On our second and third day in the Netherlands, we went to the Expat Center at Wageningen University to do some paperworks. My husband and son got their residence permit, while I have to register for a change of address from Den Haag to our new municipality because I was already registered since 2010. The advisor at Expat Center said our family was “the quickest ever” in terms of administrative procedure. Other “expats” need more time to prepare themselves to depart to the Netherlands after getting their MVV (NL visa). Our MVV were approved on March 1st, 2016, and we arrived in NL two weeks later. How was this possible?
To be honest, my arrival was late because my class started on March 1st, 2016. I’ve been contacting the senior financial advisor of my project several times since the start of this year because I wanted to make sure that I got my visa on time–and not late for class. Some of my country fellow who are, were, or have been studying in the NL insisted that I should come by myself first, and my family should come later. It’s almost impossible to come together as a family, they said, because what needs to be taken care of are overwhelming, like the visa and housing for family, not to mention financial issues. I am glad that I insisted that their suggestion is simply not an option for me.
I have mentioned a little bit in this blog about the housing, now let me try to remind myself about the administrative procedure. Early on I have mentioned to my supervisor that I will be coming with my family. My supervisor was the best because he was very supportive and stand up for my rights. I have a good reason to demand being together with my family all times, not ever separated one bit, not “myself go to the NL first and then my family will come later”. The reason is my son is still very young, one year old, so I don’t want to be separated from him for more than a couple of hours, and my husband too. But anyway, without such reason I think every person also have a right not having administrative procedure separating them from their family, temporarily or permanently.
A couple of months before my class started, I have contacted the person in charge for our family visa many times over. I started to worry because I knew administrative stuff takes time. In my opinion, the problem was incomplete information. The NWO scholarship was designed for a single person so I need to send a letter of additional income. It’s a statement that I could bear the extra expenses of bringing a family. With the NWO scholarship, I need to pay from my own pocket around 150 Euros every month otherwise I would not be allowed to bring my family. Without that additional amount of money, the NL government are afraid of the risk that I would not be able to provide a living standard for my family hence they would not grant me a visa.
I understand their concern and I sent the letter of additional income, but I also negotiate for a daycare support top-up with my supervisor. This also took time to be discussed with the sponsor (NWO) but thank goodness the sponsor finally add my monthly allowance with daycare support. Having the financial top-up, I no longer need the letter of additional income. But it took time to get the decision. I only knew about it a couple of days before our visa were approved.
If only any of the project’s financial advisor knew from the start that my husband also gets allowance from Louwes fund for his PhD in Leiden, all the above-mentioned hassle would be sorted early on. Only after the financial advisor found out that my husband also gets a monthly fellowship, she gave a “greenlight” for the Expat Center to proceed with our visa. And only after she found out about my husband financial situation and employment status, she could finally calculate how much the extra day-care support they should request to the sponsor. This was in mid February, and the Expat Center advisor started the visa arrangement straight away.
I read the e-mail from Expat Center carefully and try to do my best to fulfill all of the required documents. But I have to mention that I got a tremendous help from a visa consultant that I hired in Indonesia. I guess most people will think that, for what he (the visa consultant) does, his rate is considered high. I paid around 27 Euros for a consultation session that lasts less than one hour, but it was very helpful. It doesn’t matter how long your consultation session was but The important thing is, you need to know what questions are you going to ask. Do your research first. You have to know the right questions that suited your particular situation, and he will provide the answer. He used to work as a consulate in Dutch Embassy, but he no longer do that work since the visa holders are required to come to the embassy in person to provide their finger print.
One of the things that I don’t understand at first was the legalisation of formal documents such as birth certificate and marriage certificate. I thought I need to send it to the Expat Center before they could proceed with the next step of our visa arrangement. If so, it would be too damn late because legalising the documents needs around two months. Indonesians need triple legalisation, from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Dutch Embassy. If you’re Muslim you need to legalise your marriage certificate first st the Ministry of Religion, and then continue with the triple legalisation. And for birth certificate, before the Ministry of Justice could legalise, you have to legalise it at the municipality and provide an additional sheet of specimen of the municipality officer who did the legalisation. Sounds complicated? It’s actually very simple but it takes time.
