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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Month of German Bureaucracy

I had four appointments at the Bürgeramt in the month of September. Yes, you read that correctly: four appointments in four weeks.

Here's a review of each of those appointments, just to give you an idea of how amazingly thorough (and sometimes redundant) German bureaucracy is for us foreigners.

Appointment #1: Ausländerbehörde

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My student visa was going to run out on September 30th. However, due to other bureaucratic circumstances, I had to enroll for another semester at my university. So, I needed to renew my student visa for at least 6 more months. When I made this appointment per email, I was told all I need is a new biometric photo, proof of enrollment, my passport, and 80€. However, when I got to the appointment, my case worker spontaneously decided that my Verpflichtungserklärung (which Marco signed 3 years ago saying he is financially responsible for me) is too old. So, I needed to get a new one.

Unfortunately, my case worker doesn't issue Verpflichtungserkläungen. Turns out, filling out these forms is a full time job for someone else on a different floor of the building. But I couldn't just go over to her office today. Come on, that would be too convenient! No, I needed to make an appointment, and the earliest available was in two weeks.

Beyonce understands how I felt (source).

Oh, to top things off, my case workers informed me at the end of the appointment that he was going on vacation for the next three weeks. So, my new appointment to renew my visa (that was going to expire on September 20th) was scheduled for September 21st. Perfect.


Appointment #2: Standesamt


This is the only appointment I had during this month that wasn't at the foreigner's office. Instead, it was across the hall at the registry office.

After paying the court fees for our marriage, we had to go back to the registry office one last time (this was time #3) to sign some official-looking papers. Unfortunately, our regular case worker called in sick that morning, so everyone was scrambling to find someone we could meet with. 

Suddenly, we were asked to come upstairs. Until then, we had always gone to an office across the hall from the foreigner's office - an area of the Bürgeramt (citizen's office) that I have become quite familiar with. In fact, sitting in the waiting room with its dirty white walls and crying babies has started to feel like home. After ascending the staircase and opening the big metal door to the third floor, however, I gasped in awe of what we had been missing out on.

The walls were painted a happy yellow. There were large wooden chairs in the hallway that looked more fit for a throne room than a waiting room. We went into the office of our fill-in case worker, and she had a full wall covered in photos and letters of happy German couples that she had married over the years.

I basically felt like confused John Travolta in the TARDIS (source).

"This is the VIP floor for German couples!" I remarked to Marco. I had never realized that until then, my non-Germanness had gotten us shafted to the foreigner's floor.

The rest of the appointment really wasn't all that eventful. The woman said that all of our documents were in order, we signed some papers, and we set another appointment to plan to the ceremony in early December.

Appointment #3: Verflichtungserklärung


Back to the Ausländerbehörde for Marco to take financial responsibility for me. It sounds dramatic, but it's really not (unless I smash a bunch of car windows with a baseball bat just before jumping on a plane to the U.S.). 

To fill out the Verpflichtungserklärung, Marco had to show his pay stubs from the last three months, his work contract, and our lease for the apartment. The woman then subtracted the rent from his monthly salary to figure out if he has enough money to "support" me.

After some arithmetic, we both signed a few forms, and I got to take a copy of my brand new Verpflichtungserklärung with me for my fourth and final appointment the following week.

Appointment #4: Ausländerbehörde (Again)


This was it: the last appointment. I went alone, and seeing as it was only one week before my residence permit expired, I was a little nervous. Luckily, everything went as it should. I handed my case worker all the necessary documents, and he made a lot of copies and fattened up the file they are keeping on me. 

The interesting part came when he asked me how long I need a visa for. Technically, I am only enrolled for one more semester at my university, which is 6 months. After that, I will probably just switch to a spouse visa, since I am getting married in December. I told him this, and he told me the best news I had gotten all month:

If I take a visa for just six months, I only have to pay 30€ instead of the standard 80€. Not bad! I also just get a sticker in my passport instead of a plastic ID card, which is nice. Now I just have to make sure I have all my documents together by the beginning of March to get my fifth (and final?) type of residence permit...

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