As you may well guess from the title, it’s been a slightly stressful for me for the last couple of weeks. Maybe I’m tasting the darker delights of Honduras, I don’t know, but I’m passing adelante through it all and I hope these things don’t happen again.
First of all, immigration. My residence was due to expire last Sunday, so last Tuesday, I went to the immigration services in Comayaguela to sort it out and what I would need. I was told to come back the next day with my passport and I could get a tourist visa, which would mean coming and going from Honduras every three months, but it would be strictly illegal for me to work (but apparently this is how many foreigners work in Honduras). This sounded fine, but it turned out that Pam’s cousin, who also works at the immigration office, did it not think it was that simple. So she arranged a meeting with one of the bosses who confirmed that I wouldn’t be able to get a tourist visa, basically, because I had entered the country with residence visa and I couldn’t just change it to a tourist visa (but I found out later that I could do this). To renew the visa, I had to have a reason to stay (job, volunteer project, wife). This was Wednesday, and I had to get this done by Sunday, or face a fine. I could marry Pamela, but how could I invite all my friends and family in the space of 48 hours and then apply for citizien too? Job – not got one. Volunteer project? Thank God Casa Domingo came to my aid. I asked them if they could write me a letter and they did it quickly and brilliantly that evening. I was stressing to Pam, complaining about all sorts and the information that I would need to renew my visa, so she called a friend who is a solicitor to help out. Her friend, Gabriela, raced down to the immigration office to find out that the visa I had entered the country with was not actually valid because ICYE had cancelled it when I left the country. I had no idea, neither did the immigration officer who let me into country at San Pedro Sula Airport on 14th August: he didn’t even look at the computer (no wonder this country has it’s issues). I could have received a fine for everyday I had been in the country since then, which would have bankrupt me. The solicitor argued that it wasn’t my fault. I should have been told. I would want to enter the country legally with a tourist visa. Why would I want enter illegally? I had to reapply for residency anyway, which meant getting all sorts of documents from all areas, as well as getting my Honduran equilivant of a CRB (which took ten minutes to get and cost just 2 quid – better than England, wait six months and pay 50 quid – take note UK). So, Monday this week, it was finally done. I have residence. I am still waiting for the card.
What I didn’t like about all this though, was the amount of mis-information I was given. There seems to be no set route to getting residency or working legally or illegally, or there are a few ways to do it and you can pick whichever way you want and hope you don’t get caught. Either way, it seems immigration here wants you to pay, through blood and sweat and shit loads of unnecessary stress, as well as burning a massive hole in your pocket. That might be through a fine or making you get a solicitor. As Pam says, this is a poor country and some people are willing to take advantage of those who want to do it properly. I think it’s awful karma for people who are wanting to do the right thing, but there you go. I suggest to immigration officials to change their ways, or less people are going to want to come and work here, to help the country progress.
Saying that, I once worked for the Refugee Council. I know first-hand how difficult how asylum laws are, especially for those who really do need to enter a country. Every country has it’s red tape. I’m just experiencing Honduras’. It was an unforeseen inconvienance, and one which hundreds of foreigners have here.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been working hard to get the book complete before the 28th September deadline, which just meant lots of editting. I somehow got it sent off 4 days before that date. I got it 5 minutes before the solicitor came round to give me the good news about the residence. It feels a massive relief to get it done. It’s been hanging around for too long. It’s been a journey. A long bloody journey. And it’s done. I’m getting withdraw symptoms. Pressing the send button felt wonderful though. (Also in that time, Pam gave me a wonderful work contact to work for an NGO that helps develop other organisations in education and media projects. It was a magic 10 minutes).
Since then though, I have been helping Casa Domingo look for funds in the UK and other English speaking countries by improving the information they send out. One of the things I am doing is including profiles of some of the lads by interviewing them. On Tuesday night, I interviewed two lads who were addicted to drugs. They were both nice, although one had a short attention span and kept wanting to play pool or snooker. It was reminder of the problems deprived youths go through in this country. It feels good to be helping, as well as adding to my CV and experience.