Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Quick Turnaround

I just made my first trip to the U.S. using my brand new and hard earned "residente temporal" card.

It's easy to forget when you come to Mexico as a tourist as we've always done that one of the little pieces of paper they give you on the airplane coming down is actually a visa application. Once stamped, it proves you're in the country legally, but only for so long.

The tourist visa limit is six months. If you stay longer, you're an illegal alien. Six months is plenty of time for a vacation visit, but pretty soon it won't be long enough for us. Elizabeth goes to a pre-school with an academic year of nine months-plus, and the older she gets the more it matters.

The next step for us under recently restructured visa rules here is "residente temporal" status, which gives us a full year. After several years of renewal, we'll be eligible for "residente permanente" cards.

The application process for your first temporal card is long and sometimes frustrating. The Trail of Tears begins at any Mexican consulate in your home country. The new visa rules don't seem to be well understood yet, so it took us a while to find a consulate that knew them.

In El Paso, we were told we would need proof of income for assurance we would not become a burden on the Mexican government, and a good character reference from our local law enforcement agency in the U.S.

The local cops in Ruidoso said the best we could do on the latter requirement would be a criminal records check, but we'd have to write the New Mexico state police to get one. It took a couple of weeks, but the documents arrived.

We decided to take our completed applications to the consulate in Albuquerque since we were going there anyway. When we got there we heard a different story. There was zero interest in our empty rap sheets. And we learned that my most recent pension statement would not do for proof of income. They needed the last six months of bank statements reflecting that income.

Most troubling, however, was that we were told Elizabeth would not be eligible for any visa beyond tourist because her last name is different from ours. We showed the court order that made us her parents and the birth certificate naming us as mother and father. Sorry, the young vice consul told us. In Mexico it is "not normal" for parents and children to have different "appellidos".

We were pretty sure this was nonsense made up on the spot, but it was looking like we'd need a Mexican immigration lawyer to get the job done. Then on the drive south, Pam had the good idea we should try once more at the border consulate in Nogales AZ, where they might actually know what they were doing.

It cost us a half day, but we left Nogales with my passport endorsed for provisional residente temporal status. I had 30 days to complete my application at an immigration office in Puerto Vallarta. Pam and Elizabeth were told they would have to wait. Our proof of income applied only to me. They got tourist visas. But the vice consul told us Elizabeth's last name won't be a problem, as we suspected.

At the office in Vallarta I got an application form and instructions to register on a government website. I was also told I should go to any bank to pay the U.S.$300 fee and obtain an official receipt. Finally, I needed front and right profile photos in the very small or "infantil" size.

Notwithstanding my protests, the Walmart photo lady was sure right profile meant facing right, not right side of face. That was wrong and cost me an extra trip. But in the end after about two weeks I got my card.

Our visa quest is not over though. Now that I have mine, Pam and Elizabeth are eligible to apply for theirs as family members. To certify themselves as family, Pam needs our marriage license and Elizabeth needs a birth certificate, neither as simple as it sounds.

We don't have our marriage license here. I've had to write the Bexar County TX clerk's office for it. Then both documents will need to be apostilled, a special form of government-issued notarization recognized by treaty in other countries. Getting that by remote control from here will cost about U.S.$200 per document.

Not quite done. Once in our hands, each document must be copied in Spanish by a government-approved translator. Then and only then will we be ready to apply for the cards with fees, photos, fingerprints etc.

But I've got mine, and it arrived just in time for my very quick trip to New York last week for my scheduled follow-up MRI, front and side views of the "benign schwannoma" that scared us so badly last June.

Good news on that front. The tumor is still behaving like the non-toxic slacker the doctors had pegged it for. I don't have to go back for 18 months as long as it continues not to bother me. Maybe I should have mentioned this sooner. A newsroom editor might say I "buried the lede."


  1. Bury the lede, indeed. But a great closer. Congratulations!

  2. A post about the bureaucratic trials of fulfilling complex visa requirements doesn't ordinarily promise action-packed storytelling. Thanks for saving the best for last to reward those of us who read to the end.