Notes From Hairenik
June 7, 2011
I just returned from a visit to the Office of Visas and Registration (known as OVIR, which is actually an acronym for the name of the agency in Russian) to inquiring about extending my Republic of Armenia special residency visa. Although it expires in December, I wanted to begin the process of renewing it as soon as possible so that I wouldn't run into any snags near the date of expiration.

My father-in-law Levon, through an acquaintance, went about finding out what papers we would need to extend the visa. As it turned out, the standard document list applies, including a letter to the president of the Republic of Armenia. I also needed a translated, notarized copy of my U.S. passport and seven passport-sized photos to present them. The adminsitrator told us it was too soon to file, but he helped us anyway. I didn't know what to expect; I figured I would just have to fill out a basic form indicating my name and other personal information, since the visa -- which looks exactly like a passport except for the "special residency visa" stamp on the first page -- already existed.

He sent us downstairs to an agency that has been in business for two years that does all the paperwork, including drafting the letter to the president, for a mere 2500 dram ($6.65 at today's exchange rate). That includes filling out multiple forms by hand, making five photocopies of my U.S. passport and Armenian visa, and all the related processing, which took just over twenty minutes for the clerk assisting us to accomplish. If anyone reading this post happens to be in Armenia and needs a special residency visa, by all means, use that service. If you're missing photos or need some papers notarized, they process photos on the spot and there's a notary around the corner from OVIR. It's located on the first floor at the far left. They are miracle workers for anyone who needs a visa.

OVIR has a very bad reputation for being an obstinate, corrupt institution. In the past they have caused huge headaches for foreign residents, especially Indian migrants working and attending university in Yerevan, often trying to extort thousands of dollars for a basic one-year visa that shouldn't cost more than a few hundred bucks. While we were talking to the visa administrator, a woman entered the office to inquire about what she had to do to obtain a special residency visa for her son. Apparently, he is a Russian citizen who just completed his two-year service in the Armenian army. According to her story, which she told in front of us for some reason as the administrator was reviewing my paperwork, the head of OVIR, very rudely, told her that a special residency visa would be refused for reasons he did not explain. The law that applies to the refusal has not been made clear to her. I'm not sure how that's going to turn out for her son in the end, but ethically, and legally assuming he hasn't done anything in violation of the law, the head has no right to turn him down.

OVIR supposedly went through a major shake up a few years ago, shortly after it was revealed that huge sums of cash was being extorted from ordinary citizens and foreigners alike, but judging from that woman's story, the agency's reform has been tarnished, despite efforts to make the entire process of filing for citizenship or residency more transparent. However, the administrator helping us seemed to be a decent guy, so we can only hope that he will somehow be able to convince the head of OVIR to cut them some slack.

The pricing scheme for visas is not all that logical. For a 21-day visa you have to pay a couple thousand dram, but for a three-month stay in the country the price is 20,000 dram. Dual citizenship supposedly costs 1,000 dram, while I will be required to pay 150,000 dram -- about $400 -- for the special residency visa. But since it is futile trying to make sense of these seemingly arbitrary fees, it's better to just deal with the reality of the situation. Armenian logic is invincible.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
It is beyond doubt that OVIR is horribly corrupt and disgusting institution - it reeks of Soviet era control of state over citizens. It's probably the most disgusting government office I have ever visited... Not sure though what you mean by "dual citizenship costs 1,000". All they do is make a record somewhere that in addition to Armenian citizenship you also hold another citizenship - it's absolutely of no benefit to the individual concerned and you don't even need or get a card confirming it, as far as I know. So even 1,000 dram is too much... The special residency status however includes printing a passport booklet = costs some money (but surely not 150,000 drams)...

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Yes, obtaining dual citizenship indeed costs 1,000 dram, and surely, a special residency visa is 150,000 dram, as posted on the wall just outside the administrator's office. Insane perhaps, but very true.

Applying for citizenship is an involved process; you have to fill out several forms, provide documents proving you are not a wanted felon, you have to take exams and so forth. You also receive a passport -- don't know why you understood otherwise.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
OVIR, and most other state agencies, are run by blockheads who are mental holdovers from the Soviet-era bureaucracy. The vast majority just sit on their little thrones stamping papers and demanding extra cash for the service. You can't get a straight answer or a smile out of them if your life depended on it.

I got my 10 "Special Residency" Visa back in the States years ago and was amazed that it took over 4 months to get. If I'm not mistaken ot cost around $350 at the time so 150,000 AMD is in the ballpark.

Naturally, the RA Embassy in Washington follows the old Soviet (or Russian) format for transliteration so my name ended up being spelt incorrectly in Armenian. They used the English version of my last name as a basis for the Armenian - totally screwed up.

They wouldn't correct the mistake and neither would OVIR here in Armenia.

I wonder if they'll ever start thinking a bit outside the box and actually start making it a pleasure rather than a nightmare to get the necessary documents to live and work in Armenia.

By the way, the Diaspora Ministry is even more of a joke when it comes to such bureaucratic rigamarole and the staff there are just as blockheaded as the rest.


Blogger Vagabonde said...
It sounds like you won’t have too much problem for your visa. If you think getting citizenship takes long listen to this – my father when he married my mother in Paris was an “apatride” which means without a country because he was an Armenian from Turkey (I don’t know why Turkey did not give him citizenship since he was born in Istanbul.) Anyway he fought in WW2 for France, was badly injured by the Germans and even after filing all the paperwork, they still did not want to give him French citizenship, but gave him La Croix Militaire or something like that for bravery. I was reading my mother’s memoirs and in it, she said she “bought” him his French citizenship in 1945. He had been in France since 1935 and went to war so it took ten years.

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Very interesting story. You should write a blog post about it with more details.