Saturday, March 10, 2012

More tales of il permesso di soggiorno

Saturday, March 10
We are not the only people who have had difficulty obtaining our permesso di soggiorno. I search this term on the web and find multiple mention of difficult experiences with the questura, although unlike us, most people eventually are successful. Many who write about their experiences have come as students, and they had to purchase student health insurance packages. Apparently this type of assicurazione is more comprehensive than was our unacceptable traveler’s insurance policy.

Photo from Commune di Milano website.
I also find that in 2007, the procedures were changed slightly—I almost said simplified, but they may actually have been made more complicated. Instead of starting out at the questura, now one must start at the post office—not just any post office but one that has a sportello amico, a friend window. Theoretically, this should be an improvement, because the lines at the post offices are somewhat shorter than those at the questura, but there are new procedures to learn when queuing in a post office line. Another thing that sounds better about the new procedure is that after a person correctly submits all forms to the post office, he is given an actual appointment at the questura. However, from all that I have read, the actual hour of the appointment is meaningless, as one still must wait in the questura line based on arrival time, not appointment time.

Of all the forums and blogs about this subject I read, by far the most informative and entertaining is written by Nathan Randall in his blog The adventures of Nataniele Randaglio—Part 2, dated December 1, 2009. Nate has kindly granted me permission to reprint his work.

Here’s what I’ve had to go through in order to get my permesso di soggiorno – a permit of stay, of sorts, that declares my presence in Italy completely legit. The permesso, here, is a nebulous concept. It’s unclear who needs it, how to get it, what it looks like, even. Some say it’s a paper document, others insist it’s more of a plastic card, and even others claim it to be a magical Italian elf that follows you around assuring your legality via interpretive song and dance to those who doubt it.

Step 1: Go to the post office and pick up the application. To do this, you must first wait in line, which you’ll do politely for five and a half minutes, unsure of where the line begins or ends, before remembering that the post offices in Italy require you to push a button on a machine near the doorway that gives you a paper ticket identifying, officially, your place among the other people in line. Actually, a very nice system that helps you avoid those awkward “who got here first?” interactions with strangers. The funny thing, you’ll notice, is that nobody bothers to sit down in the provided chairs to wait their turn. People, it seems, are so used to fighting for spots in such lines that they’ll stand in the post office lobby, clutching their paper tickets with white, angry knuckles and staring anxiously at the neon numbers counting upwards on the NBA-scoreboard-style counter in the center of the office. When it’s finally your turn, you’ll go to the postal worker and ask for the application, only to learn that there are, in fact, several buttons on that paper ticket emitting machine near the doorway, and that you pushed the wrong one and must redo the process. On try number two, you will get it right, go to a different window, and finally receive the documents to proceed.

Step 2: Reading the documents back at school, you’ll see that one of them requires a marca da bollo. Having heard stories from permesso applicants of years past, you’ll already know that a marca da bollo is an official, government-issued stamp that you must purchase not at the post office, where you foolishly assume you would get an official, government-issued stamp, but in fact at one of the tobacco distributors in town. Proud of yourself for being so permesso savvy, you’ll go straight to the tobacco distributor and spend $14.92 on your very own marca da bollo.

Step 3: Once finished filling out the application forms in either black or blue pen, you’ll go to the photocopy room at school to make the as-requested photocopies of your official documents, including, reasonably enough, your passport, which you’ll wisely bring to school with you that morning. Just as you did when you applied for your visa back in the states, you’ll photocopy all of the passport’s relevant pages – that is, the front page with your name and personal information, the page with your visa, and the page with your entrance stamp.

Step 4: All in the same day, you’ll return to the post-office, convinced that you’ll impress the postal workers with your dedication to immigration regulations. You’ll push the right button on your first try, wait (on foot, of course) with everybody else, stare at the NBA-scoreboard-style counter until it’s your turn, and then present both yourself and your well-organized folder of documents to the postal worker. When she gets to your passport photocopies, you’ll mentally notice that you did a really great job choosing an appropriate level of photocopy darkness. So content will you be with your artwork that you won’t realize the postal worker is addressing you.

“Where are the rest of the passport photocopies,” she’ll be saying.

Finally coming to. “What do you mean?”

