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Tag Archives: Permesso di Soggiorno

Mission accomplished!

20 Nov
On this lovely fall day in Roma, after many months of planning, process and waiting, not to mention a ream of paper and a bucket full of ink, we finally obtained the Holy Grail that allows us to remain in the Schengen Zone legally: our permessi di soggiorno (residence permits) are in our hands!
Of course, this last step was not without quirks. I wrote in early October about the process thus far: Applying for a visa in San Francisco, working through the machinations of Poste Italiane to file our permesso packets, and then the interesting trip to the Questura di Roma Divisione Stranieri in a seedy part of Roma to be fingerprinted and processed. (Questura is police station and isn’t it amusing — and a little offensive  — that foreigners are called stranieri? The same word in Italian can also mean alien, stranger, or enemy.)
When we left after our appointment at the Divisione Stranieri, we were told we would be able to pick up our permessi in about 40 days, but we could check online to see if they were ready. Last Saturday I checked the web: lo-and-behold, they were ready! Planning to go Monday morning, I rechecked the site to make sure we were headed to the right precinct, and now the site said our permessi were not in the archive. WTF? It also said we would receive an SMS when they were ready with a time and place to pick them up.
Like any residents of Italy, we have developed cynicism about exactly how things worked, so after one more check today (still not in the archive) we decided to drop by the precinct (Commissariato) and check.
Upon arrival, I showed the officer our receipts for permessi and we were pointed to a waiting room. Eventually, another officer came and asked if we were there for passports. No, I told him, permessi, adding a  brief explanation of why I thought they’d be ready. We waited a few moments more while he checked something, and were waived back to his office. Score! Except he wanted the receipt from Poste Italiane that was such a problem since PI  screwed that up. I told him we left those at the Questura and all they gave us was the receipts we had just handed him. With a little Italian bureaucratic shrug, he accepted that explanation and proceeded. Oh-by-the-way, do not attempt this if you do not speak a decent amount of Italian. 
We noted an interesting mix of technology and paper processes. Our permessi are electronic, and programming had to be completed by the officer, including a fingerprint scanned to the chip on the card. But he also had to keep a log in an old-fashioned manual ledger noting our names, DOBs, passport and permesso numbers. He asked us for our cell phone numbers, which certainly were in the system, but he wanted them in writing along with our signatures proving we’d received the permessi. Then he wanted to verify where we lived and whether we owned the apartment. Again, something divulged in both the visa and permesso application packets. Then he wanted our landlady’s name and phone number. Presumably to check and see if we really live here. However, the proprietor had to register us with this very same precinct when we moved in last May. Methinks there are silos of information.
Taken in a photo booth, as all official photos are done here, I look like a deer in the headlights. But this is solid gold if you want to be int eh Schengen Zone more than 90 days out of 180!

Taken in a photo booth, as all official photos are done here, I look like a deer in the headlights. But this is solid gold if you want to be in the Schengen Zone more than 90 days out of 180!

Allora, Mission Accomplished! We are good until August 28, 2016, one year from our date of entry. Then we do it all over again.
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A trip to the Questura

6 Oct
I should be writing about our trip to Switzerland and showing you beautiful pictures. I could be writing about the James Beard Foundation dinner we attended in Milan. (if anyone ever suggests you attend one, please do!) However, I am writing today about the latest installment in our journey to obtain the Permesso di Soggiorno we each need to remain in Italy legally.  Today, we visited the Questura (police station).
When I wrote about Our journey so far,  I mentioned we walked out of Poste Italiane with appointments for fingerprinting.  Here’s what I said at the end of that very long post:

At one point, he seemed to have completed my packet but handed me a receipt copy of the mailing label for sending the documents to the Questura that bore Ric’s name. I tried to point it out but was waved off. He proceeded with Ric’s packet then could not figure out why he did not have the proper label. Once again I tried to point out the problem but was waved off. He had Ric fill out another label, so now both my packet and Ric’s were labeled with Ric’s name and we feared the numbers would not be right in the system. More discussion. Papers shuffled. Perplexed expression. He opened my sealed application packet and saw the error. Not sure what to do, he simply manually corrected the code number on two documents so they match. The numbers in the computer system and what I have on paper match only because of a hand correction. Not sure that will fly….

