Helpful Officials – Brazil

Helpful Officials

Maybe now the story can be told. Now that I am “official” with my new permanent visa, that is! I didn’t dare tell it before in the (admittedly unlikely) case that a bureaucrat somewhere in the heart of Brazil read the story and somehow found a way of blocking my application for a permanent visa.

It all started on one of my earlier visits to Brazil… One is allowed three months on a tourist visa here but you can have the visa renewed for a further period as long as you ask nicely and have done nothing wrong in the meantime of course. OK… let us stop there! Because what I have said is not true and strikes at the heart of this story. As you will see as the story unfolds.

One is NOT allowed “three months”. One is only allowed 90 days. But, of course, most of us would translate 90 days to read as “three months”. Wouldn’t we?? Well, I did – and that’s what caused the problem! I arrived in Brazil on 25th October 2010 – Fatima’s birthday, as it happened. So the DATE was easy to remember and therefore three months after the date was also easy to remember. 25th January 2011. Easy – but WRONG!

I had marked the ‘correct’ 90 days date in my diary of course, just to explain that I am not inefficient or daft, but my internal memory of the date stuck at the 25th, so it was only at the beginning of the week which contained the 90th day that I suddenly realized my internal memory had been misleading me. 90 days was up on Saturday 22nd January so strictly the renewal fell at the weekend, so I actually had the whole week to sort it out, which is more than enough time for an optimist like me, you would think. Sadly, sometimes being an optimist will catch you out. I started to do something about it right at the beginning of the week, getting the paperwork together and so on, but I did not feel too rushed about it. I had to get a photograph and fill “this” form in and get a copy of “that” information.

The problem arose when I had to download a copy of “the other” form which would allow me to go to the bank and effect a small payment for the whole process to be completed. Sadly I did not attempt to download “the other” form until Thursday night. I had several tries but for some reason the system was not working and I could not download said form. “That’s OK”, this optimist thought, “there is still all day Friday to go”. But the computer system of the Federal Police Immigration Department was not working on Friday either. On Thursday night I had SEEN a copy of the form but it would not download – but on Friday I could not even see a copy of the form, there was no information whatsoever. The whole system had stopped functioning.

“That’s OK” I said out loud, “it is the weekend and if the system is down it is not our fault and we will just have to sort it out on Monday when we go into the Police station.” As I said – I am an optimist. Fatima really said very little but I could tell she expected it to be much more trouble than I did.

We tried again over the weekend to download the form that required payment but the system continued to be “down”, which actually strengthened my optimistic view that it would be relatively easy to persuade someone at the Police station to overlook our small problem and sort my visa extension out with a smile. How wrong you can be when you are an optimist!

Monday morning arrived and we took ourselves to the appropriate Police station. We did not have to queue for long and I went up to the counter and explained as best I could what had and had not happened. Strangely, I thought, Fatima kept quiet in the background pretending not to be there. Until I got a “No” as an answer for about the third time and sought her help specifically. With some reluctance she came forward and explained in Portuguese what I had been trying to explain in fractured Portuguese and English and sign language.

It should, perhaps, be pointed out in fairness that when Fatima was a girl Brazil was a dictatorship and, therefore, her attitude and that of many others, towards the nature of policemen and officialdom in general has been coloured by this early-life experience. Whereas, of course, I am British, and we expect our policemen to be fair and helpful don’t we? Don’t we? Well, let’s save that debate until another day, maybe!

“Sorry,” I was saying through Fatima, “the computer system was down and we could not get the form”

“You are illegal”

“Yes, I know, that officially I may seem to be illegal, but the computer system was down and we could not download the form to pay and….”

“You are illegal”

“Yes, I know, but since we are here, surely you can….”

“You are illegal”

“Yes, but that is just ridiculous, it is a computer system and not our fault it was down, and surely your boss can over-ride this pathetic system failure and…so on and so on…”

Which apparently got translated as “Sorry my husband has a headache with the stress” and by this time Fatima was pretty upset by the stress too, it has to be said.

“You are illegal”

“So what does that mean, exactly?”. “It means,” hissed Fatima, “that if you keep being so angry with him and insulting them with your tone of voice, that they will put you in prison and they will tell you later – maybe! And I will have to pay a judge to get you out! – maybe!”

“It means you are in Brazil illegally and you will have to LEAVE Brazil and if and when you come back you will have to pay a fine of R$90 a day for however many days you are here illegally!”

