A Day (or 3) in the Life of an Englishman in Haskovo
Novinite is publishing the account of Martin Smith, one of our readers, about his experience with the Bulgarian administration.
It is almost four years ago that I moved here to live with my Bulgarian wife. At that time within the statutory 90 days I applied for and received my Bulgarian I.D. card which gives me long term residence status here. Today I realise that this card has expired so I must make a trip to Haskovo to renew it. I arm myself with my expired I.D. card and my passport and accompanied by my wife we visit the Immigration office in Haskovo.
We are greeted by a lady who speaks as little English as I do Bulgarian (which I thought a little strange given that this is an immigration office for foreigners coming into the country), never mind, luckily my wife is here and a dialogue is entered into between them where the woman gives us 3 forms to complete and then explains that we need a document to prove that I am uninterrupted health insured in Bulgaria before a card can be issued and that we must visit the health authority office in Haskovo for such a document. Now I think that this is no problem as I paid my state health insurance 1 year in advance last December. So we set off to walk to the health authority office, wait in the queue for our turn and explain the situation whereupon we are told that although she can see that I have paid my health insurance for one year they do not issue such document and that we should call at the tax office for said document. So we set off to walk across the town, wait in another q ueue and finally meet up with a lady who somewhat reluctantly issues said document.
We then walk back across the town to the immigration office and hand the lady the document to which she looks at me and says "Bravo", (This is one of the many Bulgarian words I have learnt so I felt proud of my achievement). That was short lived as she then asked, " where is your house deed?" Now I don't pretend to be knowledgeable about exactly what I should carry in your country everyday so I do try by carrying my I.D. card, my driving licence and a few lev in my pocket, but I'm sure that no one else carries their house deed!! Anyway, I'm thinking that this woman is sat in front of a modern computer in a modern government office and she has my I.D. number which would surely enable her to extract my file from 4 years ago when I registered here and such file would contain copies of all the documents that I had to produce then, such as my house deed, my passport, my bank details, my address, my marriage certificate, my income status, my health insurance re cords, my photograph, my DNA and blood group, (only kidding about the last two but you get the idea).
However this does not appear to be the case and she then explains that I need a letter from the bank to prove that I have a Bulgarian bank account. At this point both my wife and myself are getting somewhat frustrated at this behaviour and I'm feeling sorry for any foreign persons who do not have the benefit of a Bulgarian speaking assistant with them when they come to register here. So we set off across the town again and head to the UBB bank (which happens to be only spitting distance from the tax office where she had sent us previously). We went into the bank and requested a letter of account status from them and they told us it would take half an hour and cost us 10 lev. What can we do except pay up and wait? Half an hour later we are back in the bank and asked to wait as the manager has to sign the letter. What?? I could have printed out a bank statement from home wh ich shows my bank account status, (Is there no end to this bureaucratic nonsense)? So we wait and wait and we can see the manager sat at his desk through the large glass office that my 10 lev helped to pay for and finally he comes out and then sits with one of his staff at their desk and passes the time of day with them while we patiently sit waiting.
Another five minutes pass and my wife approaches him and ever so politely asks him how long it takes for a simple signature on this "ever so important" document from the bank at which point he signs it and we leave and head back to the immigration office. The lady takes this "ever so important" document and then advises us that new European rules dictate that I have to have an interview before they will issue an I.D. card and then states that the cost of issue will be 18 lev and 7 lev. Now I'm questioning in my mind why she is saying 18 and 7 and not saying 25 but then I remembered that her computer is no t good at finding records and that it might not be good at adding figures together either so I take her 2 pieces of paper for 18 lev and 7 lev downstairs to the cashier and pay my 25 lev at which point the cashier informs me that there is a tax of 3 lev on each payment. Now that was a good trick to extract more money from me, 3 lev tax on 18 lev and 3 lev tax on 7 lev and all becomes clear and I hope the woman upstairs will forgive for me thinking she couldn't add up.
