QUESTION: How can you tell if you are being swindled by Kenyan Immigration?
a. Your application paperwork is mysteriously lost.
b. The “acknowledgement” to prove it was turned in five months ago was filled out incorrectly by someone officials say was a “bad employee.”
c. Immigration staff sends you on wild goose chase for information, sending you to multiple offices, then to different windows for different clerks, then down two floors, then up five floors, then finally down into the basement.
d. Middle man who is “here to help” wants your passports and $1,000 cash, but won’t give you the forms that are supposed to be filled out and turned in.
e. They tell you the second visa extension doesn’t cost double or triple or even ten times as much as the first extension, but instead supposedly costs 160 times as much as the first extension.
f. Immigration official asks you clearly and directly for a bribe.
ANSWER: All of the above. Well, let’s not generalize. To be fair, being swindled can look different for each person, and for each Ministry. But in our case, all of the above has been our personal experience with the hell that is known as Kenyan Immigration. I don’t think that every Immigration employee is corrupt, but we’re told that asking for bribes and conveniently “losing” passports and applications happens all the time. We’re also told that people who turn in their passports to officials for the completion of paperwork are at risk of having them sold on the black market.
Needless to say, it’s a bit exasperating and a little scary too. Frankly, it’s hard to be calm and hopeful when you’re seated in the office of a “Senior Immigration Official” as they’re explaining to you how they lock up people like us with expired visas, charge heavy fines, and then deport us. The paperwork process should have started when we sent our paperwork to our supervisor in November. However, she didn’t get it turned in until January. And the people she gave it to didn’t actually turn it in until February. According to Immigration, it should only take two months and should’ve been done in April. But it wasn’t. So in May I went to Nairobi to check on it and was told the applications were lost. I told my supervisor but she said it was just slow. We went to check on it again in June, and were told again it was lost. This time we reapplied. A week later we also applied for a visa extension since our three month visa was expired. Now our visa extension also expires, fittingly, on this Tuesday July 4th. So, what to do next? Hope? Pray? Apply for a special pass? Bribe someone? Get locked up on the 7th floor of immigration? Cross a border? (I thought crossing a border to get a tourist visa would be an easy solution, but since the East African Union countries don’t require separate visas, Tanzania and Uganda borders don’t count. So we’d need to book a $950 flight to South Africa or take a (potentially unsafe) two day bus ride into (not quite stable) Rwanda.
Who knows? I just got a call from a man in the Diocese office who says we need to go to Nairobi in person on Monday, be polite, and get it done ourselves. Never mind the fact we were just in Nairobi last week, fighting the very same battle at Immigration. I’m willing to go (I do like road trips and I do like being legal), but the 8 hour bumpy bus ride to and from isn’t exactly appealing. Guess we’ll figure out something sometime soon. We only have until Tuesday, when they’re supposedly ready to lock us up, charge us fines, and threaten deportation.