So....visa renewals are the "bane of my existence" here in the office! I've mentioned the stress involved before but it continues. With each transfer there seems to be an elder who is right on the verge needing perhaps as few as three extra days to complete his mission and catch his departing flight. Of course I keep up with all the visas and work with the Area Office who are really the experts. But because TISA (This is South Africa) the rules change regularly. What worked well last week no longer works and new hassles are involved. The "easy" renewals I guess are the ones where the missionary needs another year on his visa. With this the missionary needs a medical exam, a chest X-ray to determine he/she is free of TB, finger prints taken at the local police station with a signed declaration that a police clearance with be obtained within six months. This is plenty of hassle because the missionaries need to take time out from missionary work to get this accomplished and then the police clearance is needed from their home country (a whole other story). It is not like in the states where these facilities are conveniently located. Some of the missionaries have to travel 2 or 3 hours to get them and usually it all cannot be accomplished on the same day. So, we deal with that.
But my latest frustration is the very, very short extensions needed. First we were told the missionaries could get a Holiday Visa for 90 extra days. No med or X-ray or police clearance needed. Just proof of departure i.e. itinerary. Then it was changed to proof of financial ability to be able to stay for the extra days which required a bank statement. You've got to be kidding! The bank statement for our missionaries shows about $30 remaining..if they are lucky. So that wasn't acceptable. We tried to get Home Affairs to accept a letter from The Mission stating that all financial responsibility will be covered by The Church. No deal! Another option was to have the missionary cross the border into another country i.e. Botswana or Swaziland and get a stamp on reentry giving 30 extra days. Sounds simple. But no longer possible unless done on the very last day of the Visa (and that involves hassle and timing and travel). Well, there are all kinds of complications and issues to deal with. And additional ones for our missionaries who might be serving for three months in Botswana because that is a different country with different rules.
(You know what...this is making me feel better just typing this out. :-)
Our latest is a missionary who needs ten days to complete his mission but with only three weeks left. (The paper work for visa renewals takes at least three months) President had me call him and ask him how he felt about going across the border in to Swaziland (his home country) and back the next day to get his visa stamped for extra days. He was really worried about that. He did not want to see his family or didn't want them to know that he was back in Swaziland. He wanted to serve every last day as a missionary and not have the distraction. Very awesome BUT!!! He decided to take things in to his own hands and went to the Home Affairs to see what he could do to get his visa extended and he wouldn't have to go "home" to do it. He called me back all excited with a plan that he was given. Well, when I contacted the Area Office that this had happened the missionary was in big trouble and the Visa Boss wanted to know who had told him to do that!! Evidently there have been cases in the past when a missionary has done this and there were bribes and alterations made to visas, etc etc. MISSIONARIES ABSOLUTELY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO GO TO THE DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS! Now we know..but we hadn't told the missionary to do it. He did it all on his own.
So now, our Visa Boss from Area Office is going to take this elder and his companion across the border to Swaziland on the last day of his visa. They will spend the night and be brought back. No fines. No bribes. No penalties. No seeing family. He said he will see that all is accomplished with no problems. sigh. Until the next time. I have to admit that there are times when I vote to just send them home early to avoid all of this.