So back upstairs we go at which point she tells us that the new "European rules" interview will happen at 1pm. (in ten minutes time). At 1.30 we are still sat there and all this time we are wondering how they are going to interview me as no one appears to speak my language. 10 minutes later we are called to the window again where a small group of women have congregated and one of them explains, (via my wife) that they will only issue an I.D. card for 1 year as my health insurance is only paid for 1 year and if I want an I.D. card for 5 years then I must pay 5 years health insurance in advance. Furthermore they require a document from the tax office to prove that I have paid my health insurance for 1 year in advance. At this point my wife exchanges a few choice Bulgarian words with the woman in question and we, yet again, head off to the tax office for this new document. Arriving at the tax office and repeating the earlier procedure we are told that no such docume nt exists and that we should go upstairs and speak with the manager. We seek out the managers office and my wife explains the situation to her. For some reason this manager appears to shout repeatedly at my wife that they cannot issue such document and my wife repeatedly shouts at her to telephone the immigration office and discuss it with them. Reluctantly the manager rings the immigration office and shouts at them also and the end result is that we should return to the immigration office and they would "sort something out".
Now at this point, what turned out to be a quick trip to immigration has taken us over 5 hours, multiple trips across the town, many lev in taxes and fees, not to mention the parking at 1 lev per hour so we decide to call it a day, go home, get copies of our house deed and the receipt from the bank when I paid my health insurance and return tomorrow.
So here we are, day 2, sat waiting at the immigration office for 30 minutes, a few people in front of us but no matter, they will no doubt be sent running across town and soon it will be our turn. Then a new male walks straight up to the window and they attempt to serve him. At that point I jumped up and said "There is a queue here", a man in the office replied " He is here for an interview", I explained that I was here for an interview yesterday at 1 p.m. and I'm still waiting 1 day later. At that point about 5 people appeared in the office and all started talking between themselves, My wife was justifiably annoyed at their behaviour and started arguing with them and insisted they took copies of our deed and other documents that we had brought and walked away to calm down whilst I stood at the window waiting. I asked all five people if any one of them spoke English to which one man replied, "very little". I went to where my wife stood, spoke w ith her and then returned to the window where they gave me back our copy deed but, can you believe, lost or otherwise misplaced my receipt from the bank showing my payment for my health insurance. Nevertheless, no doubt in an attempt to get rid of us, they gave us an appointment slip for me to attend to have my photograph taken on 26th February. Maybe then I will have my "European approved" interview.
Well here we are on 1st March, myself and my Wife back at the immigration office, for the SEVENTH time, admittedly a little later than planned due to a serious health issue with a family member and the fact that there was little point in me attending on my own due to my limited Bulgarian and their limited English. So the lady greets us and after asking to see my passport then hands us a form to complete, which was totally in Bulgarian, (I knew I had to bring the Wife along). My Wife starts to complete the form and then realises that we have already completed this form on one of our previous visits so advises the lady accordingly to which she replies, "Do you have your marriage Certificate? At this point I'm expecting some hidden camera television presenter to jump out and we can all have a laugh at this continuing saga but this is not the case and the lady is deadly serious. I ask her, (via my Wife), why she cannot simply access my file from four years ago and she wil l see a copy of our marriage certificate there to which she replies, "things change"!!! Now I'm stood there with my Wife, the same Wife as I was stood there with four years ago and I cannot understand what she means by this remark and my Wife and the lady and the rest of the people in the office enter into another heated dialogue whereupon it transpires that in all other cases of English people applying for a residence certificate there is never a problem and that in my case it was complicated, apparently by the fact that I had chosen to pay my health insurance one year in advance.
Amid the raised voices it was agreed that I would collect my new I.D. card on 1st April and could produce my marriage certificate at that time. In the meantime another lady kindly takes my photograph, (3 times) and then issued me with a residence certificate for 5 years. So what was this all about? AND WHAT HAPPENED TO MY "EUROPEAN APPROVED" INTERVIEW??
As an Englishman with a reasonably logical thought process, can I make a few suggestions to prevent a repeat of this fiasco in the future.
1. That when the immigration department issues the application form, that it produces the said form in the language of the applicant. It is obvious that the applicant will NEVER be Bulgarian so what is the point in printing it in Bulgarian?
2. That together with the application form the immigration department attach a list of ALL the documents that the applicant is required to produce then the applicant can take away the list, run around their local city and request the required documents from the relevant government departments, banks, etc; (which will no doubt have their people running around like headless chickens), and then return and in an ever so efficient manner and process the application for the issue of a certificate for residence.
Now I realise that such an obvious and simple solution might result in a more efficient government department which might even result in having to make redundancies and I would hate to think that my actions or words have contributed to such drastic action, but that is unlikely because one thing that I have learned from this experience is that both the British Government and the Bulgarian government have one thing in common and that is they spend millions educating the citizens of the country to a high standard and those that don't quite make the grade appear to be given management jobs in top heavy government departments.
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