Monday, 14 September 2015

No passport for you, Baby Ella! :(

So I've not posted for the last two weeks, mainly because we have been focussed on getting Ella's passport in time for our trip to England. Given that I am sitting in our back garden typing this, instead of on our flight halfway to England right now, we unfortunately didn't get in on time. I've been a bit too depressed to write about it, but have accepted it and am still hoping that we can go a few days late, sometime this week.

Here's what went wrong: Since we've been here the Department of Immigration has issued electronic visas. This means that we don't have an actual visa label in our passport, but there is an electronic version of it in "the system" (whatever that means!) We are currently on a 186 visa, which makes Andy and I Permanent Residents of Australia. Because of this, and the fact that she was born here, Ella is an Australian citizen.

When I looked into getting a passport for Ella before she was born the documents I needed were her birth certificate, and proof that at least one of her parents were Permanent Residents at the time of her birth. I figured that we would just use the Visa Grant letter to prove this as we did not have the aforementioned visa label. This seemed to be enough for other government agencies such as Medicare and Centrelink, so it should be enough for the passport office, right? WRONG! If you don't have a visa label (which you won't if you arrived here within the past few years) you need to get an Evidence of Citizenship certificate from the Department of Immigration. This is supposed to take about two weeks, and I thought I had got everything in enough time, until I called Immigration two weeks and one day after submitting the application for the certificate, only to learn that our application was invalid as I had forgotten to send in proof of our current address. Cue panic mode!

Immigration advised  me to send in a whole new application, Express Post it, and explain that I had flights booked and needed it processed urgently. I got all this done the same afternoon after running around like mad to get the new application together. This was two weeks before we were meant to fly, so things were looking pretty grim, as I would still need to get a passport once we got the certificate. The Passport Office does offer priority processing, so for an extra $111 you can get your passport in two days.

I ended up calling Immigration every day after submitting the new application, and when one week later it still wasn't in the system, I broke down crying to the lady on the phone. She was super nice and spoke to someone else who told her that my application would be processed the following Monday (the Monday before our flight). She then told me that Immigration could email the Passport Office to tell them that the application was approved, so I wouldn't have to wait for them to mail out the certificate. Hooray! I thought. I made an appointment with the Passport Office in Melbourne for Tuesday, and even explained the situation, and the guy on the phone said that would be no problem. Great! We would make our flights after all! Or so I thought...

Tuesday morning I headed to the Passport Office with Ella, having confirmed with Immigration that the application had been processed and they had sent that information to the Passport Office. Well, imagine my surprise when I tried to submit the application and was told that they would not accept it without the actual certificate. Yes, they had received the information from Immigration, but as my flight was not until Sunday they did not think it was an "emergency" as it was only Tuesday. They told me to go home and wait for the certificate. The woman who served me was very nice, and I could tell she felt sorry for me, but her supervisor would not approve our application. She told me to come back Friday with or without the certificate, and with evidence that we were flying on Sunday and that I was in my friend's wedding party. 

The next few days I waited eagerly for the post everyday, but the certificate did not arrive. Friday I nervously headed back to the Passport Office, armed with evidence of all our travel plans and the wedding information.  The woman who served me this time was less sympathetic but took my application to her supervisor. This time the Director came out to talk to me. He bluntly said that a wedding is not an emergency, he had people applying for emergency passports that were going to visit dying people, and did I expect him to put me before them? He said that as far as he was concerned we still had time to get to the wedding (it is next Saturday) and so they would not process the application without the certificate. They spoke to Immigration who said it was posted out three days prior, so I should have it any day.

Devastating! This guy obviously hears lots of desperate stories every day and so no amount of pleading or tears would sway him. He said he would "help me out" by processing the application so that the passport would be ready in two days, so when the certificate comes I could pick it up. This all just seems so pedantic to me. They had confirmation from Immigration that Ella is a citizen. Why they then need me to produce the actual certificate, which they KNOW is in the mail, seems pretty harsh. 

I think what has been so frustrating is just that this whole process does not seem to make sense. Why would Immigration use electronic visas if the Passport Office does not recognise this? And why don't they? Medicare and Centrelink are government organisations that seem to be able to look up electronic visas. I have been approved for Maternity Leave Pay from the government which I am only entitled to as I was a Permanent Resident at the time of Ella's birth. This is exactly what the Passport Office say they need to verify, but they need this extra certificate to do so. WHY?

It is also frustrating that Immigration told me that they could email confirmation of Ella's citizenship to the Passport Office and this would be fine. But it was a different story once I got there. Why don't these two departments communicate?

I do understand that going to a wedding is not as important as visiting a dying/dead relative, and so when you put it that way, we don't have an emergency. I have been trying to deal with this by being grateful for the things this challenge has highlighted that we have, instead of dwelling on the have nots. We have a lovely, happy, healthy baby girl which is by far the most important thing. We are grateful that even though it will cost us a small fortune, we have the means to pay for new flights. We are grateful that we are able to visit Bunny and Dave, and that they are not in fact sick or dying. We are also very grateful that they have offered to help with the financial side of things (thanks Bunny and Dave!) And lastly we are grateful for the awesomely supportive friends we have here in Melbourne, who have listened to our passport story over and over again, have asked us for updates, crossed all their fingers and toes for us, and kept us busy over the weekend so we couldn't dwell on the fact that we should have been on a plane!

And so we eagerly wait for the mail. Hopefully my next post will be from the airport, where we are already laughing about the stress of the past few weeks and relieved to be on our way.

Grateful for our awesome friends

Grateful for the sunshine this weekend

Grateful for this beautiful face!




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