With the numbers moving around, I emailed my students for the earlier class that I would have to cancel and went back to grading. My friend appeared soon after, around 10:30 and the screen read 320, 321, 322. I apologized for calling her down uselessly, but she was, as always, nonchalant about it. We again chatted while the numbers crawled upwards. As she noted, they were moving much faster than on Friday. At 11:30, they were up to 335, but clearly were not going to get to 347 by the lunch break in an hour, so we returned to Pizza Mizza. I emailed the students in my later class that I would have to cancel that class as well. While eating lunch, she told me that the restaurant had not been there before this year. It was opened because of the new apartment building being constructed nearby. I know that I would not have found it in 2015, but did not notice any restaurants within easy walking distance then. A few people I recognized from the foreigners’ police entered, too, looking as tired and frustrated as I felt. My friend also told me that, earlier in the year, she had had to come down there to submit about fifty visa applications for visitors for a conference my school hosted. The officer to whom she submitted them looked like he was going to cry because, she said, he had to check each one, show each to his superior, then enter each of them individually into the computer system. She also often has to come to Petržalka to help exchange students with their applications because the semester lasts just over ninety days, the limit for a visa-free stay. Because the foreigners’ police allows themselves up to another ninety days to issue the visas, the permits arrive after the students have left. I remembered that, when I needed a visa to stay in France for longer than ninety days, I’d been able to process the whole thing before leaving. Doing so is impossible in Slovakia, which is a reason why the lines are magnitudes of order longer in September, October, January, and February.
We returned to the office at just about the time that they were returning from lunch. The screen was blank, but I was getting something like hopeful, if only because they stay open until 5:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays rather than 3:00 on Tuesdays and Fridays (they are closed on Thursdays). We chatted some more and I learned that, perhaps eight years ago, when the head of the school helped my predecessor with this process, the door to the bathroom and soda and coffee machines was locked and there was literally nothing on the walls. Everything there now, including the information in English about what documents are needed for different kinds of permits, was put up by IOM. I said I couldn’t believe not allowing people to have access to a bathroom was even close to legal, but she didn’t know much more than that.
At 1:30, the screen went blank again. I texted someone that I felt like I was in some kind of time-warping science fiction film about purgatory. Around 2:30, another friend emailed me to see how it was going. It was up to 340, though the screen had again gone blank at this point. They had three hours to get through seven people if I was to get in. It was going to be close. I chatted some more with my friend, but eventually had to start walking outside because every doorbell sound was drawing my immediate attention, though nearly all of them were for the other sets of numbers. At about 3:00 p.m., a woman asked my friend to help translate some questions for the police on behalf of her friend who is trying to study here and which she was unable to get answered any other way. My friend agreed. I was a little anxious about how long this would take, although I knew it most likely wouldn’t matter. Ten minutes later, they went in through the door for the 6s. Ten or twenty minutes after that, they came out and the woman left, thanking my friend. As it turned out, this woman’s friend needed to sign a power of attorney form, have it officially translated, have the translation notarized, and mail it to her. We joked that he would have heard directly from the foreigners’ police himself by the time all of that happened.
By 4:00, the numbers were up to 345. They had ninety minutes to move two places, which happened about fifteen minutes later. We entered the room where the officers are and my friend began speaking to the officer while I got my paperwork out. In that room, there are three windows, though I believe only two of them were occupied by an officer at that moment. The officer began preparing for my application and I mentioned that perhaps we should ask if I’ll be able to leave Schengen or Slovakia if they are still considering my application after the current permit expired. When the officer looked over my file, she said that my current permit expired earlier than it normally would have because, when I obtained it in 2015, my passport was going to expire before the normal two-year time span of the first permit (I’d been thinking it seemed to have been shorter than I’d anticipated). As a result, I did not need to submit the whole application this time, but could just let them make a copy of my new passport, which I’d gotten in January. Otherwise, I could submit the whole application this time, but it would take longer to process. Given that there is a possibility of my leaving Schengen for a few days in April, after the current permit expires, I opted for the quicker process. The officer also said that, for this option, I hadn’t needed to come to Hrobákova Street, but could have mailed the foreigners’ police a copy of my new passport. I snorted. However, they still took a new picture for the permit, so I may have misunderstood what was said.
Since I will have to return for the full process again, we asked if the paperwork I had was correct. Everything was except the document from my landlady. Rather than a notarized copy of the lease, I need some document which will involve a lawyer and a notary, obviously a process that could easily take a week to get done. Given my other experiences with my landlady, this would probably have taken two or three weeks, which would have put me dangerously close to overstaying my current permit.
The officer said that in two weeks, the foreigners’ police should be calling my friend that the new permit is ready and I will have to return, but that should only take about half a day since I’ll probably be in the 6s, at least if 2015 is any guide. After my picture was taken, we left at 4:40, twenty-five minutes after getting in the door and twelve hours, fifty minutes after I’d arrived. I’d spent just under one quarter of the last ninety-six hours at or near Hrobákova 44, almost all of it outside. Fortunately, the weather had been cooperative. A taxi took me home and my friend back to the office.
This account of the author’s real experience at the foreigners’ police department in Bratislava is to be continued.
James Griffith teaches political thought and philosophy at the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts