Wasting time at the Migration Board

Ronnie Gilchrist spends a trying afternoon at the offices of the Migration Board with an MBA student who urgently needs the agency to rectify a bureaucratic error.

Jenny sits patiently in the Swedish Migration Board’s grey-tiled, symmetrically decorated waiting room in Solna on the outskirts of Stockholm.

She is here because of a mistake made by the Swedish Migration Board. For the fourth time since she got here, she answers her phone.

“I will be there at three,” she tells the person on the other end of the line.

To me she says: “I have a group meeting at three for the Ericsson project and, well, you know, the way this is going I just don’t know”.

She hunches her shoulders and sinks back into the chair.

Jennifer is an exchange student from the United States. She has been studying for an MBA at Handelshögskolan (Stockholm School of Economics) since August. She graduates in July.

But Jenny has a problem: during her application process the Swedish Migration Board made a mistake. They only permitted her a student visa until June 31st.

Time passes. Our conversation has run dry and the coffee machine is out of order. We have been waiting at the Migration Board since one o’clock. It is now three and Jenny has missed her meeting.

We sit and wait. What else can we do? Outside the sun is shining but inside the dim light is reminiscent of an operating ward. The people waiting come from all over the world. Jenny and I manage to discern snatches of conversations in Turkish, Russian and Chinese.

In the corner there are kids sliding on the rails intended to help the women transport their baby carts up and down the stairs. I observe the children’s ability to turn even the most irritating of situations into an adventure.

Above us is a digital screen with bleeping queue numbers. The bleeps have temporarily become the pacemaker by which we mark time.

Finally we hear the bleep we have been waiting for, as the number printed on our note and stained in our minds appears on the screen. We hurry to the booth, walk into the tight cubicle, close the curtain behind ourselves and stare at a bulletproof window with nobody sitting behind it.

“It was booth 14?” Jenny asks.

I get up to check the digital sign and see that it still flashing the number 14. I go back to the booth, confirm my findings to Jenny, and we continue admiring the pane of glass before us. We watch attentively for another 15 minutes but the movie does not improve.

Eventually, a young woman comes to our aid and asks Jenny in Swedish what the problem is. Jenny replies in English but it seems Sweden’s second language is not spoken at the Migration Board. Clearly they are not leaving it solely to the language institutes to preserve Sweden’s native tongue.

After three or four sentences, the woman ceases her efforts at teaching Swedish and switches instead to flawless English.

Jenny explains her situation and hands over documentation from her school and her health insurance, the only two requirements for obtaining a student visa. The woman looks through them before reading from a computer screen:

“Your visa was permitted for the time that you have health insurance.”

“But my health insurance is good until the 12th of August,” says Jenny, while gesticulating at the form that accompanied her original visa application.

The woman looks first at the computer screen, then at Jenny’s bewildered expression. She walks away without explanation.

The woman returns: “You have to go to Norrköping, they take care of all student visa applications,” she says.

“Can’t we call?” Jenny enquires.

“There is a pay phone in the lobby, but it only takes cards,” is the answer given.

Jenny is quickly running out of patience. This whole process is starting to tear at her nerves. She suggests to the woman that she should call her colleagues in Norrköping and find out what is going on.

“No,” says the woman.

“But it’s your mistake, why should I have to waste another day to sort this out?” Jenny wonders.

“You can apply for a new visa. It will most likely be granted. Here is the application form,” the woman says, and hands Jenny an application form in Swedish.

Jenny finally thinks we are getting somewhere but it seems that, to add insult to injury, this new application is going to cost her 1,000 kronor ($164). Jenny brushes the slightly damp hair from her forehead and takes a deep breath.

The girl behind the bulletproof glass explains that it was up to Jenny to appeal the original decision within 30 days of receiving the confirmation letter.

After another 15 minutes of debating the legalities and irregularities of the situation, we come to the conclusion that the woman has no authority and can’t help Jenny in any way. It has become clear to us that another sabbatical will be needed.

We leave the booth with wet backs and dry throats. We are tired and angry as we discuss the idiocy of the whole situation. Nobody is left in the lobby; the Migration Board closes at 3 o’clock.

We leave the building without a visa and without the assignment that Jenny should have been writing. All we have is a wasted day.