Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chasing a Student Visa in Nepal: Part 2

If I were going to avoid a Nepali paper marriage situation, then I had eight days left in the month of February to register for class in order to secure a student visa. No problem, right?

Famous last words.

Accompanied by my friend and one of her Nepali coworkers, I went to a bank to open a banking account -- the first step of the registration process. In order to register for class as a foreign student, you must set up a local banking account, preferably in U.S. dollars, and deposit a fairly significant sum of $3,000. You must maintain this balance only for the registration process.

This requirement seemed a bit funny but not entirely crazy.

No, I soon learned what entirely crazy would be. Entirely crazy would come in the form of the bank representative's response when I told her that I wanted to open an account: "You cannot open an account with a tourist visa."

[Um, excuse me?]

I tried to hide my frustration with the thin smile that I give to anyone who annoys me. "But ma'am, I do not understand the order of events here. I was told that I must have a local bank account in order to register for a class and to obtain a student visa."

Ten minutes and four bank staffers later, we came to a compromise. It was as if the bank staffers had never encountered this issue before, but clearly they must negotiate said compromise with each and every would-be foreign student. The compromise was this: I could open an account and deposit money, but I could not withdraw any funds until I returned with my student visa in hand.

Okay. At least we were getting somewhere. I sat down on a bench in the crowded bank and began filling out application forms. I had to provide both my father's name and my grandfather's name (but no, Mom, you are not considered important enough to vouch for my identity). Of course, I had to provide the standard information too, like my own name, birth date, phone number, and map of where I live.

[Wait. I have to draw a treasure map to my house?]

Yes. Without a reliable street naming system in Nepal, or -- you know -- addresses, the bank requires account holders to submit a hand-drawn map marking their home. Mine looked something like this:

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With my bank account set up and bank statement in hand, I set about to register for class. First, this required a trip to another bank where the campus keeps an account; there -- and only there -- I had to deposit my tuition fee.

"Do you have a deposit slip for the campus?"

"No. Won't any deposit slip do?"

The bank teller looked at me like I was the crazy one. And I was beginning to think that I was.

Eventually I procured the proper deposit slip from the campus itself, paid my tuition, and returned to the campus to register for class.

"What is your caste name, madam?," the registrar asked.

"My last name is Emeott."

"No, your caste name."

[Well. This was a new one. If we are going to be technical, sir, then my "caste" name would be my maiden name. But you already noted that. Twice. When you asked for my father's name and my grandfather's name.]

Deciding not to be difficult, I told him that my caste name is Emeott. Then I paused while I pondered what kind of caste that would be.

Ultimately, registering for class and obtaining a visa letter from the Ministry of Education required five separate trips to the administration office at the campus.

Miraculously, obtaining my actual student visa required only two separate trips to the Immigration Office. I felt spoiled. Lucky. I felt like cheering!

A paper marriage was averted, though I still got myself a caste name. For a visa? -- worth it.


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