I have lived in Albania for a year and three months. As a foreigner, once a year I have to make a tiresome pilgrimage to the Immigration department to hand over 10,000 ALL and a pile of documents in exchange for permission to call Albania home for another 12 months.
Each trip costs around 1400 ALL in a taxi, requires a morning off work, and a valium to be able to handle the incredible levels of bureaucracy that are involved in such a process. This year, I am pregnant with a high-risk pregnancy and having spent most of the last 2.5 months in bed and/or hospital, I decided to ring ahead to get my ducks in a row before making the arduous journey to Laprake.
I sent a message on WhatsApp to the policeman who took care of my application this year, explaining that I was pregnant and sick and had been unable to come before and was unable to come at the present. I gave him my name and said that my permit expired in a few days and I asked him what I should bring so that I could prepare it and do it all in one trip, because due to my health, my mobility is not reliable at the moment. Having been ill for almost three months previous, starting the process sooner had not been top of my list and I knew that I still had time before the deadline was up.
He gave me a list and I set about collecting the information necessary, getting it notarised, and psyching myself up for the task ahead. In addition to this, a number of the documents I had to present, required me to be present with a notary in order to attain, therefore it wasn’t possible to collect them until I was healthy. A few days later, despite still not being 100% I set off for the immigration department, feeling hopeful that this time, it would be stress free.
Upon arriving, the officer told me that my permit had expired a few days before (something he could have informed me of via our WhatsApp conversation) but that it was ok because as I was physically unwell and mostly bed-bound due to my pregnancy complications, if I presented a doctor’s letter, the fine for a late renewal could be waived. We agreed that I would see my doctor on the Friday (the following day) and that I should send a picture of the letter to him before 4pm that afternoon. He also advised me not to pay anything into the bank for the application until he gave me explicit instructions to do so, and that he would make the appeal and advise me of the outcome.
I did as I was told and provided him with a medical document, signed and stamped by my doctor and covering the renewal period of my permit. I sent it on the date and time he asked for and received no response. On Monday I contacted him and was told he wasn’t in the office for two weeks and to go and speak to his colleague- no mention of my appeal, my evidence, or having to pay a fine or fee. So, I packed all of my documents including my doctors letter and set off for immigration.
I was then told that an appeal against the fine had been filed days before and had been refused due to lack of evidence. This was despite the fact that I was asked to provide evidence and submitted it in time and in the manner requested. In other words, I was told to get evidence for an appeal that was refused for a lack of evidence that I provided on explicit instructions from the officer. I was then told that the manager was away until the 15th of February and that I should come back then to discuss the matter. This would leave me in a situation where I cannot leave or re-enter the country, where I have no proof of permission to remain (something I am obliged to carry on me at all times), and no way of opening a bank account- something else on my list for the day. I was told that because my appeal was refused (despite it being filed without my knowledge and without me having chance to provide supporting evidence), I would have to apply for a new permit, not a renewal. This would require me leaving the country and spending around EUR 250 on documents from abroad that would take around a month to get here.
Shocked, upset, and in tears, I left the office and called my partner. He made a call to the office and was told that they refused my medical reason and pre-emptively refused my medical certificate before seeing it because “people lie” about these matters. Unless the Director of Immigration is moonlighting as my OBGYN or has access to my medical files, unfortunately they are not qualified to refuse a legal document such as my doctors certificate.
In other words, the Immigration department of Albania believe that a pregnant woman at high risk of miscarriage should drag herself from the hospital and/or bed to go and make multiple trips to their department. Apparently the word of a doctor with several degrees and extensive knowledge of my prenatal medical care is not enough, and this means they had the right to manipulate me, tell me false-truths, and move the goalposts however they see fit.
But I am not the only one. After expressing my anger on Facebook, a number of comments were left by people in similar situations.
One British woman told me how she had filed for an Albanian passport in May 2018 and been told not to reapply for a residence permit as her passport being processed was adequate to give her permission to stay. She filed all the documents she was told to file, only to be told two weeks later that she was missing paperwork. It then transpired that the paperwork had been submitted but had been lost by the department. When she enquired about her passport in December 2018, she was told that she would be deported, despite their previous advice that the application for a passport was enough to tide her over. Almost one year later, she still doesn’t have her passport and was force to pay a fine and reapply for a temporary permit at a cost of over 25000 ALL.
Another foreigner, from America was told to bring his rental contract and employment contract, but they refused both with no explanation why. He was then told to come back on the following day and took a day off work to attend. When he got to the office they were closed and since then, they have refused to answer any emails or calls meaning that in a few days’ time, he will be liable for a fine as well.
I seem to be noting a recurring theme- that the immigration department like to cause as many problems as possible for people so that it results in a situation where they have to pay a fine. By failing to give correct information, or giving information that then turns out to be false, they are forcing expats into a situation where they are forced to take time off work, risk their health, and spend hundreds on euros on documents and fees- this is not ok. This office should be providing each individual with an exhaustive list of requirements including what should be notarised and apostilled, along with all rules applicable to the acquisition of a residence permit. This list should not change without notification, and if medical certificates that are stamped and signed on headed paper from a hospital are presented, these should be accepted.
Treating foreigners in this way is not acceptable. I have applied for residence in two European countries and whilst yes, the process has been somewhat frustrating and laborious, I have never been misinformed, manipulated or accused of lying.
As more and more expats come to Albania for work, retirement and pleasure, the Albanian authorities should be welcoming us with open arms. We boost the economy and the reputation of the country, we give people jobs, we support local businesses, and we are an integral part of the future success of Albania. Treating us like criminals and discriminating against us by deliberately putting obstacles in our way is not acceptable.
I will not be paying my fine and I will not be applying for a residence permit from scratch again. I am going to fight this all the way, not just for my sake, but for the sake of every other poor soul that has wasted valuable days of their lives being given the run around by a group of incompetent and corrupt bureaucrats. Come and lock me up for being an illegal immigrant, I dare you.