Monday, 23 November 2015

Office catastrophes in Norway - Part 1 & 2

Ok, I'm afraid it's time to broach the issue of something that is - to put it mildly - not so rosy about living here in Tromsø / Norway. I announced it already a few weeks ago and I decided to make a written series out of it since all of those incidents in one text would simply become too much text to read at once. 

In case you don't know me (in person) or in case of this post being the first one you are reading on this blog, please check out the post with some background information about us and the reasons why we moved to Tromsø in the first place. It might help in order to get a better overall picture. 

For those of you who might consider the title as exaggerated: It isn't. It really isn't. Even if Part 1 and 2 seem to be relatively harmless, they are getting a whole different meaning after experiencing Part 3 and especially Part 4. 

So, let's start with Part 1... 

When moving to Norway with the intention to stay longer than three months in the country, one has to go to "Skatteetaten" ["The Norwegian Tax Administration"] and register there. This is what I was going to do within the first week after our arrival in Norway. While my love was busy with sitting in the first lectures of his host university in Tromsø, I went to "Skatteetaten", in order to get myself registered. 

At "Skatteetaten", while waiting for my turn, I checked out the books and brochures displayed on the shelves. One specific book called "New in Norway" was not only available in Norwegian and English but also in German, Polish and Lithuanian. 

And already on page 10, it describes our case... 

"Family members entitled to residence permits" are amongst others: 

"Cohabitants over the age of 18, when the couple has lived together for at least two years and intends to continue their cohabitation." 

We were familiar with this section already months before we moved to Norway since this case applies to us. We lived together for three years in Finland before we moved together to Norway. In addition, my love is a Finn, so not only an EU citizen but a Nordic citizen, while I am a German citizen and thus an EU citizen. Within the Nordic countries, a Nordic citizen enjoys even more benefits than an EU citizen does, so our move should have been even easier than for a couple which holds EU citizenships but no Nordic citizenship. 

When it was my turn, I introduced myself to the lady who served me, including my intention to register myself in Norway on the basis of family immigration. Her first question was: "Are you married?" I replied: "No, we aren't, but we don't need to be married since we already lived together for over two years in Finland, and that is enough in Norway to be approved for a family immigration." While saying all this, I also opened page 10 in the "New in Norway" book. Without any emotion on her face, she just replied: "Yes, that's right." However, she requested that I would come back at some other point together with my love as it was apparently not possible to register myself without his presence. And she gave me a form to fill out at home for the next visit. 

You might think that this first part is not even worth to be mentioned as the only thing that seemed to have happened here was her not knowing the regulations about family immigration respectively knowing it but asking for a marriage certificate anyway. Well, back then, I would have fully agreed with you, but already after the second part, this first part will be looked at in a different light... 

So, here is Part 2... 

Just a few days later, I went again to "Skatteetaten", this time accompanied by my love. And this time, we were served by another lady, so the beginning of our conversation including the way I introduced myself to her was identical to the previous time, including her first question: "Are you married?" 

Ok, so the part that followed then was identical to the previous time, too: I had to explain to her what is amongst others written on page 10 in the "New in Norway" book. Fortunately, she acknowledged the facts and rules quite quickly, too, and she also confirmed that I could be registered now directly at "Skatteetaten". 

Now this is a part that needs a little explanation: A Nordic citizen - so a citizen of the Nordic countries Finland, Sweden, Denmark (including the Faroe Islands), Iceland and Norway - can go directly to "Skatteetaten" in order to be registered as a resident in Norway. The biggest advantage of that is the fact that the registration is handled right away. Who is not a Nordic citizen, needs to go to the police first. This is where the immigration office is located, and getting an appointment there is a matter of months (!). Since I still hold a German passport but have otherwise everything based in Finland, including a Finnish social security number, I was wondering if I could be registered directly at "Skatteetaten", too. 

The lady who served me the first time just gave me the corresponding form where I could fill in everything including my Finnish social security number. The lady now also agreed, saying that I have lived so many years in Finland that I can be treated like a Finnish citizen. She also acknowledged it on the basis that my German passport was issued nearly three years ago at the German embassy in Finland's capital Helsinki and that my German passport states Turku / Finland as my home municipality. 

So, everything seemed to be perfectly fine. Both my love and I could be registered directly at "Skatteetaten" and leave. And we did so and left. 