The visa consultant explained that the legalised documents are needed for the Dutch municipality, when we register ourselves to get a residence permit. But to get an MVV visa, the IND (Immigration and Naturalisation who approve or disapprove our visa) only needs my host organisation to let them know that my family and I need visa. That’s it, the IND does not need our legalised document to grant visa. They usually approve the host organisation’s request in two weeks. It happened in my case too. Then the Dutch embassy in Jakarta, upon having that approval letter, also does not need our legalised documents. As long as they have that letter, there’s nothing in their way of giving us the visa sticker on our passport. It took six working days from the day we attend the Embassy to provide our fingerprints to the day we can collect our passport with the visa sticker.
That’s how we managed to arrive early. Wait, how? Well, first, after getting relevant information from the visa consultant, I asked the Expat Center advisor to proceed immediately with our visa because the legalised documents were on their way and I was already late for class. She, representing my host organisation, said that to the IND, she had all the documents that I have sent via e-mail (without legalisation) whether necessary and the IND approved within two weeks. After getting the approval, we waited for a week before going to Jakarta (one hour flight from my hometown where I was living) to provide our fingerprints at the embassy. And then, the next week, we went back to Jakarta to collect our passport with visa sticker and went to the Netherlands the same day. We’re in the Netherlands, at last.
So, who needs the legalised documents? The answer is the municipality in the Netherlands where we live. Immediately after arriving in the NL, we have to report ourselves to the municipality to get a social service number. But the legalised documents can actually wait. We just need to inform the municipality that our documents will be sent via airmail in two weeks (yes we hire a person to continue taking care of the legalisation process in Indonesia while we’re in NL). The social service number is very important to access all public facilities in NL. Without one, we cannot open a bank account, or register for our son’s daycare.
I was selected to receive the NWO scholarship in November 2015, so there was actually plenty of time to do the legalisation before mid February. But the problem during that time was they didn’t have the information on whether or not I would be able to provide to bring my family and I don’t understand the logic behind the delay, if I had known earlier about their concern of my ability to provide for my family, I would inform them even without them asking question about my husband’s financial and employment status in the NL. If I’ve known earlier, even without them telling me to, I would do the legalisation process early on because it took the longest time, two months so by the time the Expat Center got a greenlight from the project’s senior financial advisor, I would’ve had the document ready. But it doesn’t make any difference anyway, other than the extra expenses to hire the person to continue the legalisation in Indonesia. I mean, without the legalised documents we still can get our visa approved, arrive in the NL, get a residence permit and I could grin wide because I only missed two weeks of class.
Right now, while waiting for the legalised documents to arrive, the status of me and my husband in the NL are not married and the status of our baby, well, right now he is not our son. Only after NL government, in this case the municipality, see a proof of our marriage (our legalised marriage certificate) and our son’s birth certificate, would we be seen as legally married and our son is our legal son. It’s seems complicated but if you understand the logic behind it, they want to make sure that they could take care of all residents so you would understand that it’s not that much complicated. But those legal status could surely wait for two weeks. The priority is to get to NL as soon as possible so I could go to uni, access the library, go to class, and work on our project immediately. For this I don’t need a legal status of marriage and son, it can come later as long as physically we are together.
The take-away message is to get a complete information on anything because it would really help.You can provide relevant information even though they haven’t asked. Have a good and clear communication and speak up your concerns. Always have an open mind and ask questions. Don’t feel that the first information (clear or unclear) that you receive is set in stone. It’s not like, “oh he/she said this so this is the only way”. No. If the municipality themselves provides an easier way why do you need to make yourself in trouble? Try to understand the whole relevant thing that suits to your particular situation, the procedure and the why, the logic behind what’s required to do in your situation. That way you could surprise the bureaucracy or break a record of being “the family with the quickest process ever.”
I want to remember this, so I would not take for granted being in the Netherlands with my family. It’s not easy, it took a lot of procedure and people helping out. So I have to make the most of our time here and enjoy every bit of it.