Imagine the DMV: lines, chaos, maybe some tears, a general feeling of droll and dread. Add in a foreign language and that's about what it's like to visit the Ursząd Wojewódzki.
In order to stay in Poland beyond November (when our current visas expires) we are applying for a three-year temporary residency permit, a karta pobytu. There is a 13-page applications (that needs to be filled out in Polish, of course) which is accompanied by about eight appendices. My final printed application package sat about three centimeters thick. After printing everything in triplicate I needed a large grocery bag to lug it to my Tuesday appointment.
I had little say in the appointment date. I send an appointment-request email with all of my key information and waited. If any information is missing you don't get a response, but if your email is properly constructed then within a few days they will respond back with your appointment date. Cameron was lucky- he was granted a day last week when we were on holiday but I have to take a few hours off of work on Tuesday morning.
I was nervous going in. I wasn't just walking into the unknown, but I was walking in without one of the keys documents. I requested it from my employer about a week in advance, but despite express mail it didn't arrive in time. For safety reasons, they have everyone wait outside the building. It was a little chaotic. Although they had sections cordoned off for lines most people were just massed in a clump. After observing the situation for about ten minutes I attempted to explain to the security guard that I had an 8:40 appointment. He shuttled me inside, asked me to disinfect my hands, took my temperature, and then I sat in another room.
From what I could tell, there wasn't much order inside that room either. There were three of us sitting in the waiting area and as one employee finished up with a customer they would shout out to us asking what we were there for and what time our appointment was. I was thankful that the man I was assigned to spoke English. He moved very quickly and seemed intimately familiar with the plethora of stamps in front of him. His hands were a wizz flipping through application pages and applying stamps and signatures to each. Every few pages he would look up at me and ask to see the original ink-signature versions of each document included in my application.
He seemed unfazed when I said I did not have my Appendix 1; I would be able to turn it in later. I asked about taking fingerprints but since the machine was down it didn't need to happen. He handed me a slip of paper, which I assumed was confirmation of my application submission, and sent me on my way. Only after I left did I realize I forgot to ask for a stamp in my passport, which essentially is the pivotal part of this process and proves I'm legally able to stay in Poland while my application is processed.
Two hours after I got home my missing document got delivered- cholera! After working with HR and sending emails to the Ursząd Wojewódzki I learned I could come by appointment-free between 16-19 on a weekday and then on Saturday there was an open house that might offer appointments for getting a stamp. I did not get one of those appointments because, as I learned when I went in for the second time on Thursday, my application did not have a case number assigned to it yet.
Thursday was a much more nerve-wracking situation. When I arrived at 16:10 there was over 100 people waiting outside; some were in lines and some were clumped up, presumably waiting for an appointment. When I found the right line I think I was probably #50 so I sat down on the curb and worked while I waited. Every half hour or so it seemed like the security team handed out tickets to the first ten people in line and then fifteen minutes later those people were brought inside and the rest of us would lurch forward to fill in their place.
I waited for over two hours until I was near the front of the line. Maybe if I understood Polish better I would have been able to get inside sooner since periodically they called out fo particular situations. Once I finally made it in it was similar to the first time. There was another little holding zone but I was called over to one of the desks after about five minutes. I handed over my missing document and the confirmation paper I got the first time, but the man behind the counter didn't seem to know what to do with them. He was just as surprised as I was that I didn't have a case number and he wasn't able to take my fingerprints or give me a stamp either.
In an attempt to make me feel better, he told me that if I were pulled over by the cops and my legal status were to come into question I wouldn't actually need the passport stamp; that's just a formality that makes people feel better. I am one of those people who wants to feel better! He also said that probably I would get something sent to me in the mail with next steps but if not I could call in 10-14 days to see if a case number had been assigned yet. Basically, I left feeling pretty pessimistic that my missing appendix would find its way to the rest of my application. Keep your fingers crossed for me.