses" of any missing documents, and receive an SMS when the permit is ready to be delivered. And there the odyssey began:
✔ Gather necessary paperwork, get ID photos taken, fill in online application. So easy! 
✔ Go to tax office in Eminönü, pay required fees for the renewal. A little elbowing required at the cashier's counter, but not too bad. 
✔ Bring receipts home to scan them, along with the rest of the application documents (you never know what might get lost in the mail). 
✔ Package up original documents and receipts and take them to the post office to send them to the Göç İdaresi by registered mail. 
✔ Track the letter online and see that it's reached its destination two days later. So far, so good! 
✔ Wait.
✔ Wait. 
✔ Wait some more.
✔  Decide after two and a half months that maybe it would be a good idea to check on things. Call the mobile number you've been given of someone at the Göç İdaresi in Fatih. He tells you to come in (wait, what happened to letting applicants know by phone or email? never mind, don't ask...) so they can see if your paperwork is in order. Uh-oh. 
✔ Go to the Göç İdaresi the next day, following directions from the man you spoke to on the phone to go to the second floor information desk and ask for him or his colleague. Get sent down to the first floor information desk. 
✔ Get given a piece of paper with a date of unknown significance and "E-35" written on it. Get told to wait outside door "E," where a group of people are already standing, each clutching their own little slip of paper. A sternly worded sign posted on the door warns applicants that their deportment within the room is as important as their paperwork in being accepted or rejected.
The holy grail.
✔ Keep waiting in front of room E. Sometimes the door opens to let people in or out, one by one. Your number is never called. When the door is ajar, you can see no one is sitting at the desk marked E-35. After about 45 minutes, a man with the same number written on his scrap of paper gets it in front of an official opening the door who tells him he has to go to Beylikdüzü. Where??? (Not to mention, why???
✔ Call that mobile number you've been given again, a little frantically this time, knowing the whole office is closing for lunch break in less than an hour. Try to explain the runaround you've been through. Get told to come to a different office and wait. This time, you get to sit down, inside. 
✔ Explain who you are and why you're there to multiple officials, all of whom seem to be just curious rather than actually capable of helping you resolve the situation. 
✔ Finally get a nice lady to look up your application record, tell you everything looks fine from her end, but explain that due to the massive number of applications, they've had to open a new Göç İdaresi office in Beylikdüzü and her colleague there will have to call you to confirm. 
✔ Get the nice lady to rush through a stamp on your application (so you can actually leave the country while your application is being processed) before the lunch break. 
✔ Go home. Wait.
✔ Get a phone call from an impatient official in Beylikdüzü who snaps at you for not being able to understand every word of his rapid-fire Turkish as he explains (seemingly) that your Turkish health insurance policy, whose coverage far exceeds the government's minimum requirements, does not include a line stating that it meets the government's minimum requirements. He refuses to give you a phone number ("Yasak!") so your insurance agent can call him back for clarification, nor any other kind of contact information, except for the name of the building in which he sits, demanding that the revised insurance policy be brought in in person. 
✔ Look up Beylikdüzü on Google Maps. OMG.
That's Beylikdüzü all the way over there on the left,
at the end of the purple line.
✔ Call your insurance agent, demanding to know what went wrong and what the heck he's going to do about it. Roll your eyes as he babbles about how "If they just compared the provisions of your policy to the requirements, they would see..." (right, like any self-respecting memur is going to go to that trouble) before backing down and agreeing to send a letter that you can bring to Beylikdüzü. 
✔ Get the letter by email from your insurance agent. It doesn't look very official. He assures you, "They will accept this." 
✔ Call the residence-permit hotline to see if you really have to go across the city to deliver one piece of paper. You do.
✔ Fuel up with a hearty breakfast before taking the metro to Mecidiyeköy and then boarding the standing-room only metrobus for the nearly 40-kilometer trip to Beylikdüzü. Pass endless indistinguishably ugly developments. When you pass the airport, your stop still hasn't even appeared on the board. At least you brought a good book
✔ Finally get off the metrobus, grab a quick Nescafe at the mall across the street from the other mall. 
✔ Start walking towards the Beylikdüzü Kaymakamlığı (Deputy Governor's) office, thinking you'll catch a dolmuş along the way. The traffic is one-way in the wrong direction. Keep walking.
✔ Finally arrive at the kaymakamlık, where one room is devoted to the migration administration. The hallway outside the single closed door is crowded with people waiting. One sign says missing documentation can only be submitted in the morning (what?? that's not what you were told on the phone), another that it can only be submitted during a short period in the morning and a short period in the afternoon. If the latter sign is correct, you have about a half an hour. And no one seems to be going in or out of the room.
✔ Go up to a kindly looking amca drinking tea at a table outside the migration hallway. Ask him if he works there. Explain your problem and show him the paper from your insurance company. "What's your nationality?" he asks. "American," you say. He looks at your paper again, then gestures for you to follow and then wait as he goes behind the closed door. Moments later, he reemerges, calling out, "American! Come here!" You've breached the defenses. 
✔ Stand nervously in front of the desk of the guy who yelled at you on the phone as he looks over your paper, then starts in again: "What is this?! Where's the stamp?! Do you think is official?!" In a moment of inspiration, you meekly ask the memur if he could possibly speak to your insurance guy directly so he doesn't get it wrong again. Amazingly, he agrees. You dial quickly before he changes his mind, then get the satisfaction of listening to the memur chew out the insurance agent instead of you. 
✔ Watch the memur shuffle through endless disorganized stacks of application dossiers to file your paper away until the real one arrives. Cringe at the sight of all the ones stamped "İPTAL" (cancel) and shake your head periodically as he holds up every file with a photo of a vaguely European-looking female, demanding "Is this you?!?" Finally, your file is found and your useless paper tucked away. 
✔ Embark on the long trip back home. You'll spend a total of nearly six hours in transit for 30 minutes at the Göç İdaresi. At least you can help that nice old man who stops you on the road in Beylikdüzü and asks you directions to the only place for miles around that you know how to get to.
✔ After haranguing your insurance agent again, check the tracking number he gives you to make sure the documents he sent by cargo have arrived. They have.
✔ Wait.
✔ Wait. 
✔ Wait some more. 
✔ Decide after another month has passed (making a total of four months) to call the residence-permit hotline. Narrowly avoid having a meltdown when they not only decline to provide any information about the status of your permit, but suggest that the 90-day waiting period may start all over again after the submission of the missing document. 
✔ Wait.
✔ Trying to stay optimistic, buy a plane ticket for your first trip out of the country since before this process started. Keep telling yourself that even if the ikamet (residence permit) doesn't come in time, the stamped application should allow you to get back into the country. Should. 
✔ Wait some more. 
✔ One afternoon, your phone dings. An SMS. You shriek. With joy. "Your residence document has been posted to your address." 
✔ Sit at home all day the following day waiting anxiously for the postman to ring the buzzer. By late afternoon, nothing. You check the online tracking. "Tried to deliver, no one there." What?? "Left delivery notice." Race downstairs. Of course, there's no notice at the door. 
✔ Call the local postal distribution center to inquire about the package's whereabouts. The man who answers the phone seems to be stifling a snicker when you tell him about the supposed delivery. He says the package is there and they'll attempt to deliver (sure...) again tomorrow. "Can I just come pick it up now?" you ask, trying to keep your voice from sounding too frenzied. When he answers in the affirmative, you repeat, almost frantically, "OK! I'll come there! I'll come there right now!" 
✔ Race down to the postal distribution center, inquiring down a few wrong hallways before reaching the correct office. Stand nervously as the clerk retrieves the package, then fills out a form at what seems like a snail's pace. 
✔ Sign the form, then leave the office, opening the package still half-convinced you'll find someone else's ikamet inside. You don't. Check at least four times on the way home to make sure your shiny new permit is still in your wallet. It is.
✔ Breathe a huge sigh of relief, until you remember that you'll have to start this all over again in another six months or so.