“You need to photocopy all of the pages.”

“All of the pages?”

“Yes. All of the pages.”

You’ll chew on this for a second. “Even the blank ones at the end”

“Yes. Of course. And the covers as well. Front and back.”

Step 5: You’ll return to the school photocopy room and make photocopies of all 25 pages of your passport and both covers, thanking yourself that at least you have access to free photocopies.

Step 6: Tired of going to the post office in the city where you work, you’ll take a train back to your host family’s house and go to the post office in the city where you live, bringing your completed application, all of your photocopies, a new sense of purpose, and a refusal to give in to the man. As it turns out, the people at this post office will be much friendlier, and after demonstrating your expertise with the ticket emitting button machine, you’ll race through the rest of the process and be granted your first official permesso appointment—scheduled for 8:46am (yes, 8:46am)—at the questura in the province’s capital. In your case, this capital will be located about 40 km away, but you’ll be lucky because your appointment will be scheduled for the one day of the week that you don’t have morning classes.

Step 7: Three weeks later, you’ll hop on an early train to the province’s capital and report to the questura at 8:33 a.m. There, you’ll find a cement lobby, empty of chairs but full of immigrants from all over the world funneling towards the glass doors leading into the immigration office. And this time there will be no ticket emitting button machine, so you’ll have to employ all the skills you learned in middle school lacrosse practices in order to stay on your feet and maintain your ground. Painstakingly slowly, you’ll nudge your way, with the rest of the crowd, towards the tip of the funnel. After an hour of waiting, and gently pushing, and waiting some more, you’ll be at the front of the line, and enter the glass doors. There, you’ll have a young immigration officer so fascinated by your American citizenship that he won’t even look at the documents you’ve worked so hard to prepare, and which have been sent there from the post office you first went to. Rather, he’ll accept them all, rush you through the fingerprinting process (yes, you’ll get fingerprinted), congratulate you on making it through the first step without any hitches, and then give you another appointment for three weeks later, once again at the questura in the capital of your province. Confused, you’ll say:

“Wait. But… sir… you just fingerprinted me. Why do I need to come back for more fingerprints? I’ll have to miss school… and take another train… and waste… I mean… use, not waste, use, an entire day. Can’t I do them now?”

And he’ll say: “No. I’m sorry. Different machine, different fingerprints. Be sure not to miss your appointment.”

Step 8: Defeated, you’ll get a gelato in an attempt to cheer yourself up. (It’ll work pretty well.)

Step 9: Three weeks later, you’ll return to the capital of your province. This time, you’ll get there two hours early and be the first in line. You’ll take more fingerprints, as well as full-fledged palm and hand prints—before being congratulated on having completed the second stage of your permesso di soggiorno. You won’t bother telling the fingerprint technician that this is, in fact, the ninth stage. Instead, you’ll thank him politely, and leave. You'll note that even if you’d had all of the documents that second time you went to the post office, you still would have needed to make six different trips in order to complete the process. The first, to pick up the application. The second to purchase the marca da bollo at the tabacchi. The third to submit everything to the post office. The fourth the go to the questura to go over (for a second time) your documents, and then conduct fingerprints. The fifth time to return to the questura for more finger and hand prints. And the sixth time to pick the finished document up.

Step 10: You’ll go back to your home and blog about the experience so that your friends and family can understand how much incentive the system gives you to seeing these bureaucratic processes through.

Nate’s step 10 is optional, of course, but I’m glad he did it, because his experiences and writing really cracked me up. In a later blog, he took one more trip to the questura and actually picked up his permesso, which was not a magical elf but actually a plastic card, though by this time it was almost time for him to return to the U.S.

In defense of the system, I found another website that says the fingerprinting process is now done in one appointment, and the post office no longer requires that blank pages of the passport be copied. The site also says that you don’t need to wait in line for the packet. You just go to the counter and ask for “il kit del permesso di soggiorno” for non-EU citizens. On the downside, for services rendered, the post office also requires an administrative fee of 27.50 euro, which is in addition to the 14.62 marca da bollo tax and the 30 euro Ministry of Finance charge. If you are reading all this because you actually want to get a permesso di soggiorno instead of just being entertained by Nate’s travails, then I recommend this site:

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