You would not believe how hard it is to find the time to write a blog post while meeting all of the needs of your twins. Josh and I got back to NYC late Friday evening and I have been trying to find a moment to write about our exit experience since then. Right now, Henry is sleeping in a Boppy on the couch next to me while Julianne is snoozing (briefly) in a Graco slider. Our dog, Butter, is laying on the other side of me, paws over his ears to block out all of the baby grunting.
As Josh wrote a few days ago, I was able to obtain the exit permits from the FRRO in Mumbai in 4 working days. Had I left the process to run its course, I am convinced that we would still be sitting in our hotel room in Mumbai. We applied for the exit permits on a Wednesday morning, our processing associate, Sunita, scanned the documents and completed her portion of the process that evening, and she phoned our mobile to let us know. We waited through Thursday and Friday, occasionally communicating with Sunita to check her computer to see if Delhi had approved the requests. On Monday, I decided to take a trip back to the FRRO (without the twins) to put a face on our request. The pictures below show the actual entrance to the building, as well as the staircase up to the 3rd floor. Disgusting. I repeated the same process as last time, waited until I was called to the reception desk, and told them that I was picking up exit permits. This got me access to the processing area where I initially applied for the permits. Sunita was there, and she checked again while I stood next to her. On the screen, it was apparent that all of the documents had been received in Delhi on Wednesday, printed by someone on Friday morning, but no action had been taken to approve them. I asked Sunita how to proceed and she suggested that I speak with her boss in the next room over. She suggested that I literally beg for his help and that he may take pity on me and help. It’s kinda disgusting that this nasty guy requires grovelling to offer any assistance, but I figured that I would try it anyway. I sat down with him and explained the entire process, to which he said, ‘There is nothing I can do. Your consulate has to call Delhi.’ That’s it. No phone numbers, no explanation why my consulate would have any power over the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, nothing. This guy was a joke. I bought a chai from a roving tea porter for 10 rupees and silently seethed.
I called American Citizens Services (+91 22 2672-4000) at 10:30 AM despite their non-emergency hours not starting until 2 pm. I was able to have the operator connect me to a consular officer and I explained the situation. The officer said that she knew what to do and that she would try to expedite the process. I spent the next few hours in those waiting room chairs, occasionally chatting with other foreigners who were obtaining visa extensions and other documents. I held a baby for an hour for a man who was also applying for an exit permit (and was doing the entire thing alone!) and I chatted with a few of the teachers from the American School of Bombay who are required to register at the FRRO annually. One of the teachers, Tiffany, spent quite a bit of time chatting with me about her experiences in Mumbai, and she offered to bring me back some food when she returned at 3:30 to pick up her approved paperwork.
At 2 pm, the entire FRRO shuts down for lunch. At 1:45, I checked again with Sunita and she pulled up our case on her computer. Success! Apparently the email that the US Consulate sent to the Delhi MHA had worked. Henry’s application was marked “APPROVED as per regulation xxx.xxx. Please immediately issue exit permission.” Sunita smiled as she was now personally invested in this process too. She quickly pulled up Julianne’s case and her smile faded. “Julianne has not been given permission from Delhi yet.”
This is the point where I lost it. I demanded to know why only one child would be approved when they were clearly born as twins. Since this was coming up on 2 pm, I was told to wait through the lunch break to see if the second application would be approved in the next hour. I spent that hour trying to reach the US Consulate again, but it was their lunch hour, so they were not answering the phone. At 3 pm, Julianne’s application was still pending, and I realized that this was not going to resolve itself by waiting any longer. Clearly, the lack of approval of one twin was just an oversight on Delhi’s part, but no one at the FRRO seemed to care. I asked Sunita to talk to her boss again, explain that one baby had clearly outlined permission to leave, and to see if he could ‘override’ the lack of Delhi permission. Sunita agreed (and looked nauseous that she would have to speak to her boss) and she came back at 3:15 with permission to grant the second exit permit using the verbiage from Henry’s approval. I was thrilled but also realized that this man had the ability to grant an exit visa all along, and was just making me wait because he truly didn’t care either way.
While Sunita printed the bill, Tiffany returned from her shopping adventures. Sometimes strangers can completely affect your day, and I have to say that Tiffany turned my horrible experience into something amazing. She and I had spent time chatting about Henry and Julianne, so when she returned and handed me a bag with two beautiful onesies and a card, I was speechless. Thank you again for your kindness on such a miserable day! The little elephant print is adorable.
The bill for exit permits was broken down into two parts for each child. The processing fee was $80 US and the fee for my incorrect visa type was $30 US. These figures are converted into rupees and it worked out to be just under INR 6000 per child. I was not given a hard time about my lack of a medical visa, and I was happy to pay the fine just to speed up the process. If you are coming to India and they will not grant you a medical visa because you are considered to be a ‘single’ parent, don’t worry about it. The fee is still cheaper than applying for the medical visa anyway. I suggest applying for the exit permits and then immediately contacting your embassy to have them email a request to the MHA. They can only gently suggest to the Indian government that you require approval, but it definitely helps.
I paid the cashier at his desk, immediately behind the row of computers where Sunita and I had spent most of the day. He gave me my receipts and I returned to Sunita to pick up the exit permits. She spent a few minutes stamping and signing the documents, and by 4 pm, I was on my way back to the hotel. I called Josh and asked him to check on bumping our flight to that evening’s United 49 to Newark. We used our points to secure 3 seats for the adults, paid the 10% international lap child fee for the twins, and were able to amazingly secure flights from Bombay all the way to Wilmington, NC for 40k points a piece, leaving at 11:10 pm. The exit permits were granted for 3 days duration, so if we needed to, we could have left any time before Thursday evening, but we were so anxious to get home that we happily gave up our points for Tuesday’s hotel stay and checked out early.
In my next post, I will write about the trip home and our experiences in Wilmington with my family. No promises, as a baby’s appetite waits for no man, but I hope to have this done in a few days.