The joys (?) and tribulations of becoming a permanent resident in TZ by youjinbchung


Oh where do I begin. 18 Sep 2015: On this day, I made my first trip to immigration services (Uhamiaji House) in Kurasini to apply for my Class C permanent residence permit. An immigration officer, whom I will call E, advised me to come back after 12 days. When I was submitting my application though, E gave me a hard time for having paid the $500 fee in advance; she said the fees are paid only when the applications get officially approved. I was discombobulated -- what she told me was contrary to the information posted on the immigration services website. According to Government Notice No.262 of August 03, 2012, the the $500 fee for Class C Permit (researchers) should be deposited through direct banking, which I did. The website also indicates: "Services are provided after the customer's presentation of the Bank Slip to the respective office where the service is sought" (Part 2 of the website). E took my documents anyway and gave me a receipt acknowledging my application, but she wasn't convinced that the accountant would accept my deposit slip...

6 Oct 2015: I made my way to Uhamiaji House early in the morning, already stressed out after having spent so much time and energy haggling over the taxi fare with dishonest drivers, and having been stuck in traffic for I don't know how long. *Oh, also just a word of caution, there is a dress code at Uhamiaji House -- no skinny jeans, or "skin jeans" as they call them here. A woman in front of me was stopped at security point; she eventually had to drape a kanga over her legs. It doesn't make sense though, because the security officers didn't say anything about guys who wore jeans that were as tight or that were practically sliding off their asses, ugh.*

Anyway. I went directly to counter no. 13, which serves Class C permit applicants. I showed the officer on duty, whom I will call M, my acknowledgement receipt from September. She told me to wait - her expression impassive. After having waited half an hour or so, officer E appeared at the counter. She told me the same thing she did back in September: it was wrong that I paid the fees in advance. This time, I had a printed copy of the immigration services website. E acquiesced to my surprise: "Oh, well... maybe the weakness is on our part". She took me across the ground floor to the accountant. Having examined my deposit slip from NMB Bank, he told to go up to the 3rd floor to the Revenue Office so that they can verify that my $500 had in fact been deposited. I did what I was told, and brought the verified (signed and stamped) deposit slip down to the accountant. He now told me to go across the street to get a photocopy of the slip and come back. To the closest stationery store I went -- only to realise that there was no power. I walked further down the road to another shop, which charged me five times the usual price, because of the generator. I walked back to Uhamiaji House, waited in a long line under the scorching sun, went through the security point again, and went back to the accountant with my photocopy. The accountant kept the original and he told me to give the photocopy to the officer in the next counter. I waited and waited...

About half an hour later, the officer who took the photocopy called me over and asked why I had given it to him. What was I supposed to say other than "I did what the accountant told me to do"!? The accountant called me over again; he told me to go across the hall and find E. It took me an hour to find E. When I did find her, she said I needed to pay $50 extra dollars for a "re-entry fee". She said without it, my permit will terminate if I leave the country temporarily within the two years of my residency. I was baffled why she hadn't told me this earlier. She took me back to the accountant, who told me to go to another counter across the hall to pay the additional $50. I was getting exasperated. I had spent three hours at this place already; been dragged from counter to counter, from floor to floor; put up with people pushing and cutting in front of me in line; and the heat. When I went to the payment counter, there were just SO many people and no space to even stand and wait. I was trying really hard to be patient and stay positive, but I couldn't stop the tears that were starting to cloud my vision. I choked up.

When I was wiping the tears away with my handkerchief, I locked eyes with officer M. I was pretty embarrassed. She kept looking at me - still impassively - and it just made me cry even more. I swiftly wiped my tears, blew my nose, and took a deep breath, reciting "Om Mani Padme Hum" silently in my head. When I locked eyes with M again, she called me over to her counter. I didn't know what to do, because I was starting to make progress, albeit slow, in this long queue to pay; I didn't want to lose my spot. She was insistent that I come see her. I eventually relinquished my spot in line and went up to M. She asked: "What's wrong?" I wish she hadn't, because my tears started gushing out. Once I regained my composure, I told her I was just getting flustered with the lack of clarity with this whole process, all the back-and-forthing, and the hours of waiting. Her look was still impassive, but she told me to wait; somehow, she had managed to expedite my $50 payment. I was beyond grateful. She told me to take the payment receipt back to the accountant, who then told me to go outside again to make two photocopies. It was the same process again -- overcharged photocopying bill, long queue under the sun, security check, and more waiting to see the accountant. I got an official receipt of payment from the accountant when I came back. I was so hopeful I would be able to get my permit on the same day. Instead, I was told to go back home, wait, and return after 10 working days. Inshallah!

