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Zambia

Barely Legal Part 2

This is the concluding part of yesterday’s blog about my quest for a visa extension and work permit.

I needed a stiff drink

I drove back to the village where I had left the vaccination team. They had given up waiting for me and had returned to the health centre under their own steam. I had no time for lunch so I popped into a local NGO office and asked to use their internet to do the online application.

Three hours and several handfuls of hair later, I gave up typing in all my details for the tenth time only for the system to crash or hang. “Come back in the morning at 8am and you can try again,” said K.

The following day, I woke up illegally in Zambia. Amazingly, the website accepted my application without a single blue screen of death. Instead of loading up several individual scans of supporting documents, K had merged them into a massive jpeg file which was still less than the maximum permitted upload size. This had been one of the major sticking points the previous afternoon.

Always check the small print

But the next level of hell awaited me. Making payment. I have no bank account in Zambia, so I had to ask D if he would pay for the application using his local credit card. This failed authentication. Then he tried his personal Zambian bank card, which also failed authentication. Finally, I asked one the NGO administrators, and she gave her UK bank credit card details, which also failed authentication.

I had to go to the local school to administer diphtheria and tetanus boosters to the students so I couldn’t sit sobbing in front of the computer for long. I contacted J who said, “I will sort it out, don’t worry, they won’t deport you as we’ve only just got you here.”

Halfway through vaccinating over 200 students, I received a text message saying that I should return to the immigration office at the airport and pick up a paper which would cover me for a month while they sorted out the problem of payment.

It was 2pm by the time we had finished vaccinating and I had dropped off the team at the health centre. There was no time for lunch as I needed to get my hands on the paper which would allow me to stay in Zambia legally.

“You’re back again,” said the guard on the airport perimeter. “Yes, but hopefully I will get my papers sorted out now,” I replied. There was no guard in the sentry box so I walked through and knocked on the door of the Immigration Office. The senior officer was there alone and I explained that the application was successful but the payment had been declined.

“What did you do wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing, but I think that it is because I don’t have a bank account here and when other people use their banks or credit cards to pay for my application, their bank security systems refuse to endorse the transaction,” I said.

I explained that I had used an NGO credit card, an expat’s Zambian bank card and another expat’s Barclaycard from the UK. Why would a bank allow a transaction paying for a random person’s visa application and work permit to a government agency?

“No, you are wrong. The system was set up to cater to people who had no bank account in Zambia. You could have used PayPal,” he said.

“Paypal wasn’t on the list of options,” I replied. “Have you ever tried to use the system?”

“I am not allowed to,” he said. “But I don’t understand why a local bank, Zanaco, declined the payment. Let us go and ask the bank manager of the branch at the Airport.” He picked up his officer’s cap, its peak decorated with gold piping, and we marched to the 100 metres to the airport.

I felt like this child

The bank manager listened to our story and suggested that we should try to access the eservices.zambiaimmigration.gov.zm website. I used my local phone, which has a small amount of data available. It refused to allow me to log in. We tried the bank manager’s computer, with the same result. Then the immigration officer asked me for my username and password so he could inform the IT officer who would try to track down the fault.

He noted that the bank manager’s computer had limited internet connectivity, which may have prevented access to the site. The manager showed that his computer could access other sites without any issues.

“What happened when you tried to pay?” he asked again.

“I was informed that I would be leaving the Immigration website and joining Barclays payment website. In order to make the payment, I had to write the name, address, email address, etc of the person making the payment for me, along with their card type, number, expiry date and code.”

“That’s where you went wrong. You should have entered YOUR details, not the owner of the credit card’s details,” he said.

“I disagree,” said the bank manager. “You know in Zambia, it takes time for new systems to bed in.”

“Well, what can we do now?” I asked. “Is it impossible to make the application using paper and paying in cash?”

“Yes, that should be an option with a new system which has not been fully tried and tested,” said the bank manager.

“No,” the immigration officer replied, “I will have to give you a piece of paper allowing you to remain in the country for 30 more days until we sort this out.”

Before walking back to his office, I stopped by at the Airport Post Office as I had been told that there was a letter waiting for me to collect. The lady sitting behind the counter had her head slumped forward and I thought she was either dead or asleep. In fact, she was fiddling with her smartphone, hidden out of sight, under the counter. I told her I had been informed that a letter was waiting for me to collect at the airport. She flatly denied any knowledge of a letter. “What is it? Who is it from?” she asked. I said I didn’t have a clue. But my mother had sent me a birthday card to Mfuwe in May 2014 which was not delivered. “Five years ago? We only keep undelivered mail for six months,” she said while hunting through a large cardboard box containing dozens of packets and letters. She found nothing addressed to me and went back to her social media.

Be wary of elephants crossing the track after dark

The immigration officer was waiting for my passport. He connected the printer to his computer and printed off two forms, which he clipped together and added a sheet of carbon paper. He instructed me to complete and sign the bottom section of the form and handed me my right to stay here for another month. Now was not the time for light-hearted comments about whether the online system would ever allow me to pay for the visa/temporary work permit. I smiled, shook his hand and said goodbye.