Uncertainty. It is a terrible feeling. Wondering what is going to happen, when it is going to happen, and how that thing - when it does happen - is going to affect your life.
Your finances dwindle while you check the mail every day, holding your breath for that envelope. You try as you might to stay busy and find a purpose for yourself to take your mind off the waiting and the soul-sucking feeling of being in limbo.
Waiting for residency permit approval in the Netherlands
Such is the experience of waiting for residency permit approval in the Netherlands. And this is just if it goes as expected.
When my partner and I decided that instead of continue our long distance relationship I would move from the U.S. to the Netherlands and seek a residency permit with him as my sponsor, I was overwhelmed yet still underestimated the emotional (not to even start with the financial) toll it would take on me.
Most of us want certainty in our lives or at least a general idea of what to expect. Awaiting a permit when you have already moved to a new country rips this comforting assurance away from you and leaves you wondering for up to six months, which is the legal amount of time the IND can leave you waiting to process your request.
While in America, Thomas and I spent hours scouring web forums and IND documents trying to make sure we were doing it right. Surprisingly, or maybe not, this bit of bureaucracy that seems like it should have a clear-cut process for such a request in fact had lots of gray areas.
This was even more disconcerting for me as I wanted a black and white answer for everything before packing my things and leaving my American life behind, but is that not that part of what we sign up for as expats? We hop that plane to fly off into what, for many, is an endless sea of gray area.
Even more worrisome is the financial commitment that comes with applying for a residency permit. Oh, and did I mention this is a nonrefundable financial commitment no matter the outcome? We scrimped and saved our pennies, and even received donations from loving friends, to be able to shell out over 800 euros to the IND when the time came.
When I arrived in Breda, we went straight to the gemeente to register me with the city. I found out then that I needed a birth certificate that was less than six months old and it needed an apostille. I had brought my original birth certificate that was nearly 20 years old.
This was the first in a line of document and authentication-related "oops" moments. My mother assured me that these were just challenging lessons, but my frustration came from knowing that this is something I will most likely never have to do again, so when will those learned lessons come into play?
I obtained my birth certificate, along with the apostille, through an expensive company in the states that exists to service U.S. citizens outside the U.S. with such requests. This was, of course, after spending nearly an hour on hold with the company via Skype.
The date came for our IND appointment and Thomas and I were both shaking a bit as we stepped off the train platform in 's-Hertogenbosch. We had all of our paperwork, in triplicate, and our money. We took some deep breaths and sat in a courtyard awaiting our scheduled time. My heart was racing and I felt a little sick. All of our stress had been leading up to this moment when we would hand it all over, sign away our money, and begin to wait in the dark.
The meeting itself was pleasant and the IND representative was funny and put us at ease. She even complimented us on how thorough and organised we were and assured us we had all of the documents we needed.
After signing a few papers we did the really hard part and pushed over 800 euros in cash through a Plexiglas window and left the building, letting out a collective sigh of relief. The really cool part was the temporary permit stamp in my passport - much more colourful and reflective than the usual country stamps.
And so we waited. And waited, hearing nothing from the IND for nearly four months. We had been warned that August was vacation time and that work slowed down quite a bit then. In November we receive a letter from the IND.
All of that - down the drain. I then had to tackle getting proof of my civil status from my home state. The company where I had obtained my birth certificate could get the document, but in this case it could not obtain the appostile. My mother then had to drive the document to my state capital to have an appostile applied and then FedEx that to me. All of this to say I am not married.
I thought, when I dropped the document in the mail last month that would be the last hurdle on this endless course. But no. That was the day when TNT Post workers decided to strike. I am a proud proponent of organised labour, but I could not help but scream when the worker from the IND called to say she had not received our paper and was ready to give us a big, fat "DENIED" stamp. Thomas begged, pleaded, and assured her we had mailed the papers. It seems most mail service was disrupted by the strike and she offered us some leniency.
A bit of advice about the IND
I wanted to share all of this not because I wanted to gripe about the IND (though I have registered my complaint about the ambiguity of the origins of the marriage status declaration), but because so many of the experiences Thomas and I found through forum postings seem to differ. It is unfortunate that a system that should have very clear steps to follow instead varies from couple to couple and from IND worker to IND worker.
The journey toward residency for me is over. I found out, on December 7, that the IND had approved my application and now I am just waiting for a bit of paperwork to arrive and for my card to be printed. I will have no use for these hard lessons in the future, but my hope is that someone else can learn from our missteps and victories and somehow stumble toward a positive outcome with the IND.
Most of your technical information can be obtained through calls to the IND (for which they charge a blood-sucking 10 euro cents per minute) or, if your finances can handle it, a consultation with a lawyer.
And my other bit of advice? Before you leave your country get copies of every possible document you can imagine and have appostiles applied to them. Your birth certificate, your marriage status, your college diploma, any certifications you have, your third grade report card - gather them all and get those appostiles. And be ready to twiddle your thumbs into what seems like infinity.
Up until a few days ago, I was still waiting and thought that was as nerve-wracking as it could get. That was until I heard of my approval and realised that if I was not looking at this country as my home before, I have to now. I'm here for the long haul.
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