Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Close encounters of the illegal alien baby kind

2 aliens...the one with the ears is finally legal
This is a “venting” post. The grammar will suck and the tenses might be senseless but I will feel much better by the time you read it.

The last 2 days have been stressful in ways I couldn’t even dream up in my worst nightmares. It started on Sunday evening when I was filling out the forms for travel insurance for Keenan and myself. Sean is covered thru his employer for our trip to Canada in a few weeks but Keenan and I are not. No big problem as it’s fairly easy and inexpensive to get travel insurance here. The one thing that worried me was the extensive list of exceptions on the application so I saved the filling out of these forms for a quiet evening so I could sit down and read the “fine print”. There are many interesting things you come across when reading print translated from Japanese into English. Most are absolutely abhorrent errors in grammar that are so ridiculous I often feel like someone must be videotaping my reaction in secret because no well meaning person would actually write…”insured members will be except from coverage due to any unforeseen calamity”. One sentence in the fine print that went something like “we will not be responsible for arranging travel visa’s for you or your children” fuelled a nasty feeling I’ve had about Keenan’s residency status since he was born.

Let’s go back more than half a year to the point in time when I was still pregnant and getting together the mountain of paperwork we had to fill out for Keenan once he was born. We got his Canadian passport and citizenship applications. Got all the details together for applying for his Japanese Alien registration card. Checked out the procedures for registering his birth at City Hall and Sean’s office was going to take care of signing him up for health insurance. We consulted the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, the Canadian consular designate in Sapporo, Sean’s office and the City Hall here in Obihiro and all said that was all we needed to do. Shortly after Keenan was born we filled everything out and all seemed hunky dory.

Now we’re back to Monday, the day before yesterday and after reading the “fine print” I asked Sean to confirm with his office whether Keenan needed a visa or not. I was going to call Immigration in Sapporo and triple check with them. Calling the Sapporo Immigration office can be a seriously frustrating exercise as they are supposed to have someone that speaks English on staff but I think their name might be Suzuki Snufalupogus. In other words that person is rumored to exist but nobody who speaks English has ever actually spoken to them. It’s really unsettling speaking to someone with broken English about immigration issues since we live either a 5 or 3 hour drive from the nearest immigration office. You could get all the way out there and realize that you don’t have all the forms or ID you need because the person you were dealing with on the phone gave you the wrong info or didn’t know how to say it in English. So on Monday morning after Keenan went down for a nap I called Sapporo Immigration and prepared my self for a hen pecking conversation of broken English and my even more broken Japanese. To my complete and utter surprise I got Snufalupogus on the phone. Next and in no uncertain terms he informed me that Keenan needed a visa and should have had one 30 days after he was born and now he is an illegal alien and we have broken Japanese immigration laws and by the way, why did you do this? OH MY GOD. I can’t tell you how those words sharpened my defenses to a razor’s edge. Shit! What’s going to happen next? Will we be deported? Will they call the police? Wait. Did I give this guy my name? Say where we lived? I did say Sean was on the JET program and we know the only other JET couple that had a baby on Hokkaido in the last year and they’ve already returned home. It wouldn’t be too hard to find us. Now into problem solving mode…“I’m so sorry we made such a big mistake, can you please help me fix it?” So it turns out we would need to get to the Immigration office sooner rather than later with our passports and alien registration cards (which all 3 of us have), Keenan’s shyusshyoo shomei sho (a copy of Keenan’s birth certificate which is a whole other nightmare I’ll save for another post), Sean’s zaishoku shomei sho (proof of his employment), my Mother’s book and a letter explaining why we didn’t get Keenan a visa within 30 days of his birth. I was told he couldn’t guarantee the situation would be resolved in one visit and that Keenan’s visa application would need to be reviewed by some big wig on up high because we would be applying under “special circumstances”. Good Mxxxxxxxxxing grief. At least two full day trips to Sapporo and there’s already snow in the mountains and it would be 10 to 12 hours of driving a day depending on Keenan’s mood and actually he would be totally and understandably a nightmare if we strapped him into his car seat for that long. “Ok, thank you very much for your help. We’ll see you soon. Bye-bye”. To the sounds of Keenan cooing himself awake I collected my thoughts and devised my plan. Call Sean and compare notes, email Eiko and ask if she can call Sapporo and confirm everything I’ve just been told and check if we can do this in Kushiro (only 3 hours away) then get all the paperwork together. (Typed by Sean while I got up to eat my breakfast…FART FART FARTY FART!! ...Isn’t he so lovely?!) By the end of day Eiko had called Sapporo and confirmed all the stuff we needed and found out that we could get this done in Kushiro. Sean’s classes on Tuesday ended at 11:45 am and Eiko offered to come with us so we decided we’d head to Kushiro in the afternoon.

On Tuesday I got up early, had a shower, drove Sean to work, did the banking downtown, bought Keenan a new Shinada because I couldn’t resist it and I needed a bit of retail therapy and then we headed to City Hall to get a copy of Keenan’s birth certificate. I was a little fed up with the whole “lack of any clear system” to get our child properly registered in this country so I took an “I don’t speak or understand any Japanese” position. I don’t really speak or understand much anyways but I was feeling extra stubborn and wanted these folks to work for their supper as they were part of the reason we were scrambling to get this stuff done. Did I mention I felt like I was getting my period for the first time in 13 months?! So I finally got 2 copies of Keenan’s birth certificate (1 for immigration and 1 just in case we need it when we’re traveling-I had to lie to get the friggin’ second copy), drove home to Eiko waiting, packed up our stuff, picked up Sean and then the 4 of us were off to Kushiro. Five minutes into the drive Keenan starts screaming because we’ve had such a whirlwind morning I hadn’t had a chance to feed him for a few hours. So 10 minutes later we pull into the Dai Ichi in Satsunai. I nurse Keenan in the parking lot while Sean and Eiko get some bento, beverages and eats for the drive. Twenty-five minutes later were on the road again. We arrive at the Kushiro Immigration office around 3 pm and Eiko explains our story to the lone Immigration Officer. He knew our details before we walked in the door as the Sapporo office called him the day before. So it turns out this fellow is the #1 boss and the other lowly guys were away taking care of some other sort of immigration business. He was a really lovely man with kind eyes, a grey beard and a “I have 6 grandkids and I’m 5 years away from retiring” kind of way. I finished filling out the paperwork by 3:15 and our applications were faxed to some unknown locale for approval by some other high up folks (remember we made ourselves a “special circumstances” case by not getting Keenan’s visa within 30 days). Within minutes we’re told Keenan has been granted a visa and that it’s over in the time it takes to read this sentence.

And now? Now I really can’t wait to get our 3 butts on that plane to Canada.

If you are having a child in Japan here’s some important immigration tips…

-Deal directly with the immigration office for your region to make sure you have all the applications you need before your child is born
-If you have a bad feeling about something follow your intuition and if you get the run-a-round here call or email the passport/citizenship department in your home country
-Be aware that the deadlines to apply for a gaijin card, passport, citizenship and visa make absolutely no sense (e.g.: the visa application must be made within 30 days of birth but you can’t apply for a visa without a passport and it took us 60 days to get Keenan’s Canadian passport)
-Every child born in Japan to non-Japanese parents needs a visa and a re-entry permit if you plan on leaving and returning to Japan
-Always read the fine print

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