It was on the morning of Saturday, 31 October 2015, that my erratic journey through life took yet another unexpected direction. The previous evening, I had booked and paid for tickets back to Montevideo, to escape from the northern winter to the southern sun for the third year, but this time with a difference; once there, I intended to apply for permanent residency. Now that should not surprise anyone who knew me well, for ever since I lived in Venezuela, Miami and Peru in 1978-1985, I have longed to return to South America and spend extended time there.
But when Lotta put down the phone that morning, it was ‘all change’.
‘Cape Town want to know if I would be prepared to take on a permanent role in their operations, at least for as long as I am willing. What do you think?’
She had already completed two short assignments there, liked the environment and the people. As for me, the challenge of a new country was too tempting to pass over. Besides, South America would still be there.
It took me less that a millisecond to reply:
‘Go for it’.
It was not until we returned to Sweden the following May that she received a 90-day training visa, followed by four frustrating months of managing the operation by Skype and email from Uppsala. Finally, in November 2016, she received a 4-year inter-company transfer visa.
For me, the only option was to travel back and forth from Europe on 90-day tourist visas. After three such trips, I had enough of long-haul flights and decided to apply for a residency visa, permanent or temporary.
When it comes to dealing with government bureaucracy, I am not a ‘do-it-yourself’ person; if I want to get it right first time, I believe in getting professional advice.
I found several companies advertising their capabilities on the internet, two of which stood out from all the others, at least in my opinion. But the first company wanted too much personal information before they would contact me, so late that evening, I submitted a basic query to the second, Intergate Immigration Services.
The next morning, at 06:28, I received a personal mail from Jaime Catala. I was impressed with his prompt out-of-hours response, and after a couple of clarification meetings, I signed an agreement to have Intergate manage my temporary residence application. Subsequently, I was assigned to a dedicated administrator, Leandra Bantom, with whom I liaised for the duration of the application process.
So, once armed with a long list of documents that I would be required to submit, I started obtaining them, one by one. I started with the medical, in case there was a problem, in which case my application would probably be refused. There was no issue, and at the same medical centre, a nurse gave me a yellow fever vaccination. At the impressive new Christian Barnard hospital, I obtained an all-clear chest x-ray.
Then I started on the police reports. I was required to obtain a police certification from every country in which I had lived for more than a year. Although I would claim to have ‘lived’ in eleven countries, two of them were for less than one year, and with a generous helping of ‘poetic licence’, I ended up with four that I could not deny – Canada, Australia, US and England.
Canada, Australia and England were no problem; all three submissions were on-line, albeit with widely varying requirements. I obtained approval from Canada the same evening, from Australia overnight and from England within one week. The certifications followed in surface mail.
But the US was a ‘pain in the ass’. I had to print off two forms and fill them in by hand, using a black ink pen. The forms looked like they had been badly designed by a primary school pupil and included irrelevant details such as hair and eye colour, height, weight etc. Then I had to have a printer produce a finger print card on the correct specification card stock, otherwise the US internet site said that it could be rejected. Finally, a trip to a police station to have my finger prints recorded. To be sure of having a receipt, I couriered the forms and finger prints to an address in the US. Then I had to settle down for a long wait, as their website stated that their (lack of) service delivery was 10-12 weeks.
One would have thought that a simple query on the FBI databases would have shown that there was no record of a Leonard Douglas Blackwood, British/Irish citizen, of birth date of 05 November 1946, having ever committed a crime. Or perhaps the US is gathering details of every one that crosses its path, in the event they might one day commit a crime.
In the meantime, I obtained a copy of my birth certificate and, together with my divorce certificate, had them apostilled, a certification process that only applies to official UK documents.
And lastly, with the assistance of the consultants, I submitted copious evidence of my capital investments in the UK and US and obtained an accountant’s certificate declaring that I had sufficient capital to provide me with a monthly income after tax of at least ZAR 34k per month.
The US police certificate finally arrived after more than three months wait, I obtained an appointment for an interview at the South Africa visa centre in London and on 29 November I submitted my application. I was informed that the visa, if approved would tentatively be available by January 10.
Following is a summary of the expenses I incurred in the application process:
Having settled down to another long wait, I was delighted to learn that the visa was issued on 15 December and, after a short delay in arranging for receipt of the courier, was available to me on Christmas Eve. It was a most welcome Christmas present.
Of course, without the need to obtain US police certification, the whole process could have taken 3-4 months less time.
Was the cost of using an immigration consultant justified?
In my case, it certainly was, especially when it involved proving capital and income requirements.
Would I recommend Intergate Immigration Services for a similar assignment?