And then I did something that turned out to be a huge mistake: I wondered if the lady was going to register us as temporary or permanent residents in Norway as I did not want to be registered as a permanent resident in Norway. Our residence in Norway is of temporary nature, that was pretty clear from the beginning, and with still being a German citizen but a permanent resident of Finland, things are already quite "multinational", so I had no need to involve a third country into that chaos, at least not more than necessary. And so we went back to "Skatteetaten", in order to clarify this point. As I said: It was a huge mistake. 

First of all, after we returned, the lady started to panic, realising "all of a sudden" that I was holding a German and not a Finnish passport which resulted in me not being able to be registered directly at "Skatteetaten". I was at a loss for words since we just talked about all that, especially about my German passport being issued in Finland and stating a Finnish city as my home municipality. I also reminded her of that, but she was just panicking and ignoring my words, acting like it all didn't happen just a few minutes ago. So she was not even apologising to me for her mistake. Instead, she struck out my information on the form, stating that I would need to book an appointment at the police. Then she copied my passport, stamped and signed the colour copy and said that this copy should speed up the process for my registration at the police. At least that was a nice gesture, but nevertheless, I was quite stunned by all this. Where has that lady been with her mind when she served us!?! Where has that lady been with her mind while working in the service of the Norwegian government!?! 

All of us are making mistakes every now and then, also at work, but the whole way of this incident was just completely weird. And in the end, she answered our question with: "In Norway, there are no such things as temporary and permanent residency." 

Later on, when we did a quick research on that matter at home, that information of her turned out to be wrong, too. 

So, after this second part, you might realise that even the lady in Part 1 did not know that a German citizen should go first to the police in order to be registered as a resident in Norway, even if that German citizen is a permanent resident of Finland and thus a permanent resident of a Nordic country. Otherwise, she wouldn't have given me the form to fill out in the first place. So, both ladies didn't seem to know about this regulation. And both ladies needed to be taught about what's written already on page 10 in the 135 paged "New in Norway" book, available in front of them in five different languages including their own mother tongue Norwegian. And the second lady even claimed that there were "no such things as temporary and permanent residency" in Norway. 

Yes, all of us are making mistakes every now and then, also at work, but what these two ladies in their 40s delivered at "Skatteetaten" was a series of mistakes and misinformation. Two visits, two different ladies and partly the same mistakes and misinformation. I guess it's needless to say that our first two impressions of the work performed in Norwegian offices, on top of it at highly official authorities, were anything but positive. To put it mildly. And yet these first two impressions are nothing compared to what's going to follow in Part 3 and Part 4... Brace yourselves for those parts! 

By the way, I booked an appointment at the police / immigration office shortly after that second visit at "Skatteetaten". The earliest possibility to register myself in Norway turned out to be on 16th October 2015, so two months (!) later. And nowadays we are not even sure if one would have ever realised that I could not be registered via "Skatteetaten" if we wouldn't have returned because of that one question I had (and which has been answered wrong anyway)...


Katarina said...

Oh dear, sounds so complicated! A shame people do not seem to be updated on these things... Wonder what would've happened if you hadn't gone back, maybe you would've ended in a pile of trouble :O

Stefanie Singh [Sound Kitchen] said...

After all what happened after that (It's getting A LOT worse in Part 3 and Part 4!), we are actually wondering if one would have realised ANYTHING if we wouldn't have gone back. This kind of chaos seems to be rather the rule than the exception in Norway. As sad as it is. It's only thanks to the fact that I'm not alone here in Norway because the pile of trouble is already there but I am protected by my love. If I was here all by myself... Oh my!

As in Finland, hardly anything works without having a local social security number. But: No registration = No local social security number. And if it takes over two months just to get an appointment for the registration, you can maybe imagine all the trouble a single person without a Nordic citizenship has to go through in this highly praised country called Norway...

lyonel said...

Haha ! I see where you're coming from. Norwegian bureaucratic incompetence at its finest ! But don't worry, you're EU/Schengen, and I've never heard of anyone from the right part of the world being kicked out. It will get fixed...eventually.

Stefanie Singh [Sound Kitchen] said...

Haha, I love your straightforwardness! :oD Yes, being from "the right part of the world" seems to matter a lot, indeed... *sigh* It's not that I'm afraid to be kicked out of Norway. Not at all. There is no legal ground to do that. It's just... "interesting"... how work in Norwegian offices, especially at highly official authorities, is performed...