Every country requires a special document/stamp for foreigners to be allowed in the country, it is called a Visa. Most countries will give you one at the border that is valid for a short period, like 30-90 days, those are called “Tourist Visas”. If you have ever traveled outside the States, you have gotten one of those. If you want to stay longer, you can just leave the country and re-enter to get another tourist visa, but there are limitations on the number of times you can do that. If you want to live there you have to get a type of “Temporary Residency Visa”, the type depends on the reasons you will be living in the country (ie: work, study, government, religious, etc..). In order to get one of those there are a litany of documents you need to get in order just to apply for a visa, the fact that you have all the documents in order does not guarantee that you will get one. After submitting all the paperwork a government official, somewhere, approves or denies your application. Governments regularly change the requirements for visa applications and they at times change policies for how many of a certain type of visa are allowed to be given out. Because of that, once you get in the system, once you get a Visa, you have to hold on to it (renew it if possible) for as long as possible. Hoping, eventually, you’d be able to obtain a “permanent residency visa”.
We obtained our first Argentine Visa 2 years ago (crazy story), and they were set to expire on February 5th. We have been back in the U.S. since the end of October and originally planned to return to Argentina at the end of February, thinking that once we got our Argentine National ID, that that document would automatically renew our Visa. We misunderstood. We’d have to return before the Feb 5th (assuming we had all our funding in order) to renew the Visas. A couple days before we left Argentina last October I was reviewing the instructions for renewing our visa and saw an asterisk I hadn’t seen before, reading the fine print I saw that there was a tiny rule that required renewals to be submitted no later that 10 days before the expiration! Whoa, we were planning on coming back just a couple days before, good thing I saw that!
As January arrived and we had a firm outlook on how our funding was coming in, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to return by the end of January as hoped. But, we had this Visa issue to take care of. After two visits to the Argentine Consulate in Washington D.C. we were told we could not renew our Visas in the United States, that we had to be in Argentina to renew them. We could start all over again with new visas, but, we were told things have changed in the last two years and would take a long time to get them…no thanks (on several levels). So, we flew back to Argentina last Monday, a week ago today.
As we approached Argentina I got more and more anxious. Will immigrations even let us into the country with our visas so close to expiring? What about our National ID’s, Tara’s had already expired? Will we be able to get all the additional documents we’d need in time? Is there some new requirement we aren’t aware of? Will it even happen?
The first step was getting through immigrations at the airport. We went through the Argentine line, because we had National ID’s. Tara’s was expired, but the lady allowed us in without any problem and even waived the $100 entry fee for Tara (because her ID was expired). It went really smooth. We made it back to La Plata late that night and were in line at the next step by 6:00am the next morning. We needed to get a police background check. While we were sitting in line waiting (we were 6th in line) the security guard came out and announced that they would not be able to attend anyone, the power was out and there was no indication that it would be back on anytime soon! What!! Most everyone left, but a few remained, the guard did eventually say that if the power came back on we’d be able to get in. Tara and I stayed and prayed. A half hour later, at 8:00am, when the office was supposed to open, the power came on. Ten minutes later we were in and got finger-printed. From there we went to another government office to get a certificate that certified our “home” address in Argentina. Tara and I had all we needed to get ours, which is what I thought was all we needed. But, the lady then asked for the info for the boys, which we had but didn’t have copies of. We needed copies. She decided to waive that and gave them their certificates too (that is unheard of!). The next day (last Wednesday) we went to go pick up our background checks, the question that remained for that was if our fingerprints were taken well enough for them to complete the check, they were. From there we went to the Immigrations office to begin the BIG renewal. I had no idea what to expect. We had visited the office last October to find out some info and discovered that all our documents were in Buenos Aires (where we had done our initial paperwork), and that in order to do the renewal here in La Plata they would have to submit a paperwork transfer request to get the to La Plata. Did the lady actually do it? Did they get lost? Did they actually arrive in La Plata? These are no simple questions! The bureaucracy and inefficiency are notorious here in Argentina (in any 3rd world country), for people to do what they say they will do and that things would happen in a timely fashion are the exception. After waiting in line, it turned out that it was too late in the morning and we had to come back first thing the following day. On Thursday we arrived at 9:00am like we were told, but the person that was to see us wasn’t in the office yet, an hour later she arrived. I was told to go to her office to start the renewal when I asked if my whole family should go, the guy said, “What?, I thought it was just for you.” I had told him specifically on several occasions that my whole family needed renewals. He took me down to the office and the conversation revolved around whether they’d be able to do all of us now or not…ugh, the tension standing there listening. I was told to go back and wait upstairs…ugh, what was going to happen? It is entirely nerve-racking to have your whole “Fate” in the hands of one government worker. There’s really nothing you can do other than look cute with your family of little kids and hope they like you enough to not put you off. (oh, and there’s the whole trusting in God thing–thats hard to do.) She came upstairs this time and they decided that we all could get them renewed right then! WoW! So we started all the paperwork…when the Bombshell hit and my heart went through the floor and my head about exploded! She asked me for my Argentine background check, which I had, then she asked me for my background check from the U.S….”What!?” I thought! Oh my goodness! We don’t have that! I didn’t know we needed it, the instructions didn’t say we needed it!! I then calmly said to her (while my heart was racing and my hands were starting to shake), “The instructions said that we only needed the Argentine background check.”…..a moment passed as she thought about that and then responded,”Oh, ok then.” And she proceeded to finish all our paperwork and stamp our renewed Visas in our passports! Wow!
I can’t begin to express to you how amazing it was to be able to do all this as quickly as it was done and smoothly it was done. Every step of the way God was smoothing it out. Now, we confidently go back to the U.S. working hard to find the funding that God has already prepared for us.