Saturday, April 12, 2014

Our Crazy Awesome Immigration Adventure!

In order for anyone to stay in Haiti legally for longer than three months at a time, they need to apply for a Permis de Sejour (Haitian residency). When someone comes to Haiti, they are automatically given a three month visitor's visa. I've never actually heard of anyone having any problem staying longer than the date on their temporary visa, but to be legal, and to avoid any possible issues, we knew we should apply for our residency.

So a few months ago, we started collecting all the documents and jumping through the required "hoops" that the government requires. The hard thing is that even on the Haitian US Embassy's website, they say that, 

"The Embassy believes this information is accurate as of the date of printing, 
but experience has shown that Haitian Immigration requirements and procedures are 
often subject to variation and/or change without notice."

So, Tuesday, we woke up very early with all of our paperwork and headed to the public boat dock. The boat usually leaves somewhere between 6 and 7 depending on when the boat is filled up. So we got there early and found a spot on the top of the ferry. The wind was pretty strong and the waves even in the channel where the wharf is were pretty rough. We knew we were probably in for a rough ride. We were all settled in and ready to go when the captain came up to the top and made everyone go inside on the bottom of the ferry. It was going to be too windy and the waves were too big to allow people to sit on top. So they stuffed us all in the bottom and closed us in - shut all the windows - because the waves were too high and would come in, and closed the front and back stair doors. Then they handed all of us (I'm guessing about 200) a life preserver and made us put them on. We were all so hot. So we took off and within 10 minutes, babies were crying, women were screaming, men were preaching, all were dripping sweat and many were vomiting. This hour and a half trip seemed like an eternity!!!

But, we made it. I was so proud of the kids. We prayed and sang and kept our heads in our laps and none of the four of us actually ended up "getting sick." Then, we jumped in the truck with our friend Bena and drove into Port au Prince. It took us two hours to get to Haitian Immigration. Bena dropped us off while he went to find a place to park. We went in and it was a zoo. There were Haitians everywhere. There were no signs anywhere. It was HOT. All the chairs (if there were any...I really couldn't tell) were taken. People were standing in every open space. We literally held onto our kids and weaved through the sweaty mass of people. (who I guess were applying for a Haitian passport)

After searching for someone who could help us, we found someone who took us to a little stuffy booth of a room and sat us down. No one in this area spoke any English. We know enough Creole to tell them we're applying for our Permis de Sejour and handed them our documents. They looked over the documents and told us that we had a problem with two documents. (Of the 10ish) First, we did all of our paperwork and translating on our own instead of hiring a lawyer to save money and also because we've heard horror stories of how long it takes and how much it costs to use one. So, they wanted us to have a notary seal on our birth certificate translations. We had heard that some people had been required to do this, but it was not a requirement on the actual Haitian Immigration website, so we thought we'd try without to save some money. We'd also read that if we needed to, we could get a notary the same day but it was likely to cost $40 per document for the rush. The other document  we needed was Mme. Soliette's certificate from the Haitian Social Services proving that she was legit. However, we already had a letter from her stating the reasons we were in country and she included her license number. I guess that wasn't enough...even though, you guessed it, the website never said we needed a copy of the certificate. 

So, we called Bee, our trusted assistant back on the island and asked him to go to the Children's Village an take a picture of the certificate with his phone and email it to us. Meanwhile, we went out on the street to find a notary. At that point, we had found Bena and he was able to quickly find someone who knew of a notary. We jumped back in the car and drove about 5 minutes down the road (CRAZY CLOSE for Port au Prince) and stopped at what looked like a run down shady ghetto. We went into the building (clearly marked Notary) and upstairs. Everything was dark because electricity is limited. As soon as we opened the door to the office, it was this beautiful, air conditioned place. You never would have guessed that was what was behind those walls. The secretaries were very impressed with our children and that "ti blans" (little white people) could speak Creole. They took us to an office and we told the man what we needed. He talked to the kids a bit and was impressed as well. They were so happy that the kids could talk with them! It was cute. So he took our paper work and said that it cost 750 goudes per document. (just under $20) Craig was about to argue a bit to get a better price, but I reminded him that we were thinking it was going to be twice that amount and that I thought it was a good price. So we agreed and he took the papers to another office. Meanwhile, Bee had sent us the picture of the certificate via facebook message. So we needed to find a way to print it out. 

Long story short(er), we went into yet another office, this time the Notary himself, and he notarized everything we needed, while talking to the kids ;), and then agreed to let Craig email him the photo and said he'd print a copy out for us. He didn't know how to get the photo from the email to an external drive, so he had Craig come around and USE HIS COMPUTER...who does that?! He must have really trusted us! The picture was pretty bad quality when it was blown up and you couldn't really make out any of the words unless you squinted and crossed your eyes a bit...hahah. But he said it was good...

So we head out, planning to go pay and they tell us that it's all covered and that we're free to go! They didn't charge us ANYTHING! This NEVER happens. Our experience has been that whenever "white people" are seen, they are charged for everything...because of course we have tons of money because our skin is white. The next day, we even got a personal email from the Notary asking how everything went and how our family was! 

So we headed back to immigration. (oh yeah, we did get to see President Martelly's motorcade) We went right back to the office and handed over the documents. (By now it's about 1:00pm and none of us have eaten anything and the kids are exhausted, hot and hungry) They accepted the birth certificate translation and then said that the orphanage certificate wasn't good because it was too dark and needed to be lighter. So Bena took them and went and made a copy and brought back an even darker copy and then (as I was PRAYING the whole time) they decided to accept the first one. I couldn't believe it. 

So, we were fingerprinted and filled out the actual application an went upstairs to another office to pay the fees for the actual document. So, only three hours after we first stepped in to immigration, we walked out with our receipt for our Permis!! First try! Unheard of! Woohooo!!! We had enough time to grab a bite to eat and head to the airport to pick up our good friends who were flying in to visit for the week!!

Whew. There it is. This may not seem like a big deal, but we know of people who have been trying to get their permis for over 3 years! 

We can now come and go as we please without any fear of penalty! Thank you JESUS!!!


Rosalyn Turcott said...

Amazing God!

Rosalyn Turcott said...

Amazing God!

Ronnie said...

I cannot tell you how thankful I am that you have taught your children to trust God and how you and Craig have trusted God. I am thankful that your relationship with one another and with our heavenly Father has grown so much. Dad and I are so proud of you and will continue to keep all of you in our prayers. Love and miss you tons!