29 April 2013

Visam, Visat, Visas

I’ve just read David Sedaris’s article Long Way Home in the April 1st edition of the New Yorker, about the theft of his passport, with his Indefinite Leave to Remain sticker inside, his hard-won right to residency in the United Kingdom. I got to thinking how devastated I would be if I lost my passport, with the precious Brazilian visa confirming my permanent residency in it. These visas, once successfully obtained, are not necessarily so very easy to replace. Sedaris replaced his U.S. passport itself without any great difficulty. But, even though his Indefinite Leave to Remain status was quickly confirmed by computer at British Immigration whenever he traveled, replacing the sticker would turn out to be an expensive and lengthy and frustrating bureaucratic process. As Sedaris said, "People think it’s easy to leave home and resettle in another country, but in fact it’s exhausting, and purposefully so." You want to live in Britain or Brazil without being a citizen of one of those two countries? You can do it. But you’re going to have to sweat for it. Governments put up lots of roadblocks to residency in order to weed out the lazy and the mere dreamers, among other types. That is of course their right. But the roadblocks are getting increasingly hard to navigate around!

If you’re going to stay in any foreign country for more than six months — and have qualms about the consequences of overstaying your welcome — you sure need something bigger and better than a tourist visa. When in 2001 Mark and I got it into our heads to move to Brazil for what we initially thought would be "a while," we looked at the long list of temporary visas available to foreigners. As an editor, writer and journalist, Mark applied for the obvious visa, the coveted foreign correspondent visa — coveted for its amazing four-year validity — and I would apply as the correspondent’s spouse. Behave yourself, and you can apply to renew, one time only, for another four years. Wow, we thought, eight whole years. Perfect! As I think back on our two-month journey through the bureaucratic maze of notarizations, consularizations, certified translations, fees and money orders, I am struck by how smoothly it all actually went. In 2002 there were about 300 foreign correspondent visas granted by Brazil, and two of them were ours.

We've spent a lot of time at the Brazilian consulate in NYC
Four years later, when it was time for our renewal application, we found that the rules and regulations were pretty much the same. We knew the basic hoops, we jumped through them all, and were granted renewals. But time passes quickly, and before we knew it the end of our eight-year temporary visa status was looming. Time to make the leap to permanent status if we could. Given the options available for permanency (marriage to a Brazilian national, adoption of a Brazilian child, retirement visa or investor visa) we applied for the investor visa. It seemed to carry the least emotional baggage. It would mean investing in and opening a business, keeping the business going for three years until we could turn the investor visas into permanent residency visas, and then be free to close the business if we wanted to. Actually run a business? Not exactly my heart’s desire. But these were the terms, and with the help of some extremely competent professionals, we met the challenges, scaled the roadblocks, completed every bureaucratic requirement Brazil threw at us, and secured our investor visas. Did we wait three years for permanency? No, to our surprise and delight we received immediate permanency, because Mark was over 65. Score one for the golden oldies!

As I think back on our six-month journey for permanency I’m amazed we succeeded. I’m not so sure we’d have been so lucky today. Countries like Panama and Malaysia practically pay you to move in. Uruguay will give you a sweetheart residency deal. But many, many other countries, Brazil among them, are tightening up on who they allow in and how. I don’t imagine we’ll be seeing many more Americans here, at least not unless they’re sent by their companies, given Brazil’s current visa requirements. For example, I was surprised to learn that Brazil no longer requires the fairly straightforward and easy-to-get Good Conduct letter from your local police precinct. Now what’s required to prove you’re a solid, honest U.S. citizen is FBI Clearance! Wow! And from what I see online, getting FBI Clearance isn’t so easy, no matter how solid and honest a citizen you are. I’m so very grateful all that bureaucratic papelada (paperwork) is behind us. At least, until they change the rules.

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