It's Tuesday. My stomach is in knots. I have to go to Migraciones at 10 to talk about making my visa permanent. This is my only chance. If they do not accept it, I have no other choices. On May 1st Argentina pretty much shut the door on immigration for all Non-Mercosur residents. There are no more permanent visas unless you marry an Argentine or have a baby. God forbid.
I look at Maxie. "What are we going to do?" I ask her. "We could move to Santiago." I say to her. Same climate as San Francisco and I could work with Juan Carlos." Maxie is not interested in Santiago. She is an Argentine doggie. I continue to get ready. "What about Colombia?" I say to her. "I know how to cook the food and dance salsa." She yawns.
I have been agonizing for the last month about my residency status. I don't want to leave Argentina. This is home for me. I also do not want to be here illegally either. When the US or most countries change their immigration policies it is front page news. In Argentina no one knew about it. They still don't. I had to go to the Migraciones website to get the update. My friends and most Argentines I spoke to were shocked. Argentina has always had an open door policy for immigration. But policies can change, and Argentina's did.
One form of the visa program was completely thrown out. Many of my friends were in their 2nd or 3rd year to getting their visa. Their lawyers advised them to get married or have a kid. I was in a special program. After 4 years we were to be made permanent. They posted all the requirements on the website. They changed.
I made my millions of copies, I put everything into a new plastic envelope. The only thing more dreadful would be an IRS audit. I took the subte to Retiro. I remember doing this in 2004. I kept getting lost. In 2007 it was a little easier. This time I knew exactly what short cut to take to get across these horrible roads not made for pedestrians to cross.
I see the large yellow building looming. I always call this place the "gulag." I go into the entrance where there are huge lines. I have an appointment. I try to find someone to ask. Hidden behind a counter is a woman. She tells me the next building to the right. There is no next building and she is not willing to discuss it.
I walk outside and go up to one of the Prefectura that guard the building. I explain that I have an appointment to make my visa permanent and do not understand which building I am supposed to go to. The man is a doll. He offers to accompany me. How can I refuse? He is also quite handsome. He asks me where I am from. He tells me Argentina will be much better off to have me as a resident. The funny thing is I am led back to the same building. She could have just told me to go on the other side. The man told me they do this all the time. He wishes me luck.
In this side I am asked what I am there for. I am told to go join another line to get a number. "Please have your document open and ready." I am told. They want to verify that I really do have an appointment. The line moves fast. I am given my number. I take a seat and prepare to wait.
I watch what is going on. In front of me a Swiss woman is being denied her visa. She is being told that she does not have the documents to be made a permanent resident. She is angry. She tells them she did until they changed the law. The immigration person says nothing. The Swiss woman leaves. I notice only Americans seem to be there with their lawyers.
I have a conversation with a man behind me from NY. He is really uptight and nervous. He is going through culture shock. He does not speak Spanish and is letting his lawyers handle everything. He has no clue that there is no permanent residency here anymore. People focus so much on the DNI. They don't realize it is like a driver's license. It expires when you are temporary and then it is useless. You need the visa. You always get the DNI if you get the visa.
A German couple in front of me has just been denied residency. The woman is furious. She is arguing. She will not leave. The Immigration representative politely tells them they have no reason to be here permanently. They are not retired, they don't work here. The woman insists she does have a right. Finally she is told to go to her embassy and see if she can get a letter that will state that she has reason to be here. Good luck.
I feel so alone. What will I do if I don´t get my residency? I think of all my friends; Sandra, Jorge, Anna, Ana, Alicia, Pia, so many friends I have. Even the ones that drive me crazy. I love Buenos AIres, I can't leave here. I almost wonder if Sol should have come with me. Sol is my activist lawyer friend.
Now it is my number. I feel my stomach clench up. I will get through this. I walk up to the desk. There is a serious looking young man. I don't think my new hair matters to him. I sit down clutching my envelope. "Why are you here?" he asks me. "Because I have decreto 1169. I want to make my visa permanent." I say to him. "Why?" he asks. I look at him and tell him the truth "Porque aca es mi casa, si no puedo vivir aca, no tengo otro lugar." This does not faze him a bit. "What documents do you have." he almost barks at me.
I open my envelope and pull out my papers. I am well organized. I hope that counts for something. He asks for my documents. I give him both my passport and my DNI. He checks my passport against the copies. "When was the last time you went back to the USA?" he asks. "January 2006." I answer. He goes through my passport page by page. "Do you miss your country?" he asks. "Not really," I answer. "This is my home now."
He looks at my DNI. Then he asks me what I am doing here for work. I explain my work with the company I am at. He looks at my monotributista declarations, my tax payments. I show him the letter from the VP of Human Resources that states my position and my value to the company. He reads it. Then he asks what I did during before this.
I show him the letter from my lawyer that chronicles the accident and has my medical records. He asks how I lived. I told him I taught English in my apartment. The accident unsettles him. "This must have been terrible for you." "It was." I tell him. "And you still want to live here?" "Yes, I do." I tell him. "What did you do before the accident?" he asks. "I came here to dance tango and teach. That is what I did." "What about now?" he asks. "I am still in pain." I show him yet another authorization from Swiss for more physical therapy. He asks me to wait.
He comes back with a supervisor. She tells me that she has looked over my documents. She asks me the same questions. I answer them. She asks me how I lived before. I tell her. They ask me to write everything down. "But my Spanish grammar is terrible." I tell them. "You speak well." she tells me. They give me a piece of paper and I write my history, all the time mumbling about my bad grammar. They tell me not to worry. I am told to go pay my 600 pesos and come back.
In the end I am told in a month to come back for my final papers. "En serio?" I ask. The young man almost smiles. I am so happy I want to cry. I thank the young man. He asks me if I have any questions. I tell him no. I lean over and kiss him. "Muchas gracias." I say to him.
As I cross the dreaded highway I think about how different this trip to MIgraciones was over the previous years. Everything was computerized. All my records were online instead of in a green folder. The wait was minimal. Better than that, I realize that I am truly bilingual now. The process was natural and easy, at least for me.
I send a text message to all of my friends. "Brindamos amigos, recibo mi residencia." I sent it to almost everyone I knew. All the home my phone goes crazy with responses. All afternoon I receive text messages, phone calls, and emails. I call Diego, my partner at work to tell him and all the guys. They are waiting to hear from me. He is thrilled. "When can you go to the US?" he asks. I tell him I cannot travel until after August 31. I call Marta my lawyer and thank her. Ever the lawyer she says no to lunch until I have the final papers in my hand.
"Well Maxie," I say to my doggie, "I guess we don't have to move to Santiago after all."