Monday, July 08, 2002

Three Days of Hell


July 8, 2002 I have just spent three days of hell going through the Visa process and it is still unclear to me and the university that hired me. I will relay what happened for your reference and for whatever school you decide on. I was hired by Eötvös Loránd University, which has the reputation of being the premier university in Hungary and some at the U.S. Embassy, say all of Central Europe. They had a student intern contact me to get the Visa process started. First, some background information. The intern’s name was Bálant. Ron and I had already started a Hungarian corporation, which at the time (Feb.) was supposed to exempt us from needing a Work Permit or Residency Visa since we were the owners. As the ink was drying on the corporation papers, the attorney told us that the laws had changed Jan. 1, 2002. We were now only allowed to manage our business, but we were not allowed to teach through the business. If we wanted to do this, we would need Work Permits and then Residency Permits. The attorney was supposed to do this for us, but then bailed out on it. We found Business Umbrella, a company that specializes in ex-pat needs such as these. Here we met Mona Martin and thought we found gold. Mona did all of the paperwork for our Work Permits. She arranged for our diplomas to be translated at the official translation office. She then submitted our applications to the Employment Office with the qualifications for the jobs. Realistically, we may not have been able to get jobs with our own corporation if the Employment Office found a Hungarian who needed a job and met some of the qualifications. Mona warned us that they did not even have to speak English fluently or have the stated qualifications for the Employment Office to deny our applications. We had to wait six long weeks before our applications were approved. The next step was to get our physical exam, which has to be done here in Hungary, by an authorized doctor. Mona met us at the clinic and four hours later, we had our medical certificates. She then submitted the complete application for our work permits. After one month, we had them and it was then and only then that we were able to work legally. At this point, Mona dropped two bombs on us. The first was that she was leaving Business Umbrella and going to the more expensive agency, The Ex-Pat Relocation Center. The second was that she could not assist with the Residency Permits. We had to do it on our own. We were upset and confused since we do not speak Hungarian, we knew this was another nightmare about to happen. We had three people call the NYC Hungarian Consulate, one who spoke Hungarian, and all three received differing information. The only piece that was identical was that you have to return to your country of citizenship in order to get the Residency Visa, but not until the work permit is issued. Two weeks later, Mona called us and said that she would be starting at the Ex-Pat Center in three weeks and they DO assist with the Residency Permits. We were thrilled, though we knew this meant higher fees. It was worth the lesser amount of education. We met and she had taken all of our files from her previous employer. Unethical, perhaps, but it saved us lots of time and having to redo lots of work and forms. What she needed from us was another “official form that needed to be culled from the district government’s office. After paying a fee, it would be available in three days. All of this was for the D-3 Residency Visa. Mona put together packets for each of us with all of the paperwork, forms, photos that we would need to just hand to the NYC Hungarian consulate. When we told her that we both have since been employed by universities, she said that we should get the Visas and then she would have to cancel out Work Permits and get them reissued for universities. Our permits were for our business and private language schools only. She also said that our Work Permits were for our District only and not outside of it. This sounded fishy and when we mentioned it to a dozen people, everyone said that did not sound valid. We would deal with that at a later time. We made our reservations for the States for August. Fares had skyrocketed since first checking. I received a call from the university’s student Bálant whose job it was to in his words, lead me through the quagmire of red tape. Through the university’s connections, they found that after getting one form, Bálant could take me to the Ministry of the Interior’s office to get a stamp to present to the consulate in NYC and all would be well. They had to send a letter to the Ministry of Education, which they would in turn receive a letter of approval from the Ministry to hire me. As of February, 2002, there is a new law, which is a bilateral agreement for an exchange of language educators between the U.S. and Hungary. This is supposed to make things easier. Insert a chuckle here. With this letter in hand, the Ministry of Interior would have us come to the VIP office and all would be done in minutes and without needing an appointment. That was what they were told. For this agreement and to teach in government funded schools, you need a D-2 Visa. One Wednesday, Bálant met me at the university and we went to an official office to get