We sat down together in a small classroom together:
"Are you feeling OK?"
"I'm really embarrassed. I don't know where it came from, really," he said.
He'd walked into the office that morning. It hadn't been a bad start to the day. There wasn't any conflict with the wife. There was cooler weather, too, pleasant and refreshing. But arriving on his first day of work, his computer monitor didn't work. Beyond his belief, rage burst from his mouth. His fists struck the desk. He swung the office door back open and still anger coursed out of his mouth.
I missed the eruption – not even hearing it despite being next door. But coincidentally I came into the office just after to see his colleagues doing everything they could to make sure there was a solution: an alternative computer wasn't taking his log-in but they kept trying; another staff member was checking another computer still; and another one was fiddling with his monitor. I went to his computer, bent down and noticed the plug had come out from the powerpoint, plugged it back in and started his computer.
Back in the small classroom, he talked about his frustration. Just like me his wife had been applying for immigration but it was still on the immigration service system as "Received" despite having been received 8 months ago.
"I'm just sick of being here," he continued. He'd been in China for almost four years, had adapted well, had got married. I haven't been ever sick of being here but perhaps the bigger problem making him sick was just not being in control of the future, to continue life to the next step. He was frustrated but didn't want to tell his wife as she was tense enough about the big move as it was (she was the one being uprooted) and couldn't tell friends who wouldn't understand. And it was awkward to talk to me because I was his boss, and worse, I'd already got out of the same terrible limbo which he was stuck in.
Our two immigration processes have been a huge contrast. Ours was shorter (we applied after them but received approval before him) but was high on torment; his is only getting longer but has complete systemic indifference and apathy – he hadn't heard a word.
We submitted our application shortly after coming back from Bali last year but from the start it was a special kind of administrative torture. We'd gone to an office specialised in immigration to get one document only to find upon application it wasn't up to requirement and having to repeat it. Then having formally applied, we had to prove our documents and ourselves again and again. In two of the oddest demands, I had to provide my half-siblings certified birth certificates to confirm that they weren't my children, and my wife had to prove her birth, because her certified birth certificate wasn't enough.
We were asked to provide correspondence for our residential address for 2013 which we didn't have: "Correspondence is mandatory evidence," "Without correspondence it is difficult to proceed with your application," our case manager told us. It didn't look that way in the Application Guidebook we had but her reading of it was all that mattered. And this mantra of hers set in motion an ill-advised series of communication. I gave more evidence and then asked in a stream: what more we could give to make up for omission, if it was difficult to proceed could we suspend our application, or if we could withdraw our application would we get the money back to apply at a later time. She said she was considering the application and then ignored all previous questions and replied to only the final: "Withdrawing the application would forfeit the application fee" (a not inconsiderable sum). Considering the application, I thought, we waited intently. When we were in Hong Kong we received a curt e-mail: "Are you withdrawing your application? Please respond by 9 January." 9 January was the next day. Gladly catching the e-mail in a timely fashion, we replied in the negative.
Then shortly afterward on a weekend in December we were asked:
"Please go to the consulate to get a statutory to explain why your sponsor cannot get an original proof of non-criminal record for China. Please respond by 28 February." The briefer the sentences the more astonishing it was: We'd given a certified proof of non-criminal record for me, the sponsor, 6 months ago and the case officer had said nothing. She'd never asked us to get the original so why would I go to make a statutory declaration to swear I couldn't get something I'd never tried to get. We were apoplectic and we did the common sense thing – we tried to get my original proof of non-criminal record, going upstairs and downstairs between departments when suddenly I realised: Our case manager knew we couldn't get the document. So she'd decided to ask for a statutory declaration without any explanation. So we went and got a statutory declaration, exactly what she asked for and submitted it that day.
Needless to say she was hopeless at communicating. Her first e-mail to us promised "If you have any questions please call… please e-mail…" We called three dozen times without answer. And our e-mailed questions were never answered selectively and incompletely.
Yet, after all the administrative death of a hundred papercuts, completely against the run of play, at the beginning of February, while I was running along the side of the Pearl River, my phone rang to hear that we'd been approved. The battle was over.
And yet my colleague hasn't got any response, any question, any jab or any obvious scrutiny yet waits. It is hard to know which treatment was better. Neither has been a great process to undergo.Which would you prefer?
Of course this whole tale should be happy: WE'VE BEEN APPROVED!! And we're happy. And excited and nervous and confused. And thinking about whether we want to write a formal complaint.