“My trip to Solna”
Sorry gang, no fun pictures of my trip to Solna today! 🙁
A vital part of any immigrant experience is to struggle to navigate a foreign land’s bureaucracy and get/maintain a visa. It is important to have a few tricky and entertaining visa-getting stories to share when getting together with other immigrants, or to remind locals how lucky they are not to worry about that kind of thing.
My current visa expires December 31 when I am scheduled to be in Canada. For reasons I can’t go into without exceeding blood pressure recommendations, it was a bit dicey as to whether or not my new visa would be ready for me to pick up in time. If it wasn’t ready, then it was a bit dicey as to whether or not I would be able to get back into the country. I can’t fake it as a tourist since the expired visa is already in my passport, the passport was issued in Sweden, and my legal address is in Sweden. Combine that with recent terrorist action which may result in tightened border security, and I was feeling a bit anxious about having only a few days left in Sweden and no visa in sight.
I called the Swedish immigration authority a couple weeks ago, but my case worker was on vacation and no one else could touch my file. I called back again when my case worker was working and explained my situation. She said she had 3 weeks of applications to work through before she got to the date I applied, and that probably she could not get it done before I left for Canada. But she did say (no guarantees!) that it would likely be done before I came back to Sweden, and as long as my first European airport was a Swedish one, it would probably be OK. I asked it there was any way to pay an expedited fee or get a letter saying my application is pending so please let me in, but no. So that phone call wasn’t very reassuring.
Imagine my (guarded) gratitude when I got an email from her saying that if I contacted the migration board before I left, they could help me with documentation. Yay! My decision had not yet come in the mail so I hadn’t any papers to bring in with me except my original application and case number, but I could not afford to wait for a sure thing. Winter hours at the migration boards are limited, but there is an office in Solna, North of Stockholm, that is (gasp!) open for 3 hours on Fridays. Knowing it was a bit of a gamble, I booked some train tickets and woke up early to head to Solna.
At the Uppsala migration office there is a special window for visa stickers that does not even require a turn-number, since there is barely ever a line up. Was I ever shocked by the difference in Solna, where there was a MASSIVE line for visas. Minutes after I grabbed a number and sat down, a sorry-looking fellow came out and said that their one and only visa-sticker-printer had broken down, and they were not sure when or if they would be able to fix it. He advised us to go home and come back another day.
…or at least one hundred shouted questions.
Men yelling, women crying, children getting dangerously close to the bottom of the bag of candy that until now was keeping them quiet… Lots of people came from further away than I did (probably missing work like I did or kids missing school) to match up with this narrow service window. I asked sorry-fellow if there was any alternative documentation (since that is what I was there for anyway) since I would not be able to come back next week. I think this was lost in the sea of other questions that were spoken in much better Swedish, and also he was understandably keen to get back behind the protective glass. A bunch of disgruntled folks headed towards the door. On the way out, one fellow gave me his turn number… he would be back to get a new one next week, but he heard me say I needed one today. As it happens, it was the next number, so if the line started moving again before the office closed, I was in business! I waited, ate my snack and drank some water, read, and waited.
With 40 minutes to go there was a happy exclamation from behind the counter, they had fixed the printer! My number was called, and I went to the window to plead my case. Before I could do anything but shove the documentation through she took my turn number, and then went straight to the printer… but the kind original-ticket-holder’s visa came out (ooops). I felt a bit embarrassed, but before I could explain about the trade she was off again to chase down a real visa for me. They had a number of glitches with the computers etc, so I think she ended up piecing together the information she needed from what she had in front of her… to get me a completed visa sticker, not a consolation-prize back-up documentation! Although stressful, I think the printer failure and computer glitches were actually very good for me! I felt so grateful to walk out of there knowing I did not need to come back and that I would be able to re-enter Sweden in 2011.
It was a long trip home with 3 train connections, and one of them ran late so unfortunately I had to wait over an hour for the next train at a station without a heated station house while freight trains zoomed by and blew ice pellets in my face. I hope I can fend off the sniffles with vitamin C and a long sleep clutching my beloved visa sticker.