Sitting in the Immigration Office awaiting our turn seems like the perfect time for a post about visas.
Ours is a Retirement visa, one of the classes of KITAS, an acronym that will make none of us the wiser if I spell it out. This visa requires an annual renewal including the trip we are making today. When our number finally comes up we will go to the ‘photo counter’ (actually a room with a door, not a counter at all) and be photographed, fingerprinted (all 10 digits) and flourish our signatures.
But we are early. Traffic from Ubud has been unexpectedly light and we arrive a full hour before our 10am appointment. People are already milling and our contact isn’t answering his phone. Hardly surprising, really. Who is ever early in Bali time? We stand outside scanning for Ipung, our man on the ground, but no sign yet. He’s still not picking up his phone.
A local couple, clutching a dossier of documentation, approach us. How long have we been waiting? Not long at all and certainly not as long as they have. Since 6am they have been struggling with this bureaucracy. Big problems, they tell us. Their ticket is numbered in the hundreds, while the system is only up to 16. We can’t quite believe this, for why would business not be straightforward for local people. We ask the question. It’s complicated. Having recently converted from Islam to Catholicism, all their identity papers need to be updated and new passports issued. They are resigned, but also a little frustrated. Fortunately home is not too far away in Renon and they are considering whether to return for a few hours. Very few Balinese people are Muslim – this is a Hindu island in the largest Muslim country in the world, but there are pockets of local Muslim communities – so we ask how long they have lived here. Originally from Java, but more than 30 years in Bali. He is a dentist, with many international patients. No work for him today, but if his rooms were closer, I’d use his services. We’d have great conversations.
We exchange farewells and go inside the bustling building. We ring our visa agent in Ubud and ask if he can contact Ipung. Four or five ticket machines confront us, which one do we use? Taking a chance, we are issued with A188. A screen tells us that A19 is the current lucky client.
A word (or several dozen) about agents. A small panic erupted on the interwebs a few months ago when the government announced a crackdown on the use of agents. Rumours flew saying that people were on their own and that five, or even more, trips would be necessary to Imigrasi to do everything from lodging the original documentation to finally collecting passports some weeks later. True. And not true. Fake news, as is the current trend. Yes, there has been a crackdown. On illegal agents. The little guys who go pssst ‘I have a friend in the office and for a ‘small’ fee he can do this for you’. Those guys have gone, and good thing too. For properly registered agents it’s business as usual. Thank goodness. The extra fee is worth it as far as we are concerned as the bureaucracy pathway is smoothed almost clear. People can still do their own thing, and if they speak bahasa Indonesia fluently it might be fine. But for others, the few dollars saved is far exceeded by the time and transport costs involved.
The waiting room for foreign passport holders is packed. Sunburned young women in the shortest of shorts, Bintang-singleted surfers and older people like us are all waiting patiently. Ipung arrives, tells us we’re early (we know), disappears to the counter and swiftly returns with new tickets: C29 and C30, our names written neatly at the top. The screen is showing C17, so this won’t be too bad after all. All the Cs are being directed to the ‘photo counter’; they disappear inside and emerge a few minutes later looking decidedly relieved. When it’s our turn, we are in and out just as quickly. Our files, including our passports, are snapped shut as we leave. The singlets and shorts are still waiting – must be doing it themselves. Ipung shakes our hands and we are done. We should have our passports back in a few days.
This time next year we’ll do it all again. But now it’s 10.05, the sun is shining and although it seems like we’ve been there for ever, who’s complaining about finishing five minutes after our scheduled appointment. Not us.