Mark and Jolee said...


Well, I'm not going to say 'geçmiş olsun' since it 'geçti' (for at least 6 months). I don't have to tell you I've heard similar horror tales although yours may top the list! (BTW, we had a friend who resorted to the meltdown that you describe as almost having and as a result, the bureaucrats in the office backed off and accepted the documents she presented.) I think one of the keys of getting a breakthrough is, as you describe, finding a kindly amca who will take pity on you. Congratulations on finding yours and finally getting your permit.

Anonymous said...

Ankarali living in SF Bay Area. I understand your frustration as I always have to go through similar things in Turkey, but getting a green card in US is not all that much different. Just saying... You don't expect to hear back for months, you can't really ask questions about your application, and any of your documents may be considered invalid for no reason at all (Oops, I spilled coffee on the file! Let me ask for a new one and delay the process another 3 months). At least officers show a little more respect in the USA, so you don't have to look for that 'amca'.

The Turkish Life said...

Ankaralı -- Oh, I'm not surprised, though I have had Turkish friends tell me that the process for going to the US or Europe, while difficult, was at least straightforward and orderly -- i.e. they knew what hoops they had to jump through and the hoops didn't move while they were trying to jump through them ;) But I'm sure experiences vary. As they do here! None of my earlier six application experiences were anywhere near this bad.

M&J -- Thanks for the support!

Academic Mommy said...

I'm Turkish, my husband is American.
We suffered though this torture every year for 4 years. Unless someone higher up calls on your behalf and bullies the police/bureaucrats, none of them would bother to do their job. You're lucky if you could bump into a decent outlier.
On our 4th year, I finally gave in an called an old friend, after months of unsuccessful efforts at Emniyet. They were delaying to issue us a permit, and on top of that trying to charge us a huge penalty fee, due to their own delay. After my friend's phone call, we were issued the residency permit that we couldn't get for months in minutes!!!
I hope there is a special place in hell for all the sadistic, jerk bureaucrats...
Good luck next year...

Julia said...

Woooow, well you know our situation so no need to repeat myself. Interestingly - and a tad off topic - we have a friend (from Fethiye) who lives in Beylikdüzü so I was familiar with its position on the map...and would say he agrees with you on impressions of the place. ;) You can no doubt understand why he pines for his home town.
On another note, I can understand lots of places in Turkey perhaps not being so well-versed in the ikamet application system, but Istanbul? Our system down here seems like clockwork compared to yours and it should be the other way around, surely? Glad you have your ikamet in your possession now - never happy until ours is safely with us. Oh, and if it makes you feel any better, we get the message too that no one was home when they tried to deliver said plastic card (Errrm, YES we were home...waiting). We always go to the PTT, eventually. Hope that makes you feel a *little bit* better. x

Ann Marie Mershon said...

You poor thing! I had a similar experience at customs (though only one day), after which I warned my friends and family that large packages would not be picked up. I can see why Jolee and Mark have chosen to become Turkish citizens. Seems like a no-brainer to me!

Good luck on your next round!
Ann Marie