a document that was needed. We had to stand in line to pay our fee for the form, and then stand in line to get a number for getting the form. When we received the number 463, they were just calling number 129. The intern thought it prudent to go find the office of the Ministry of the Interior, which is closed on Wednesdays, but we would know the location for an early Friday morning visit. We found it and returned to wait for 3 ½ hours before our number was called and the form was handed over. This was the same form that Ron and I had already received from the local office. When I wearily explained this to Bálant, he said we would each need one. What I was thinking was that for $4.00 more, we could have received it through the local office in three days and no waiting in line. The temperature hovered around 90 degrees that day and the humidity was high. It was done and over. Friday morning was the end of the process until NYC. In the meanwhile, Ron’s university had no idea about this new law so I had Bálant make copies of everything he had that Ron could bring to his university and have them start the process for him. He made an appointment with his director. When he arrived, she told him she was in a state of depression since she received word that nine of her faculty was being laid off due to budget cuts. Some had taught for twenty years. This would not effect his position since he was under a grant. With summer here, most were on vacation and she had no idea how long it would take to get the letters needed, though he emphasized they were needed before our trip to the States on August 20th. On Friday morning, we met with Bálant and ventured off to the Ministry of the Interior. At 8:30 am, there were about two hundred people already in lines. The office opens at 8:30. It took Bálant about fifteen minutes to find someone who could tell him which line was the VIP line and it actually was in a different building. The line at the VIP office was smaller with about twenty people waiting. Bálant who up to now has had a demure, non-assertive manner, must have felt pushed to the edge and pushed himself to the front of the line. When the officer looked over my passport, she said there was nothing she could do since I did not have the stamp from the consulate and to add insult, we did not have an appointment. Bálant argued with her and said the university officials had called and was told we had to come here first before going to the consulate in NYC and that we did not need an appointment. This was with Hungarians speaking to Hungarians. I can imagine if we had tried to navigate this system on our own. As we left with our tails between our legs, Bálant called the university to tell them of our failures and I also had him call Mona Martin. She told him that it is impossible to have two Visas, one D-2 for an educational facility and a D-3 for our business. Bálant explained to her that we would no longer need a Work Permit, since the new law does away with them for educational institutions that are government funded. However, now we had to decide if we were going to teach for the universities or run our business. This was a no brainer…the universities. No one at this moment knows if the application form for the D-2 Visa is the same as the application for the D-3 Visa, so that has to be checked on. Later in the day, Bálant called and said “You need to move on this process in order to be done when school starts on September 6th.” What can I do that has not been done already, I asked. The last step is fly to NYC. The system is crazy, but I know from working with immigrants that the system in the States is just as convoluted. We do not make it any easier and without the native language; you are up the proverbial creek. So now, we are making decisions about the business. Once we get our Residency for the universities, our Work Permits are no longer valid. That was a waste of money. We are not able to teach through our business in Hungary, but since we want to consult outside of the country, we do not want to dissolve it. We are considering hiring a manager/marketer for local business and then hiring teachers to teach. Decisions, decisions! It has not proven much better for American friends that are married to Hungarians as some have been refused long-term residency unless they have been married for longer than three years. As Hungary is vying for European Union membership, laws change weekly and to add to the mix, the government changed after a national election just months ago. Laws are bound to change yet again. The fees for this roller coaster ride are getting expensive with fees for everything and payments to services for providing assistance. Fortunately, the universities do not charge for their services. Ron received a call from his university. They need him to have a physical. He called Mona to get a copy of the physical he had already and she did not have it. She did not think it would be needed, so she left it at the prior employment. Strangely, she did have mine. Ron had surgery on his ear, so I am a bit concerned about his having to go for another physical. Though his ear surgery was for a skin growth that is not contagious, things are never clear cut here. And the beat goes on.

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