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A Simple Visa Request Vs. Afghan Bureaucracy

You think getting a passport or renewing your driver's license in the U.S. is a headache? Well, welcome to Afghan bureaucracy. On July 7, Kabul correspondent Sean Carberry asked producer Sultan Faizy to begin the process of renewing Sean's six-month resident visa. Here's Sultan's log of what happened:

July 7: I took the application letter along with the copies of Sean's work permit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Security wouldn't let me in with my press ID. After more than 30 minutes of calling the media department, I was able to drop off the letter.

July 8: The letter from the ministry was supposed to be ready. But after 30 minutes in the Foreign National section, it was determined the media relations office hadn't issued the letter. A lady in media relations promised me to call when it was. She didn't.

July 9: Government departments were closed because it was thought to be the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. But the start of Ramadan depends on the moon, and it turned out this wasn't the day.

July 10: The actual first day of Ramadan, a public holiday.

July 11: Thursday, a day off for public servants in Kabul.

July 12: Friday, the Afghan weekend.

July 13: When I finally entered the Foreign Ministry, I found a table with stacks of papers for expat visa applications. I couldn't find ours; returned to the office.

July 14: Media staff at the ministry confirmed the letter was issued that morning, and was in the Foreign National office. The staff in the Foreign National office was rude and unhelpful. They told me to come back the following day.

July 15: A friend, who was driving into the ministry, asked why I was there. I explained the problems. He apologized and brought me the completed letter. Next, the Ministry of Interior.

July 16: Amazingly, within 10 minutes, I collected two signatures and one stamp (nothing is official in Afghanistan without a stamp — we have a cheap NPR stamp to make letters look more important). I got the letter from the ministry's Foreign National Department and took it to the deputy administrative office.

July 17: Produced radio interviews for my regular job.

July 18, 19: Holidays

July 20: Got the Interior Ministry's approval, but it was too late for the Passport Department.

July 21: I worked with Sean on a story.

July 22: Sean and I arrived at the Passport Department at 7 a.m. A young guy collected passports and letters from those standing outside, and disappeared for about 45 minutes. Eventually, we were handed our applications. Ours was one of the last, which meant being last in line for the next step. After two hours, we made it into the building and into a small office. We handed the application to an official, who looked at it for 10 seconds, looked at Sean to verify he was the applicant, and then told me to come the next day to pay the fee. It all took four hours.

July 23: I picked up the receipt from the passport office and then went across the city to the central bank to pay the fee. By the time I battled traffic and returned to the passport office, it was 11:30 a.m., and it was closing. I begged a sympathetic clerk to take my receipt. He accepted it and told me to come at noon the following day to get the visa.

July 24: I waited 30 minutes for the office to start handing out passports. I picked up Sean's, but immediately saw a new problem: They issued only a three-month visa, not the usual six-month visa.

All this for a simple visa renewal. This is Afghan bureaucracy.

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