Déjà visat

Permanent residents.  What a phrase!

I was shocked when I first figured out that the Migrationsverket had granted us this visa status.  I was panicking a bit, as I am wont to do, as the deadline for my working and living permit was *ahem* fast approaching.  The expiry was 31 July, and I started bugging Matt about it, oh, say, in May.

The migration administration responded to my email query earlier this year that I didn’t have to start anything until 30 days before the expiration date, but I’m not like that. I pestered Matt until he got the paperwork filled out and submitted for us both through his human resources department (eventually — that took a few days to figure out as well at his end). He recalls doing this sometime in June.

I was partly anxious because I was traveling so much this summer — what if some border control officer decided I could be kept out of the country because the length of time until the expiration date was too short?  Would I have to fly to California from, say, London when I was there for a long weekend for fun?  England is not part of the Schengen agreement (even Switzerland is, as is Sweden: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Area), which makes crossing borders across much of Europe painless.  (England is not painless, no, not at all: this last trip there, I spent over an hour in line to have my passport stamped, with a bunch of other non-EU citizens, while half the officers’ carrels were empty — as was half the cavernous hall — after all the EU citizens waltzed through the checkpoint.)

Some of my anxiety was allayed when Matt and I received letters announcing that we had been granted permanent residency (!!). We carefully deciphered the Swedish, and just to doublecheck, I called the Migrationsverket to see that we were correct to expect our new visa cards in the mail.  The man who had signed off was on vacation (it was, after all, July and summer holidays in Sweden; by the time we called, half the country was in the countryside getting tan). The kind woman who took the call assured me that we could simply wait, and they would arrive.

So, I was surprised to feel the slight whisper, the extremely odd sense, of post-traumatic stress disorder when we went to visit Belgium toward the end of July. We had not yet received the cards, several weeks after the letters had arrived. (We actually made sure we would return the day before our cards expired, just in case.) I stood on a street corner near the neighborhood I stayed many years ago, while waiting for my visa to live in Switzerland (start reading here: http://zurichseerefugee.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/return-to-temporary-refugee-status/).

I fondly remembered a restaurant where we had excellent moules et frites (but which Matt and I couldn’t find), chocolates on the Grand Sablon, and a walk through King Leopold’s grand central park after frustrating visits to the Swiss embassy. I enjoyed my (illegal and probably ill-advised) trip to stay with friends in Holland to survive the ordeal. But oh man, that was incredibly stressful.

Which perhaps lets you know a bit as to why I overreacted this time. (I don’t think I overreacted, but Matt did, I suspect.)

While I had felt reassured by the letters, after that moment on a Brussels street corner at the end of July, I made sure I called the Migrationsverket the day after we got home. And the day after. And the following week. I finally reached the vacationing letter writer, back home and at the office on Monday morning.

He said, oh no, you have to go into the closest Migrationsverket office and get your photos and fingerprints taken. This, despite the fact that Matt and I had explicitly translated a paragraph in the letter that said if they were already on record, we wouldn’t have to go in again.

Matt immediately got onto the website and made appointments for us that afternoon at the Solna office. We got on our bikes and headed to the office; we sat for a few minutes in the office. To our left, a family perhaps of Arabic descent with three teenagers and a boy; to our right, a Chinese man; a pleasingly plump middle-aged Indian or Bangladeshi couple came in, went to the counter and left smiling. Another older Indian couple, or perhaps Pakistani, with an older woman in a wheelchair, again to the counter, and then away.

Our appointment codes were called, nearly on time, and the young Swedish man at the counter was efficient — even bored — 5 minutes for each of us, with a gorgeously electronic system that took our photos and prints in moments. He said we could expect the cards in the mail within seven working days.

Whoa.

One of the reasons I was so anxious to get my visa card is that I am leaving for a long trip to the US this coming Friday. Seven working days meant the card would arrive this coming Wednesday, or perhaps even Thursday. These kinds of official documents generally sit in the post office; we get letters asking them to come pick them up with id in hand. I had been making mental notes about leaving Matt a note for the post office with permission for him to pick up my card. And then the damn things arrived in the actual mail, in our apartment post box — on Friday, four working days after we had our appointment.

Whoa.

That’s so extraordinarily fast. The whole thing was fast. It got me to pondering Swiss efficiency and immigration policies. We have lived here for four years in Sweden. How in the world can it be that we got permission to stay here permanently so fast? Switzerland would have been a different story if we’d stayed, and even then, who knows. In a referendum there in February, conservative voters pushed the country to limit immigration — and perhaps screwed up the Schengen-EU agreements. Even before that vote, getting C permits (not even citizenship! but permission to stay) would have taken us forever, as neither of us are EU citizens.

I know that the Swedish system is not so nice to foreigners sometimes, but the country is also incredibly welcoming in so many ways. Refugees have come here in waves over the past century and a half, even as the country was half emptied in the 1800s by poverty and a mass migration of its own to the US. Now, it seems, they are trying to fill up the land again, so many of us outsiders are welcomed.

But very few of us newbies will ever pronounce Swedish well… !

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