Friday, March 16, 2007

Permesso di Soggiorno

In order to stay in Florence for more than 8 days, you must be granted a Permesso Di Soggiorno, or a permit to stay. I could not find much information about how to obtain this, but the information that I did have indicated that the documents you would need are similar to applying for a Visa, and that you had to go to the Police Station (Questura) to obtain it.

I traveled across town on the bus, and was so proud of myself, to the Questura. The office opened at 8:30 and I got there at 8:45, so was certain there wouldn’t be much of a wait. That was my first mistake! The Questura is in an old hospital. Remember, when I say old, I mean old. It is 300 years old, and a beautiful building (on the outside). When you get inside, it looks just like every other government building, white walls, tile floors, non descript. There was an officer at the door when I arrived who inquired in Italian what the nature of my business was. I said simply, "Permesso di Soggiorno" and he pointed me in the direction of another room. As I entered the room, there were hoards of people! All nationalities, with lots of forms and papers in their hands, waiting with numbers, talking to people in plexiglass booths etc. There were 2 separate rooms and there were lots of signs (all I Italian) about where you should go, and what you should do. I wandered around for a minute, looking at all the lines, and trying to observe what was going on, and where I should get in line.

I saw one line that said America above it, and there was no one in line, so decided to start with that. I went to the counter and told the lady "Permesso Di Soggiorno". She said "numero?" She was inquiring if I had a number. I told her I did not, and she said that I needed one. She was speaking all in Italian. I finally got from her that I was supposed to get a number from the police officer out front. I went back out front and told the officer that I needed a number. He indicated I did not need a number for information, and I was to get in the first line. The first line is the one that I had hoped to avoid, as it was the longest and most chaotic. I went back to the line to wait. It was quite nerve racking in this line. There were two people behind a plexiglass window. As people approached, they had to lean down to speak into a little hole in the glass to the people behind. Because the hole was too far below, a lot of yelling was going on, and I am not certain if it was because people could not hear, or if they were having some problem. It seemed like a lot of people were having problems. I was trying to listen to get clues on what I needed to do, but every language besides English was being spoken.

Finally I made my way to the front of the line. Neither of the people spoke English, and when I said Permesso Di Soggiorno, they motioned me to the side of the booth. An Arab man in the line behind me said, they want you to move to the side, and I did. The officers handed me a form with post offices listed on it, and explained in detail what I was supposed to do.....none of which I understood. The Arab man told me to go into the next room and there was an information desk where there were some English speaking people who could help me.

I went into the next room, which looked like a passport office, and immediately spotted the machine to get a number. I waited for my number to be called and went to the desk and said again....Permesso Di Soggiorno?" To which they replied....."Go to the other room". Now, my patience was being tested, and you all know that I don’t have any, so that’s a problem. The Arab man appeared again, Bless His Heart!, and pointed me to the office next door, which had a sign that said Public Relations (in Italian of course). I went into the office and inquired if the woman spoke English. She said only a little, which everyone says, but they really are quite good at it. Anyway, I said again, guess what, Permesso Di Soggiorno? She said that was in the other office. I told her in English they had given me a list of the post offices, but I did not know what to do. She said, in English! That I was to go to the post office to get the necessary forms to be mailed in! She located one near the Questura, and I set out to the post office.

At the post office, I faced the dreaded ticket machine again, but guess what? Clearly labeled on it was Sportiva Amico, which was exactly what I was looking for! I took the ticket and waited for my turn again. At this point I am 3 hours into the process. When I was called I went to the clerk and a parrot at this point, go ahead, repeat after me, "Permesso Di Soggiorno?", and she asked me for my "document", which means Passport, and then gave me a packet of paperwork. She said to fill it out and bring it back to her. I was encouraged! Yeah, I had made some headway. All I need to do is fill this out, and get it back to her. I found a seat and prepared to complete the paperwork. I pulled out 2 forms, one 12 pages, and the other 8 pages, all in Italian with 2 instruction booklets to complete. Picture our IRS forms! At this point I had enough for one day, so stuffed the paperwork into my bag and set out towards home.

Walking really can bring some clarity around things. I walked straight to my school, went in, and asked them for some assistance in completing the forms. They were great! Two ladies, took two hours completing the forms with me. Believe me, even for them, and they are Italian speaking, they were not easy. I still have to obtain a stamp, and take the forms and some photo copies of my documents back to the post office, but at least am feeling like I am making some progress.

This whole thing got me to thinking about immigration problems in general. The USA is not the only country that has them. These European countries who have many bordering countries have a lot of problems. Italy especially has problems with some of the Western European countries whose economies have not recovered from communism yet, and with Africa. At this point, I guess I am somewhat "illegal", in that I haven’t fully complied with all of the criteria, even though I am trying. I know nothing about what the USA requirements are for immigrants, but I seriously doubt that it is much different in terms of complexity for non English speaking people entering the USA. It is much more complicated than I think we realize with the information the media gives us, and our ignorance around what it take to go to another country where you don’t speak the language. Some things to think about!

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