Now we have appointments with the Questura for fingerprinting and I suppose some sort of interview, but God knows if this mix-up of coded paperwork at Poste Italiane will plague me. Maybe Ric will get a Permesso and I will be deported.

What I did not mention is that Poste Italiane set appointments for us on a day we would not be in Italy due to our planned trip to Switzerland. We shuddered to think of un-arranging those plans as we had cat sitters scheduled and we’d be forfeiting not only three days of our Swiss trek, but several hundred Euros in changed transportation and canceled lodging.
The first step in getting the appointment changed was to see if we were in the system. I looked every day. Eight days after the Poste Italiane experience, the Polizia di Stato website for stranieri showed Ric in the system. Hooray! But as I expected, the mix-up of coded paperwork made finding myself a problem. The number on the receipt the PI guy gave me was not right, but I was able to deduce it from the error I observed and so was able to find myself as well. I simply wrote a nice email to the Questura stating it would be difficult for us to make our appointments on 25 September, could we come sometime after 4 October? Miracle of miracles, they wrote back within one business day and changed them! Off to Switzerland we went.
Today, we journeyed to the Questura di Roma Divisione Stranieri (foreigners division) for our appointments. This division is located in the eastern part of Rome, near the notorious Tor Sapienza, where there is a refugee center and Rom (i.e., Gypsy) camp. Nice ‘hood. Luckily we took a taxi, both ways, as it would otherwise be two long bus rides and a stretch on the Metro, not to mention a walk through this area known for violence and immigrant problems. The Questura facility itself is behind unfriendly fences and, of course, there were dozens of people of assorted nationalities coming-and-going.
The first problem presented itself when I spoke to a member of the Italian Army who was organizing who should go where before we even got into the building. In addition to the email I had that confirmed our appointments, he wanted to see my original receipts from Poste Italiane. The guy at PI did not give those to us, despite my insistence we needed them. We were given copies with his stamp and initials on them. The soldier did not like this at all, but he let us get in line.
Once past security, we were corralled with everyone else that was there for the 12:30 pm appointments, hoofing it up to 3rd floor (4th American) because the elevator was only for use by pregnant women and the elderly. (Seriously. That’s what it said.) We don’t cotton to being elderly, so we walked up.
A clerk was checking paperwork and handing each person the packet that Poste Italiane had sent in for them. When it came to our turn, we were sent to the secretary on the second floor. It seems she was the one who changed our appointment date. But this woman said no, wait, the third floor has to handle this. She called upstairs then kindly accompanied us, apologizing all the way, telling us not to worry. She also wanted to know which office of the Poste Italiane had messed this up.
Back on the third floor, again more apologies, but no, they did not have our packets. (Yikes!) We were ushered to a very nice and competent immigration clerk who was able to process us. Not only did we have the problem that Poste Italiane had goofed up the code numbers as I suspected, but the packets had been sent to the third floor of the Questura for the original appointments scheduled for September 25th. Seems the agreement to change the appointment date didn’t get lined up with the delivery of the packets. I suspect we were seen as “no shows” on the 25th.
Our helpful and competent immigration official was able to find our application packets in their system, apparently scanned, and she made the appropriate cross-references, correcting the errors of Poste Italiane. There was much consultation among colleagues, and I know we were cutting into their lunch hour as it was now past 13:00, but she recognized the foul-up was theirs (and Poste Italiane’s) so she patiently worked through it and arranged for some people in the fingerprinting office to wait for us before going to lunch. We had brought along all the paper we submitted in San Francisco for our visas, as well as originals of everything submitted with the Permesso applications.  They asked for none of this, much to our surprise. The lease that was a sticking point with the Consulate General in San Francisco was a non-issue after all. I am glad we decided NOT to have it re-written and reregistered, for once saving a few hundred Euros.
What we experienced at the Questura was good teamwork, and in the way of all Italian networks, news of our problem with PI had spread like wildfire and everyone was talking about the error PI had made and trying to make it up to us. No one said, “It’s lunchtime I’m leaving.” We were treated very professionally and with courtesy. On our way out there were many farewells and thank yous all around, from the fingerprint people to the soldiers.
One more step to go: In about 40 days we should be able to pick up our Permesso cards at the commissariato (police station) near our home. Then we get to do it all over again next year to renew.

