Saturday, September 26, 2009

We Just Want To Go Home

A special thank you to everyone who has sent us the multitude of kind words concerning the passing of my best friend, my Frankie.  This past week has been such a mix of emotions, with the celebration of a new life, our beautiful baby boy Blaze, and at the same time the mourning of the loss of our amazing companion of over 13 1/2 years.

I hope that my previous post concerning what to bring for your baby to Mumbai was or will be of some assistance. This post will go over our experience with the FRRO.  Your own experience may be similar or totally different, but this will give you some idea of what to expect.  Be prepared, it's a bit long.

The FRRO is all about paperwork. They are by far the least customer-service oriented department that we have had to deal with so far. The building is located in South Mumbai, near the VT Station. The traffic can be horrendous at times in that area, so definitely plan ahead and leave before the morning rush is in full swing. The office is located on the 3rd floor of the Police Headquarters and Administration building, directly behind Xavier College. Parking is at a premium around the building, so it is probably wise to use a taxi and then get the drivers number so that you can call them to be picked up once you are completed. Or if you are an SI client, Agit or Vikas will drive you to your appointment and then wait and pick you up to take you back to your hotel, this definitely helps to alleviate the stress of finding a taxi on your own, and trusting that they will get you there on time.

The FRRO office opens officially at 10 am, but if you are at the building at 930 am they will let you proceed up to the 3rd floor to get in line. There is a small, cramped elevator that you can take to the 3rd floor, or just take the stairs. A suggestion would be if at all possible be there early, it gets busy fast!! We didn't realize that there are that many foreigners in Mumbai. Officially, if you are staying longer than 14 days you are required to report to the FRRO. Fortunately this is done for most people by the security department at the hotel you are staying at, that is why they require a copy of your passport when you check in.

Ensure that you have all of the required paperwork ready prior to going to the FRRO. They want copies, not originals, so again if at all possible have them done prior to arriving. They do provide photocopying in the building, but it is on a different floor and the lineups can be quite long, which translates to a longer wait for you.

Well for the FRRO, both parents and the baby are required to attend. So this means packing a baby bag with all of the essentials to get your little one through 5 or 6 hours, while you are sitting around and waiting. Another of my recommendations would be to bring some snacks and a few drinks since there is nothing available. Oh yea, while I am thinking of it, bring some toilet paper and wet wipes for the bathroom, you will thank me for this. I am puzzled at why both parents and the baby are required to attend, since during our process, I handed in all of the paperwork, completed the online form, met with the interviewer, paid for the exit visa and then finally picked up the exit visa. At no time did Rhonda have to do anything and no one ever came and actually looked at Blaze in person. Just wondering...

Ok, so we arrived at the FRRO building at 945 am, a bit later than I wanted to due to the traffic. We signed in at the desk on the ground floor and then we proceeded to the 3rd floor. When you get off of the elevator, the area is very small. There is a large desk in front of you and on either side there are 4 chairs and you line up in the middle between the ropes, just like at the airport. Rhonda and Blaze went and sat down and I got in line and waited my turn. There was already 3 or 4 people in line ahead of me and it wasn't even 10 am.

Now to set the stage on our particular situation. It was Thursday, 10 am, we have tickets booked for our flight to Goa, leaving Thursday late afternoon and returning on Sunday afternoon, and our plane tickets for home are for Monday evening. So we need our exit visa today and as fast as possible so that we can get back to the hotel, checkout, get our bags and get to the airport. At least that's what I was hoping for.



