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Happy Ending in Visa Saga

23.02.2004
Happy Ending in Visa Saga

I had hoped that the change in government would result in a change of personnel in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' visa distribution area, where I had had numerous problems in the past (documented in a previous article on this site). I was therefore initially disheartened to see the same incompetent and belligerent staff sitting behind the counter as I walked through the door on my most recent visit.

There were, however, two changes noticeable immediately. Firstly, the staff were all better dressed than they had been before. Previously, they wore simple sweaters and slacks. This time, they were all wearing what appeared to be very nice sweaters, and all had ties. Secondly, the atmosphere was decidedly more subdued. While the room was packed full of people wanting visas, just as it had been in the past, this time there was no yelling back and forth. The same staff who had been so bellicose in the past were now quiet and polite. The office now felt more like an office and less like a bar. Clearly, new management had decided to make some improvements.

Procuring my visa also turned out to be far easier than it had been previously, and far easier than I had expected it to be on this occasion. My Georgian companion, who had been with me on most of my previous trips to the office, repeatedly asked me when I had submitted my 6-month visa application, which I repeatedly replied was sometime in October or November. I failed to see the importance of this, because in my previous visits, in addition to being forced into paying a bribe (called an "expediting fee"), I had been told that 6-month visas were not being issued, only 3-month. Furthermore, I had also been told that they had no recollection of ever receiving documents of any kind from me in the past, including (but not limited to) a 6-month visa application. Telling them when I had submitted a document whose very existance had already been denied seemed to me to be rather pointless.

After standing in the office for perhaps 30 minutes while one of the clerks searched for the documents, I was completely surprised when he actually walked out with them in his hands. I was just hoping to get another 3-month application, fill it out, and leave as soon as possible. Instead, I needed to do nothing. The forms were already completed and ready to go. The clerk even asked if I wanted the visa that day or the next. Of course I said sooner was better (figuring that the less time my passport spent in their hands, the less chance they had of losing it). After lunch, I went back, paid my $130 (no late charges or expediting fees were added), and received the multi-entry 6-month visa I had been trying to get my hands on for the past 4 months.

Reform may or may not be proceeding as planned in other parts of the government, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' visa office has clearly taken a big step in the right direction.  

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