The path to the permesso di soggiorno: Our journey so far

5 Sep
Thursday (September 3) we dropped off our applications for our permessi di soggiorni. This is the document that entitles us to stay in Italy – and the Schengen Zone – for more than 90 out of 180 days. I have read over-and-over what a hideous process it is to get to this stage. Frankly, it has been a bit of work, a bit time-consuming, and necessitated a trip home to the U.S., but overall, the bureaucracy has been minimal.
Short version, lessons learned, for those who wish to apply:
  • Your printer will be sucking down ink like the Government Printing Office
  • Buy an extra ream of paper
  • Be prepared to sign a lease and make significant expenditures before you even know if you will be successful
  • Do not give into the first (or second, or third) attempt to dissuade you
  • Have a lot of cash, even more patience, and plenty of TIME

You cannot get a visa without an appointment

To legally enter Italy with the intention to stay more than 90 days in the Schengen Zone, one must have a visa. Application must be made in one’s own country, i.e., we had to go home. I tried every angle I could to see if we could apply here. I tapped friends and friends-of-friends and sources of friends-of-friends at the U.S. Embassy. Italian colleagues hooked me up electronically with their friends at the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C., but no dice, no shortcuts. We needed to go to the U.S.
On the advice of an immigration attorney, we interpreted the date we exited the Embassy as the start of our 90-day countdown. We figured we had 90 days to enjoy Italy and some post-retirement travel and guests before we were stepping into the realm of illegal immigrants. We targeted August for our visa application.
Visa meme
There are many types of visas: religious purposes, joining a family member, study, and on and on. Our target was an Elective Residence visa, meaning we chose to live in Italy and promised not to work. This necessitated pulling together about a pound of paperwork, but not before we had made an appointment at the Consulate General of Italy in San Francisco. That in itself was a process.
Starting last winter I registered at the C.G. site so I could make an appointment. (You must go to the consulate serving the region of the U.S. in which you are resident. For us, that is Oregon.) Ric had to register too as we both needed appointments. I watched the online appointment system religiously, as they opened appointments out a week or two at a time. May opened up…then a couple of weeks in June. By March, they were getting to appointments at the end of July. July 29 popped up and I said “OK, that’s what we’ll do!” I clicked on all the appropriate radio buttons and selected 29 July 11:45 AM for my appointment. Success! I had a 15-minute appointment! But wait! The day was now shown as “full” with no additional appointments available. Ric needed one too. I was able to get him a placeholder on 22 July, but how inconvenient would it be for us to have appointments a week apart in San Francisco? So I wrote an email to the C.G. Could we come together, please, as a convenience and since “all family members” had to apply separately? Crickets. No response. I sent another email a few days later.  Perhaps my email was not received…I was wondering if we could please come together on the same day? Total silence.
As luck would have it, I was at a meeting of the American Women’s Association of Roma the next evening and joined a conversation where a few women were relating their tales of immigration bureaucracy. I told my tale and a delightful young woman was able to help me. A well-placed communique that she facilitated to the C.G. in San Francisco resulted in a dual appointment as desired. Once again, it’s who you know.
bureaucracy 2
I was also worried about finding the reputedly elusive packets we would need to apply for our Permessi upon our return with visas in hand. The packets are not always available, it seems, and one might need to run around to different post office locations to obtain them. So I started in April. I wanted them in hand before we traveled. Ha! First post office, I took a number for the Sportello Amico and in less than 10 minutes I had two packets! Now I only had to keep track of them until September.

