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
Labels: Bureaucracy and red tape in Armenia, Personal Experiences