At this point steam was coming out of my ears… “Sorry my husband has a headache…” hmm that was not quite what I said.

Anyway, to cut this story short enough for this post. We decided at this point that if it had to be done it had to be done and we decided to head for the airport and I could catch a quick flight to Argentina and be back for supper. Told you I was an optimist! Standing arguing was non-productive and getting arrested was not an appealing prospect. So, off to the airport we go.

Information desk… Told an abbreviated version of my tale to the young lady on the Information desk and “…can you tell me where I need to be to get a quick ticket to Argentina please?”

“I am sure you probably do not need to do that sir” Ever so helpful young lady! “The Federal Police have an Immigration Department u p on the top floor” and she kindly directed us there. Very quiet it was too. Not many people about and we went into the room marked for “Estrangeiros”. Not much of a queue. Explained my situation in fractured Portuguese – obviously good enough for the official greeting lady to assume I would understand her reply! VERY rapid Portuguese response…

“Fatima – HELP please!” Fatima came to help – and we gathered that it was quiet because the computer “system is down at the moment…”. Funnily enough we knew that ourselves! “You will need to speak to Senhor X who is busy at the moment but I will see if he can see you for a moment.” We resigned ourselves to a long wait because waiting is more endemic here in Brazil than ever it was, or is, in the UK – no, REALLY it is!

Totally surprising then that we were called to the lady’s desk in just a few moments. She had managed to speak to Senhor X. He had apparently said that since the system is totally down there was nothing he could do today but if we came back tomorrow (Tuesday) perhaps he could help us then. “Oh, and don’t worry, you needn’t leave the country. It was not your fault the system was down we will sort it all out for you!”

You see – you should always be optimistic!! Officials CAN be helpful, really they can!

So we go home and return to the airport on Tuesday. Go back to the Federal Police offices and the whole floor is crawling with people. Clearly some parts of the computer system are back online – it is extraordinarily busy. Full rooms. Long queues. Full corridors waiting to get into the rooms. Oh no – hours of waiting ahead…Even the “Estrangeiros” room is pretty full. But, in fact, a relatively short queue to the same lady we saw yesterday – and she remembered us. Fairly easy to remember, I suppose, ‘Ebony and Ivory’ – silver-haired English gent with lovely , younger, Brazilian wife.

“Just sit over there in that group of seats and Senhor X will see you soon – don’t tell him you only tried to download the form on Friday, just that you had trouble because the system was down”

We did – and he did. Surprisingly soon. We explained the story again, this time directly to him – he apologized for the system being down and explained that, although it was now mostly back, the relevant bit of the system for us was still down, although could come back online anytime soon. “Go home, keep checking online, download the form, pay your dues and comeback here with your passport afterwards! So sorry!” What a nice chap – a very, very nice man. And so helpful.

So we started to leave – but then Fatima suggested we might find an internet café at the airport! Same girl as yesterday at the information desk… “Yes, upstairs near the food court…” So, really not expecting the system to be back online – even I am not THAT optimistic! There it was – ONLINE and not only that but we did not have to hunt for the appropriate page because whoever had used the computer just before us had gone to exactly the right page and it was still on screen! And, NOT ONLY THAT but it only cost us R$1 (or less than 30p) to print out the correct page.

AND NOT ONLY THAT, but there was an appropriate bank nearby where we could pay the fee. We were back upstairs asking for Senhor X within half an hour of seeing him.

Same nice lady official. Senhor X is now in the back room. “Leave your passport and the forms with me and I will call you when they are ready.”

Oh dear, perhaps a really LONG wait this time. No – ten minutes – tops. And the helpful lady official was back with my passport, appropriately stamped and everything.

Many, many thanks you very helpful officials. You helped restore the balance of optimism in this Englishman’s mind after fearing the worst and, although it cost us fuel for the trips to the airport I did not have to go to Argentina and I did not have to pay a fine. And, oh why, oh why could the first guys not have proved so helpful? But I will not dwell on that question, merely express my thanks in public for the overwhelming helpfulness of Brazilian officialdom in a difficult situation. And thank you to the young lady on the Airport Information desk too, I hope you might read this and remember us, I should have gone back to say thank you personally but, perhaps better late than never?

About Keith Melton - Green Lib Dem

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Nottinghamshire; spent six years in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536. Active member of the Green Liberal Democrats - (pressure group in Liberal Democrats) - was Founding Chair of GLD in 1988
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