One of the rituals that every foreigner must partake in after coming to India is a trip to the Foreigner Registration Office. There is a small list of countries whose citizens don’t need visas to enter India. There seems to be no rhyme or reason, though if I had to hazard a guess, with the exception of Sweden (is Sweedon a misspelling of Sweden?), most are former Soviet satellite states; so it might be related to the cold war era “non aligned” movement. North Koreans don’t need visas to enter India, while westerners who might actually come here on vacation or business travel need a visa. I appreciate the irony in this. Do Indian bureaucrats? For most foreigners, you mush register within 14 days. If you are from Pakistan, you must register within 24 hours. Another reminder of the India/Pakistan lovefest.
In Bangalore, the FRO is at the Police Commissioner’s complex on Infantry Road. The building gives a vibe of being a pompous old administrative building that has been allowed to go to seed for decades. Looking at the architecture and the fact that the electrical wiring is in external conduits (indicating that the electrical wiring came later as an upgrade), I’d hazard a guess that the building was built during the British Raj and it would not surprise me if it served as the police commissioner’s office then.
The office itself is so unlike any German or American bureaucratic administration office that I have ever seen. There is a main hall at the FRO with humming ceiling fans and a dozen or so clerks working through stacks of papers. The Bangalore FRO is not a paperless office. And individual foreigner registration has five separate sheets to sign, as well as visa and passport photocopies, creating quite the bundle of paper. The clerks seem to read through the applications. They then collect papers into six inch high stacks, bundle the stacks up with string and stack them on shelves. I’m not quite sure how they keep track of these stacks of bundles of paper, but I’m sure there is some system. Also noteworthy is the lack of computers.
Fortunately, we had consultants guiding us through the process and actually doing most of the interacting for us. Otherwise, the process would be incredibly painful. I overheard a blonde woman with an American southern accent saying that the last time she was there, she was there all day. We were not even done on that trip, another was required. Interestingly, the consultants could take care of that for us; they just needed to have our passports to have power of attorney to act in our stead.
You do your foreigner paperwork at the landkreis (county) administrative building. There is almost never a wait and you are in and out within half an hour. You must do this in person. Everyone (Germans and foreigners alike) must register with the town hall when they change addresses, so there is the additional trip to the town hall. This is as painless as the landkreis trip.
Foreigners have to deal with a regional INS office. It is a higher volume and more impersonal affair with a longer wait. You must do this in person. There are more mistakes that you can make that can get you deported and you have to be careful; but everything is well documented and the officials are as competent as their German counterparts. You’ll probably be done within a couple of hours. This trip is more painful than its direct German counterpart, but as there is no equivalent to the German requirement of registering with the town hall, the total energy involved is comparable.
Indian bureaucracy is special.
You must make at least two trips to the FRO. Both are guaranteed to be painful, but you don’t actually have to be there for both if you send someone with your passport. Honestly, I’m not impressed by this. It lacks both efficiency and thoroughness. It gives an impression of thoroughness without actually having it. A cynical man might be tempted to believe that the combination of convoluted processes and lack of automation is a deliberate design decision so as to increase the number of civil service jobs. A less cynical man would draw the conclusion that the relative cost of computing power and peoples’ time is reversed here; so automation does not pay for itself directly and the negative effect that inefficient red tape has on the economy is indirect and hard to measure for justifying improvements.
Oh and after the foreigner residence permits were delivered, we looked them over. Daniela’s end date was wrong and they spelled our names wrong. Score two – three actually – for lack of thoroughness. From what I read in the paper, passing the civil service exam is not easy and requires hard study. It seems however that actually checking your work for mistakes is not a requirement. I fear getting these mistakes corrected will be painful.