Paperwork jungle

The Consulate General website has a long list of items one needs to prepare for the application. Mostly it seems you need to not be a criminal, have a bunch of money, sign a lease on a place to live, and prove you have healthcare coverage. (Although this latter item is not mentioned on the website, “everyone knows” you have to prove you have private insurance.)
In order to prove our upstanding nature, financial well-being, ability to house ourselves, and that we won’t be a drain on the medical system, it took almost a pound of paper for each of us. I carefully compiled a binder of documents for each of us, tabbed for easy reference. Bank statements for 3 bank accounts, two years of tax returns, letters of reference from bankers and accountants, investment statements, FBI criminal history check, official application, and on and on and on. The C.G. website said to bring originals and a copy, plus have a copy for reentry in Italy, so we each had about 6 pounds of paper flying from FCO to SFO. (Our clever plan was to replace that with new clothes while in the U.S.) This took days to accomplish, spread out over a few months with a concentration of about 30 hours in the last week before we left. We went through more ink than the Corriere dello Sport and at least one tree was killed to supply the paper.
paperwork meme 2
On the 70th day after turning in our diplomatic passports, allowing a little leeway to return and pick up our cats in case we were unsuccessful in getting visas, we flew to the U.S.

At the Consulate General

We had two tasks in San Francisco before we could go to our appointment: get money orders for the visa fees and obtain USPS Express Mail envelopes that were pre-paid and addressed to where the C.G. could send our passports back to us, hopefully with visas inserted.
We filled Ric’s backpack with our 12 pounds of paper and arrived 15 minutes ahead of our appointment time. We stood in line at the service window, entertained by hearing other would-be visa-holders’ conversations with the clerk. Some had interesting tales, others we not well-organized, some had no clue what they needed to do. We were smug in our knowledge of complete preparedness.
When our turn came, the clerk looked at my thick binder and said “Every piece of paper has to fit through this (transaction) window. You’ll have to take everything out. Give me the lease first.” At least I could locate the lease due to my fantastic organization. He scanned the first page of the lease and asked, “Where’s your husband’s name? He needs to be on the lease.” WTF? All this effort, all the travel to be foiled by a technicality? He told us we should go back to Italy and get the lease corrected. I thought he might actually turn us away at that point, close his window and step out for coffee. I pushed back: “We meet all of your requirements. We have all of the documents. We’ve been married for 31 years.” After some discussion, he agreed to ask his boss if she would see us. If!
We were ushered back to a conference table and met with a lovely Italian diplomat who also asked to see the lease first. Same story: Go back to Italy and get it corrected. Ugh! We engaged her in conversation to find out why this was a sticking point. She was worried that the Questura would take exception and she did not want us to have problems when we applied for the Permessi. So we talked some more. Ric offered that we had our marriage license along (in a great set of back-up documents we packed just-in-case). She brightened. “Let me have a copy of that.” We said perhaps we can have the lease altered in Italy before we go to the Questura. That was a hit. (Although at this point we decided not to do so. Our attorney said it should not be necessary, that it is normal for only one spouse to be on the lease.)
So we proceeded through the interview, reviewing each and every item on the list of required documents, the diplomat checking off on each. Frankly, when she saw the financials, she started to move along a little more efficiently. We prepared for this adventure. We have retirement incomes and good resources. We are spending our children’s inheritance.
We continued on, document by document, both my packet and Ric’s. Clean FBI criminal record? Check. “Yes,” I said, “I hope so! I worked for them!” Now she softened even more. Now she saw us as fellow diplomats, a shared experience. “I am sure you will make fine residents of Italy. These should be issued in about three days.” Total time at the Consulate General: 1 hour, 15 minutes. (It was supposed to be a 15-minute appointment.)
Seriously? Three days? The website says 7-15 days. Some sources mentioned 30-45 days! In fact, the visas arrived at their destination 5 days after our appointment!
The copy of all documents the website insisted was required was not. We were told to keep it. So we still had four pounds of paper. We stopped by an Office Depot store and had a copy shredded so we only had to shlep the copies that “might” be needed at our POE. They were not needed, BTW. No one looked at our visas or our paperwork at Fiumicino.

