Immigration matters? Uh, no thanks. Not interested.
Well, that’s been my approach pretty much the entire time I’ve been here. I was a student back in 2011. So when I moved from the U.S. to the Netherlands, the University handled everything with very little input from me. Aside from a bunch of fees and a delay when I first arrived, it was a pretty mindless process. From my residency status to my city registration, they had it covered. I received my registration details in the mail. I barely understood the purpose. And I just had to show up with my passport and smile (or not) to receive my residence permit card.
For once, I was basking in the glow of privilege.* A feeling that doesn’t come easily to a Black woman in the U.S. But in this context, I had two things going for me: my U.S. passport and my student status. I never flaunted it. But I enjoyed it. (*to clarify, unlike many other beneficiaries of privilege, I’d much rather give it up to see all of us live an equal life of leisure.)
And remember when I prolonged my stay in school for an extra semester? That just meant showing up again, smiling (or not) again, and receiving an extended student residence permit – this time skipping away (because now I had been here long enough to appreciate the ease of my circumstances).
Things only got rocky when I went to Suriname last year. My residence permit would last several more months. Then I planned to extend my stay with a search year visa. I wasn’t worried about it.
There was just this one lingering thing: my registration. I knew it was a thing (though pretty foggy on its general principle). And I planned to take care of it before I left. But I was short on time. So when I read online that I could simply de-register by mail, I thought, “oh, that’ll be much simpler to take care of when I’m in Suriname.” Then, over time and under Suriname’s sun, that plan somehow devolved based on my more dysfunctional logic, “if I could do it by mail, it probably doesn’t really matter anyway.”
As time continued to pass, I developed polarized sentiments on the matter: a) a deeply buried terror that I would be arrested the moment I returned to the Netherlands for failure to comply with the ever so complicated, yet strictly adhered to, rules; b) an embrace of my inner carefree, yet dumb American… “do your rules actually apply to me? teehee.”
The side of terror won out when I returned from Suriname. I received more than one look of shock/horror when I mentioned I never de-registered from my last apartment (I was gone for about 10 months). As if I had confessed to living exclusively on a diet of red velvet cupcakes and milkshakes (my dream diet). They couldn’t believe I was getting away with it. Oh no, I was in trouble.
My anxiety was compounded by the greater problem: I didn’t have a place to register. Without an official address, I was in registration limbo. So instead of embracing that limbo, I allowed my no longer legitimate, but unverified status to just…linger. And I thought about it everyday.
Finally, days before I left Amsterdam again for my brief visit to the U.S. in December, I confronted my dreaded fears by walking into Amsterdam’s City Hall (Stadhuis). I took my little number. And I braced my wrists for the imminent handcuffing.
But there were no handcuffs. No shouting. Not even a finger wag or eyebrow raise. The calm woman simply explained, “You’ve already been de-registered. The person now living in your old apartment reported s/he is living alone.” To which I responded, “Oh, so that’s it?” “Yes.” Sort of anti-climatic.
But all concerns were not gone. Because I’ve been in registration limbo ever since.
A couple of weeks ago I was finally equipped (with an apartment lease) to walk into City Hall (this time in the Hague) to register and legitimate my Dutch residency. Only this time my carefree and unreported lifestyle finally caught up with me. My ongoing limbo had knocked me out of the (city registration?) system. So although I still have a residence permit, my lack of an actual “residence” made them assume I wasn’t here anymore. (silly assumption)
I would have to start over – from the beginning of a process that I avoided almost entirely as a student. Not such a big deal. It just meant making another appointment with a different department (about 3 desks away).
So today, after weeks, months – more than a year of residence registration anxiety and limbo, I finally got it right. I had the right appointment with the right office in the right city with the right paperwork and for the right purpose. And just like that, I was back in the system. And delightfully returned to my status of privileged legitimacy. It’s good to be back.
To date, here’s the score – Dutch Bureaucracy: 8; Me: 1.5 (I gave myself an extra .5 for the optional smiles)