Saturday, September 11, 2010

Latest visit to Immigration

We've been in Cyprus for nearly 20 months now, and I still don't have official permission to be here. We applied for "yellow slips" shortly after arriving--a sort of residency permit or visa, which allows the bearer to stay in Cyprus for an unlimited amount of time and to travel in and out of the country at will.

As my husband and children have German citizenship, and are therefore members of the European Union, their applications were relatively straightforward. (I say "relatively" because Immigration did keep changing their requirements and it took six months for the process to be complete, which was rather unnecessary in my Western European-influenced opinion.) As I am married to an EU citizen, my application should have been equally straightforward. It hasn't been.

Here's a far too long post about part of the saga, in November 2009, trying to get proof of medical insurance.

Then the next day I went back to Immigration in Larnaka and was told my paperwork would be sent to Nikosia.

The saga continued...and I was eventually issued with a single-use re-entry visa so that we could visit my family in the U.S. from the end of December.

In February we got back home and continued discussing things with Immigration, and in March they actually phoned and said my yellow slip was ready...and an hour later called back and said it wasn't. More arguments about health insurance, and then almost as an aside, the comment that the children need to be in school. A few days later I drove to Nikosia to discuss it all with them in person. They finally accepted that I have health insurance, but said that they would have to speak with the Ministry of Education about the children's schooling.

That's the last I posted, but events have continued. In April, the police showed up--sent by the Ministry of Education! (I had a hard time not giggling about it, especially as in the heading of my other blog I say that it's nice homeschooling without worrying about the police showing up...we had plenty of threats via letter, but never did actually have the police show up while we lived in Germany.) They took a statement, then met with my husband a second time to rephrase the statement so that they could drop charges, as they found the whole thing ridiculous.

Then a social worker showed up, also sent by the Ministry of Education. She wasn't interested in anything I had to say, just said that it was her job to make sure the children were okay. I wouldn't let her in the house, but offered to let her see the children, but she said that wouldn't be necessary, but would call for an appointment.

Six weeks later, she did call and asked if I'd spoken with my husband yet, and would it be possible for us to come to her office. I said no: I had six children, one of them four days old. Without missing a beat she asked if she could come to us instead, and did so.

She took plenty of notes, but appeared to be extremely skeptical when we told her that the Cypriot embassy in Germany and Immigration authorities in Larnaka had both told us that as non-Cypriots, we were free to homeschool here in Cyprus. She ended by saying that we should be aware that the police might get involved, and was very surprised to find out that the police had long since come and gone!

So by then it was summer, we had a newborn baby, life was busy and not much happens in the offices in the summer anyway. We tried half a dozen times or so to phone Mrs. Evie, but never got an answer. We waited for August to end, and on Monday this week I finally headed up to Nikosia to, enquire politely at Immigration if they had any news for me.

I didn't get very lost on the way there, which was a nice bonus, and even better, found a parking space in the shade. They've taken down some of the chain-link fence, so it didn't feel quite like walking into a prision this time. Remembering that the doors to the stairwell had been locked last time, I took the elevator to the second floor--and discovered that the door between the stairwell and the elevator was now open, but the door on the other side, into the corridor where the offices are, was locked and said access only to carriers of an access card. In Germany, I would have turned around and gone downstairs to the registration desk. But then again, in Germany, my paperwork would have been finished 18 months ago. Not being in Germany, I stood there for a moment, and when two men went through the door (with an access card), I grabbed the door before it fell closed and simply walked in behind them and down the corridor to Mrs. Evie's office.

Once there I knocked on the door, but there was no answer, so I opened the door to find Mrs. Evie and another lady sitting at their desks. I got straight to the point and said that I've been waiting for 20 months for my yellow slip, they haven't answered the phone, a fax, or an e-mail, I wasn't able to go to my grandfather's funeral (true...but not necessarily totally honest, as I couldn't go anyway because Elisabeth didn't have a passport yet, not to mention it would have been prohibitively expensive...), and I really wanted to go to my sister's wedding in November (the wedding is in December, but we're flying in November), and when would they be finished? Mrs. Evie said, "We don't have e-mail," and then asked me to take a seat while she located my file. She didn't even ask my name.

Once she had the file, she told me that the Ministry of Education had said that we had to put the children in school, and they couldn't give me the yellow slip until I had proof of enrollment for them. I insisted on staying until she'd given me phone numbers for the Ministry of Education, the address, and a map with the location. (I had a map, but seeing as the U.S. embassy, the Ministry of Health, and Immigration have all moved since the map was printed, I wasn't taking any chances. As it turned out, the Ministry of Education IS where it says it is on the map--about a block away from where Mrs. Evie marked it on the map...) During the hour and a half I was in the office, the phone rang at Mrs. Evie's desk half or dozen or so times, and was never answered, either by Mrs. Evie while she was there nor by her colleague while Mrs. Evie herself was out of the office. The phone at her colleague's desk was answered about half of the times it rang.

I'll try to keep the rest short-ish: I went to the Ministry of Education, was led around the building to talk with four or five different people, finally waited an hour to speak with the second-in-command as the Minister of Education was not in the building, and was finally sent off with the address of the Minister, with the advice to write him a letter to ask for an appointment, or just ask directly for permission to homeschool, as it's really not a problem. I also found out while I was there that they had received the reports from the police and from the social worker and then sent the letter to Immigration a month ago saying that our children had to attend school, but of course, nobody could tell me why I'd never been notified by Immigration nor whether the Ministry of Education had any intention of doing anything else about my truant children.

That afternoon my husband happened to run into an acquaintance who has a connection with the Ministry of Education. On Tuesday I delivered (at his request) a letter to him to explain the situation, and on Thursday he let us know that he's on it, that nobody he spoke with at the Ministry of Education understands why we weren't given permission (not to mention never told we should ask...). He expects to have an answer by Monday.

So watch this space! Maybe, just maybe, I'l have a yellow slip by the end of next week...

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