So now I'm at the front of the line and it's my turn. I have all of my papers with me in my trusty binder and wait to hand them in. The girl behind the desk sticks her hand out to me without saying a thing. Not knowing what she wants, I ask. Well, I expected a bit of customer service, but that's where I went wrong. She abruptly asked "what are you here for?" and I said that I needed an exit visa for my baby that was recently born. She then wanted my documents: Letter from the US Consulate, copy of the Consular Report of Birth Abroad, copy of My Passport and Visa, copy of Rhonda's Passport and Visa, copy of Blaze's Passport, copy of our Return Airline Ticket Confirmation for Both Parents and Child, copy of the Letter from the Clinic, and a copy of the Letter from Hiranandani Hospital Confirming the Birth. I handed them to her one by one and she looked over each of them without saying a word. She then asked if my wife gave birth and I said that we used a surrogate. Well that's when it started to go downhill. The girls demeanor changed. She wanted a copy of the Surrogacy Agreement which I handed to her. I also explained to her that we have a flight to catch in the afternoon and were hoping that if at all possible we would greatly appreciate it of we could get the exit visa relatively quickly. She then, without batting an eye said that it would take at least a couple of days to review the paperwork and at the soonest we would get the exit visa would be the next day in the afternoon, but it could possibly be Monday. Well that's not what I wanted to hear. I knew that the visa could be issued the same day. Peter, whom we met at the hospital, just went to the FRRO the previous week and received the exit visa for his baby in only a few hours. I requested to speak with a supervisor. Another girl came over and the 2 spoke in Hindi and then she said to me that I should cancel my tickets since the paperwork needs to be reviewed and it will take time, so I need to make a decision. So I took back my paperwork and went and sat down with Rhonda who was unaware of what had happened. I explained it to her and then gave Parashar a call. He is very familiar with the FRRO process and said to give him a call if I needed his help (he has helped many others in the past). I explained to him what had transpired and he said that he was out of town but that there would be an associate of his coming to the FRRO shortly to help us, and also that he would contact an interviewer that he knew at the FRRO to help us try and get the visa quickly. And so we wait.........

After about 30 minutes, a young guy arrived and sat down next to Rhonda and I. He said that Parashar had sent him to help us. He went up to the desk and spoke with the girl. Being able to speak the language was a definite plus. After several minutes, he came back and asked for our paperwork. He then waited by the door that leads into the waiting area and a very tall gentleman came out and they briefly spoke and he took a look at our paperwork. The young guy then returned to us and gave me a token and said that the tall gentleman would see what he could do to get our visa processed quickly. Rhonda and Blaze continued to sit in the entrance area and I went into the waiting area to complete the online Exit Visa Application. Pretty simple to fill out, just one page. The form is completed as if you were the baby. Print it, and take the form and then proceed to the interviewer. The token you were given has a number on it and on the wall above the entrance door to the waiting room is an electronic board that lets you know what desk to go to. In my case, I disregarded the number and went directly to the desk of the tall gentleman that our assistant had spoken with. He took the form and all of my paperwork, including 1, 2x2 photo of Blaze and then said he would do his best. I then went and got Rhonda and Blaze from the congested and hot entrance area and brought them to the somewhat comfort of the air conditioned waiting room. And we wait.......



A half hour passed and the tall gentleman came out and said that we would get the exit visa by 1 pm. What a relief!!! It was now 11 am and he asked if we were going to leave and come back. If so, only one of us needed to come back with Blaze's Passport to get the visa. We said that we were going to wait since it was such a long way back to our hotel. As time passed, the number of people waiting also grew, and grew, and the waiting room became quite congested now too. About an hour passed, and I decided to go downstairs to speak with the young guy that was assisting us. he told me that some people look negatively at surrogacy and that is why I received such unfriendly treatment. This is also when I learned that the tall gentleman's help came with a price, RS 1500. Well, I guess it was worth it, we needed the exit visa and we needed it today, and that was a small price to pay to reduce our stress. So back up to the waiting room I went to sit with Rhonda and Blaze. At 1245, the tall gentleman called me in and asked for 2 more photos, this time 1x1. He then filled out a receipt for $80.00 USD for the exit visa and told me to go out and pay the cashier and return to him once I have paid. I paid the cashier. You have to pay in Rupies, and the rate was RS 50 to 1 USD which was very good. I returned with the paid receipt and a stamped yellow receipt and the tall gentleman collected the yellow receipt and completed the exit visa form and stuck on both 1x1 pictures of Blaze. He also took Blaze's passport and told me to go back out and wait in the waiting room. And we wait.....

Thankfully we only had to wait about 10 minutes. The tall gentleman came out and handed me Blaze's passport and the exit visa, WE WERE DONE!!



Next post, making it through the airport, the flights home and finally Home Sweet Home.  Stay tuned.........