*Update* 22 October: I waited 10 working days and went back to Uhamiaji House; I left my house at 7 am to beat the morning traffic and arrived just before 8 am, when the offices opened for business. When I brought my receipt to counter no. 13, the officer, without saying a word and without even looking at me, pointed to the next window (no. 14), at which there was no one. There was really no point in me arriving early, because no one showed up to serve counter no. 14 until around 9.30 am.

I imagined this trip to Uhamiaji House to be my very last one. And because I thought everything would go smoothly and quickly this last time (I mean, what could go wrong?), I hadn't brought anything to read... I hadn't expected to wait for so long...

When the officer finally arrived at counter no. 14, I showed him my receipt. I could see that he was typing my name on the keyboard. He typed my name over and over. Frown lines appeared between his eye brows. I started to panic. He said, "It's not ready. Come back tomorrow and check." No explanation as to why it was not ready. My heart started racing, my blood started simmering. There was no way I was coming back here. There was no guarantee that my permit would be ready tomorrow. "Come back tomorrow and check"!? I sat down and mulled over my course of action, while trying to suppress the tears of frustration. I think I sat there for another hour. My head was blank. I should have asked my friends for help; I knew at least three friends, who either new people working at Immigration, or people who could help expedite my application. I observed the world go around me. I saw so many people (mostly men) holding other peoples' passports; filling out other peoples' paperwork; and quietly exchanging words (and cash) with officers in corridors and stairwells...

A petite Indian Catholic nun sat next to me. She grinned at me and I returned a meek smile. She gently touched my arm and asked if everything was okay. I vaguely told her my situation. She whispered in my ear: "Don't worry. I'll take you to an "officer"". It was a bizarre situation. I felt quite uneasy, and yet somewhat hopeful. After she received her permit (she submitted her application 3 weeks after I had, and she had already gotten her permit!), she took me to a room on the first floor, where a heavy-set man in a navy blue uniform sat. The nun went into his office, shook his hand vigorously, and said thank you repeatedly. Then she introduced me to him, as "a sister needing help". Without any question, he asked for a copy of my receipt, and told me to wait downstairs. I asked for his name, and he said I didn't need to know his name. Just "Officer", or "Ofisa". I left the room, and the nun stayed with Bwana Ofisa. For a fleeting second, I thought of attending mass this Sunday and reviving my foregone Catholic beliefs...

I waited for another hour. At this point, I was bored, I was hot, I was vexed. I didn't know for how much longer I could wait. Then a male officer called me at counter no. 13. He said they were now going to process/print my permit, and that I should wait for an hour. Of course I waited more than an hour. Exactly 5 hours and 30 minutes after my arrival, I received my Class C permanent residence permit. I can now legally reside in Tanzania for the next 12 months...!

So, I've written this post to both let off steam and to help other researchers in the future. I succeeded in doing this immigration business under my own steam (well, except for the unexpected help from the nun and Bwana Ofisa), at the cost of completely running out of steam. As frustrating as it was, I did learn something about Tanzanian bureaucracy.

Weber once said:

"The nature of bureaucracy, which is welcomed by capitalism, develops the more perfectly the more the bureaucracy is 'dehumanized,' the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape calculation" (see Weber, M. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, pp. 215-6).

On one hand, I observed and experienced many "human" aspects of the Tanzanian immigration system. The application process is non-automated; there are heaps of manual files stacked on officers' desks; the receipts are hand-written; and the overall process is based on direct, face-to-face interactions. And yet, this human interaction, as I experienced it (as a foreigner), was very "dehumanising", in the sense that it was emotionally offensive. In many instances, I felt ignored, disrespected, "othered", helpless, powerless, and the list can go on. But on the other hand, the pervasiveness of middlemen, personal favours, and petty corruption, all seem to successfully reproduce the bureaucracy... And what alarms me is how these practices are naturalised and rationalised. Many of my Tanzanian friends/colleagues/acquaintances acknowledge the adverse nature and extent of petty corruption in the country, and yet, they all partake in it, because it saves them time and energy. Tanzanian bureaucracy seems to reproduce itself in spite of - or thanks to - its inherent contradictions. It is impersonal yet personal, and irrational yet rational.