We’re not done yet

You know that saying “But wait! There’s more!” We are onto the next step, a process that we are obligated to initiate within 8 days of arriving in Italy. We landed at FCO August 28 and had to insist we get entry stamps in case it becomes important to establish date-of-entry. (At FCO getting a stamp is rather haphazard in our experience, so if you need one, you have to ask, or you might just get waved through.)
We spent the weekend getting over our trip, saying hello to Roma, and bidding our cat sitters good-bye. Tuesday I spent the entire afternoon preparing our Permesso packets. Yes, packets. An eight-page application, a copy of financials, sources of income, proof of health insurance, and every page of our passports, even the blank ones. Not quite a pound of paper this time. I did some judicious editing. Figured they did not need all of our bank statements.

paperwork mem

Armed with paperwork, Wednesday we set out on our quest to submit our packets. First stop, a Tabaccheria, where we would buy the Marca da Bollo (revenue stamp) required, Euro 16.00 each.  First stop: no they don’t sell them. No. they don’t know where I can find a shop that does. We walk a few blocks to another Tabaccheria. Nope, not here. “Avanti un po’.” We walk a few more streets and score. Back about a kilometer to Poste Italiano and take a number for the Sportello Amico. We did not even have our paperwork out before our number was blinking at the window! This was going to be easy. Ha!
The young man, at a major downtown location, who deals with stranieri all day, was supposed to speak a little English but did not. The first thing he looks at is the application containing the Marco da Bollo. Good. Then he wants the “other” document that contains the fee structure. It is call called a Conti Correnti Postale, a check from the post office that goes to the Questura, transmitting your fee for the Permesso. I needed guidance on this form as there was none in the excruciating instructions in the packet. (The application itself was made easy thanks to an e-book published by fellow blogger Rick Zullo.)  So I asked the clerk, which fee we should pay: 3 months to 1 year, 1-2 years, more than 2 years, or were we exempt for some reason? My impression at the Consulate General was that our Permessi would be for one year and renewable, but here was a form with choices. The clerk said he could not tell me, I had to tell him, and sent us down the street to an organization called 50 e piu’, that would be able to tell us everything. So we trotted down the street a few blocks to this agency (which provides various assistance to people “of a certain age”), where a young woman told us she did not know, we should go to the Questura and ask them. Really? The police station? We know we have to go there for fingerprinting and an interview later in the process, but certainly it should not be necessary to ask which duration was appropriate for our type of visa.
not helpful
So we went home to research a bit more. After perusing a few Italian government websites and applying a small amount of common sense, we decided we would simply check off the box for 3 months to 1 year, pay the Euro 107.50 fee for that (times 2) and basta!

Back into the fray

This time around we had to wait a bit. When our turn at the sportello came, the same young man helped us figure out how to fill out the Conti Correnti Postale then passed us off to an expert for processing the paperwork. Geez Louise! The “expert” was nice enough and knew his job, but he had to cross-reference three different forms with three different numbers for each of us, entering and scanning these items into the computer system of the Polizia di Stato, and extract two more payments from us. In cash. Do not go into this process thinking your debit or credit card will suffice. BRING CASH. Lots of cash. This cash will not be refundable should things not work out.
soldi meme
At one point, he seemed to have completed my packet but handed me a receipt copy of the mailing label for sending the documents to the Questura that bore Ric’s name. I tried to point it out but was waved off. He proceeded with Ric’s packet then could not figure out why he did not have the proper label. Once again I tried to point out the problem but was waved off. He had Ric fill out another label, so now both my packet and Ric’s were labeled with Ric’s name and we feared the numbers would not be right in the system. More discussion. Papers shuffled. Perplexed expression. He opened my sealed application packet and saw the error. Not sure what to do, he simply manually corrected the code number on two documents so the match. The numbers in the computer system and what I have on paper match only because of a hand correction. Not sure that will fly….
Now we have appointments with the Questura for fingerprinting and I suppose some sort of interview, but God knows if this mix-up of coded paperwork at Poste Italiane will plague me. Maybe Ric will get a Permesso and I will be deported.
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