Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Enough of the red tape!

After two visits to the Foreigner's Regional Registration Office in Delhi, I'm proud to say that it will take only one more visit (within the next month) for me to be a completely legal worker.

I have to return with two form letters from MNC, detailing how, if I am a complete diplomatic asshole, they will repatriate me at their cost, etc. Never mind that I've already submitted papers to this effect to procure the visa...I guess information sharing isn't one of the Indian government's "core competencies."

The FRRO is less depressing than the Home Ministry, which is a small blessing, but it is still unorganized. How can you take a government department seriously when their e-mail contact is a Hotmail address?

One arrives at the FRRO chipper, determined not to be bogged down by the hours in line. Before talking to an officer, you encounter the reception/inquiries desk, which is generally mobbed by about 30 people, none of whom are in a proper queue. A few of the more haggard types roll their eyes, clear their throats, and, when piercing glares don't work, urge the line-bargers to back the fuck up. Still, it's a dog-eat-dog world, and the pushiest person generally gets catered to first.

At the enquiry desk, you are assigned a counter to report to, and a number for that counter. However, the staffers are ill-informed about what is actually required at the counters, which often harshes the buzz of the many karma bums. For example, at the enquiry desk, they verified that I had a registration form, a passport-like registration jacket, four pictures of myself, an appointment letter from MNC, my flat's lease, and copies of my passport and visa (which I, like a moron, didn't have, necessitating some running around and bluffing and general mayhem). But they failed to tell me that I also needed affidavits from MNC. After some general eye batting and unspoken pleading (puppy dog eyes, my friends, sad sad puppy dog eyes), the woman at counter three gave me a month's time to return to the office, return to the queues, with the appropriate papers; however, she still gave me a registration number, etc. And thank god.

Some pointers for the bureaucrats:
  • Enforce proper line etiquette
  • Provide brochures (or publish on your Web site) that clearly list exactly what documents are required to register, by visa type/length of stay
  • Produce a legible, multi-language sign with the same information to hang in the FRRO so many of the mundane questions that occupy staffers' time are answered without face-to-face interaction
  • Make the registration form available for downloading on a central, easily accessible Web site; keep copies at several stations in the FRRO, rather than available from only the person at the enquiry desk
  • Use a ticket machine so people with the proper documents don't have to wait in an enquiry line
What strikes me most is the managed chaos -- which can be so easily reduced -- that prevails in so many government offices. It seems steps have been taken thus far, but to be a true world player, there are miles (kilometers?) to go.

Disclaimer -- after some additional Googling, I have found a link with much of the information I requested. However, this site is not publicized, and too much navigation is required to access appropriate details. My argument stands.


Mumbai Monsoon said...

I'm really sorry to her that. I've had to visit the FRRO in Mumbai often and it's always been a fairly smooth process for me.

Vinaya HS said...

As they say, "It happens only in India." ;-) But you have to agree, there's a certain charm in this functional chaos.

anjali said...

If it makes you feel any better - things are not much smoother in other countries. We had to deal with a LOT of red tape in Belgium before we got our work permits and IDs. US Green Card applications are equally painful.

One of my American friends who recently moved from Belgium to India says the red tape levels are comparable. Not that that makes a difference, but maybe it helps to know that several other people are suffering along with you! :)

Never Just An Ordinary Girl said...

This extended rant is not to say that there isn't red tape in any other countries; it just seems that there are some rather basic steps that could be taken to reduce some of the more maddening queuing, etc. God knows I've spent plenty of time in American offices (in the last five years, I've applied for a passport, changed my name, and procured three Indian visas) -- but the intake systems here seem infinitely more complicated. Shrug. Maybe one day robots will take over everything and I can use my mobile phone and a retina scan to overcome these painful little necessities.

Anonymouse said...

Dealing with US'ian bureaucracy as a citizen of the US is never the same as dealing with them as an "Alien".

The INS (now the BCIS or some such) is just as callous, inefficient and irritating as most any other countries' government department that deals with foreigners. Here in India it just extends to every branch of the government. I guess they are just being fair.

Bureaucrats are the same the world over, perhaps with some exceptions (Finland??), so there's not much that can be done except to grin or grimace and bear it.

thalassa_mikra said...

I would agree with anonymouse. We are always slightly more adept in dealing with the bureaucracy of our own country rather than that of any other. So your experience as a US citizen in the US and as a non-Indian citizen in India are not comparable.

A friend of mine is going through the process of getting a work permit in the US, and the process is just as maddening, frustrating and complicated as the one you describe. Additionally, there's a certain inflexibility and unwillingness to work around silly rules in the US bureaucracy which makes it a bit more frustrating to deal with them.

Hope you manage to get all your papers and have an enjoyable stay :)!