February 04, 2004

Sleepy, Yet Fully Legal

I'm still not on a "German" sleep schedule yet. Last night I didn't get to sleep until 4 AM; I forgot to set my alarm clock before finally nodding off to sleep, so I didn't wake up until 11! Fortunately, my manager is off at training today, and our group meeting isn't until tomorrow, so this less-than-auspicious start to my first full day at work went mostly unnoticed.

Yesterday I went through the mini-circle-of-hell that is German bureaucracy. I say "mini" because my experience actually wasn't all that bad; I met Helma outside my apartment at 9:30 and was fully legal to live and work in Germany by 1 PM -- a new record! There was still a lot of running around to various offices and waiting, though.

First we had to go to the Bezirksamt for Hamburg-Mitte, the central government office for the portion of Hamburg we're living in, to register my name and address. Eeach person living in Germany, including foreigners, has to register with the government each time he changes his/her address. I brought along a form signed by my landlord attesting that I now lived at Valentinskamp 40, 20355 Hamburg. Registration was pretty painless; some tapping at a keyboard, and I was done. (They remembered me from 2000; I was asked if I once lived at Koenigstrasse 7.) We couldn't register Shelby, since we didn't have her passport, but I was able to present our marriage license and have the fact that we were married entered into the system, so that on our next trip to the Bezirksamt, I could attest that Shelby lived with me at Valentinskamp 40, rather than having to get another signed form from the landlord.

After that, it was down the street and up a few flights of stairs to the immigration office. Most of my paperwork had already been sent ahead of time by the company (and again, they had some of my information on file from my last time), so we were able to breeze through the first waiting room full of screaming kids and sad-looking adults and go to a quieter waiting room upstairs. After some palaver (I'm glad Helma was there, since the immigration official spoke the most rapid-fire German I'd ever heard), some more waiting, and 51 Euro, my residence permit was placed in my passport. In the four years since my last permit, the permit has doubled in size -- now it's two giant-size stickers that take up two pages in my passport.

Finally, there was one last subway ride to the Arbeitsamt, the office where I had to register for a work permit. This was the worst of all, simply because it took forever, sitting in a waiting room with nothing to do while watching numbers creep along on the electronic waiting board. Eventually they got to my number (300), and we went down the hall to the designated room. There, an older man took my application papers and passport, gave some cursory glances through the supporting documentation that Helma offered him, and then shuffled off into an adjoining room to do . . . something. ("He is treating us like children! He doesn't even talk to us!" Helma exclaimed. "That's fine, as long as he comes back with a signed permit", was my practically-minded response.) And, eventually, he did.

So my experience with the much-feared-and-reviled German immigration and employment bureaucracy turned out to be the equivalent of a half-day trip to the DMV. Of course, I was the right kind of person (a white American) with the right kind of job (a short-term assignment, funded outside of Germany), and my company had done all kinds of paperwork and made a raft of advance phone calls on my behalf. I can imagine it being a lot worse for someone with a more sketchy immigration or employment status (and in the interest of equal time, I can imagine it being a lot worse for someone seeking to immigrate into and work in the US).

Next week, Shelby and I go to the Bezirksamt all by ourselves; we'll probably have Helma's help for the immigration office, though. Hopefully it all goes as well on the second time around.

Posted by at February 4, 2004 08:19 PM

I am an Indian student in IIT and have got to do my project in University of Hamburg-Eppendorf. My visa application that I had sent through the German consulate in Kolkata, India is presumably stuck up at the Foreigners registration office in Hamburg. I got to your site searchin for their fax number. Please send me the fax number, phone number and e-mail address of the same by e-mail so that I can contact them. Any person in charge of visa issues would do. I am looking forward to your reply.

Posted by: Bijoy Chanda Pillai Karikkineth at July 15, 2004 05:53 AM
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