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Moresby Meanders Observations From an Ongoing Journey

Tax, Visas, Immigration, Bureaucratic Red Tape and other Certainties

NORWAY | Sunday, 1 June 2014 | Views [728]

A recent interaction with the UK’s HM Revenue and customs has reignited my underlying sense of contempt for bureaucratic organisations. It seems that no matter how far and wide you travel there are a few certainties:

  1. Whatever new country you choose to live you will pay taxes, and no one will inform you of how to go about doing this.
  2. You will fill out a stupid amount of paperwork and pay a stupid amount of money between the time you decide you want to move to a country and the time you leave there.
  3. You will have at least one painful run in with immigration or another government organisation, and you will almost certainly encounter at least two people within that organisation that have no idea what is going on with anything.
  4. God help you if you get married, or start a family with a partner of another nationality. Living together in either of your home countries is never a given, and it will be a long, trying and financially straining process to stay together, but if your marriage endures this, you are sure to withstand anything the world has to throw at you after that.

Aside from this, there are certainly some positives associated with the process of coming to terms with these organisations in a new country. These encounters develop patience, analytical, social, linguistic, and anthropological skills far more effectively than any textbook ever could, and these are some of the most beneficial skills you can gain in life.

My most recent interaction with one of these institutions, HM Revenue and customs as mentioned above, was as it goes, relatively painless. It took only four phone calls, two pieces of misguiding information and five weeks to have my tax settled for this year, but it was enough to get my heckles up. Even at home people complain about the gates, byways and brick walls one encounters when dealing with government organisations. Answering “these questions three” can be difficult enough in ones native tongue, let alone a foreign one; so when attempting to tackle this issues in your new home country, make sure to be well slept, centred, and prepared to be stretched to one’s nerves’ end. Between the three countries other than my own that I have now lived in, my best, or should I say worst anecdotes in regards to this come from Norway. While I don’t like to bash the country I love so much, the systems there are enough to drive even the most patient and saintly of people to the edge of insanity. Here are a few examples to illustrate my point…

Having arrived fresh faced and bushy tailed in Oslo, I took my papers, as directed by the Norwegian Embassy Canberra to Oslo Police District Department of Immigration to have my visa issued and stamped. As it would happen there was no record of my working holiday permit having been issued and I was for all intents and purposes stuck in one of the most expensive cities in the world with no means of generating an income until further notice. This revelation was followed by two months of back and forth between Norway’s Immigration Police and Department of Immigration with an approximate 20-30 hours spent in waiting rooms, telephone queues, filling out paperwork and realising that there is little to no direct communication or commonalities between these two organisations, and anyone is lucky to get a visa to live in to the country at all. While this whole experience was testing, it did in the end buy me an extra two months stay on my visa and taught me a range of Norwegian words appropriate to dealing with said organisations, apart from the implicit expletives. There is nothing like pure frustration to nail new vocabulary into place for a lifetime.

As with most countries I am sure, once checked in with the correct authorities, I was sent along my merry little way, no handbook, no list of important dates, or deadlines to meet, no indication that one might need to check in or register with one organisation or another, just let loose in to the beyond. This in fact turned out to be a good thing. I don’t believe in having your hand held, and the ensuing challenges that arose from my general ignorance schooled me in not only the day to day workings of the Kafkaesque bureaucratic systems of the country but also in the nature of Norwegian society and many of it’s individuals. One of the more pronounced lessons was (and perhaps it is part of the wider Scandinavian psyche; that seemingly organised, functional IKEA kind of look you see in Sweden), Norwegians love to compartmentalise things, stick labels to them and file them away in to what sometimes I imagine to be infinitely large filing cabinets, towering off in to the heavens somewhere near the arctic circle. But, I guess if waiting for someone to ski up, swim their way over to Svalbard and pass a few particularly grisly polar bears to access said filing cabinet is the greatest frustration one need encounter to live in this lovely well organised social democratic country, so be it. But is it?

This brings me to the issue of marriage, family visas and immigration, and perhaps my biggest gripe of all; it seems that across many governments (including Norway and the UK), while people are more than welcome to marry someone of a differing nationality, they have another thing coming to them if they had expected to live with one another. Governments wish to exercise some kind of sadistic stress test on relationships before they are deemed genuine enough to be carried out in the one country, and that is of course only if you are financially “viable”. While my wife and I were not granted the pleasure of even going through the process of proving our love for one another or our financial feasibility for the Norwegian state, we were granted the joy of being privy to another bureaucratic bungle of great proportions. This occurred when due to lack of availability in bookings to submit our application with the immigration police before the expiration of my current visa, we were assured that submitting these forms after its expiration was not an issue. To our dismay, after submission of the forms and payment of fees it was revealed that this advice was unfortunately inaccurate. We were, as it turned out, never eligible to lodge the application in the first place, and despite the fact that they had accepted the application and taken the associated fee of 3750 Norwegian Kroners by mistake, this fee was non refundable, because why? As my friendly representative from the Department of Immigration explained:

“The immigration authorities charge a fee to process residence permit applications. This fee is required to cover the expenses connected to the processing of an application, no matter what the outcome of the application is. Hence, if an application has been processed, the case processing fee will not be refunded.”

So, as if straight from the pen of Kafka himself, the fee accepted for the “processing” of the application (ie. mistakenly taking the application, looking at it and realizing it should not have been accepted), could not be refunded because the application and fee had been accepted.

We live and we learn.

I put this all out there in an attempt to console and connect with other travelers who have experienced, or are in the throes of experiencing these kinds of issues. Coming to terms with the functioning of other countries and their systems has made me, I believe, a bigger and better person, though a little dismayed with the nature of some of the government bodies that by way of their convoluted and sometimes overcomplicated guidelines occasionally inadvertently damage the interests of the citizens they are set in place for.

I would like to wrap it all up with a big congratulations to my sister Jess, her husband Mike and their lovely daughter Flux who have after a long battle with British immigration and many months separated as a family finally gained the privilege to live together in the UK. I wish good luck to all you others out there dealing with these same issues. Keep your chin up!

Tags: beureaucratic red tape, immigration, immigration police, norway, tax, udi, uk, visas

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