May 4, 2011

How I've Spent My Week

April certainly didn't go according to plan. I last wrote about how busy the month was going to be, but many of those plans were wiped out when B was not allowed back into the Netherlands after we returned from Ireland. It was not something I imagined would happen, certainly not when I had come straight back into the country a couple of times before I was living here legally. But after such a wonderful week in Ireland I found myself going back to Leiden on my own, unable to really comprehend that I wouldn't see B for at least a few months. He's written here about the whole experience of being sent back to the US the next day.

So, subsequently April was not spent visiting the tulip fields and showing him Amsterdam on Queen's Day, but instead figuring out what the hell we were going to do with this situation. I began to look into whether he could get a residence permit based on our relationship, repeating the process I went through to get here, but now I was playing the Dutchie. It was a bit surreal to be looking at the same sort of requirements I needed to meet 10 years ago, but now from the sponsor point of view (and as the one who could understand Dutch. There has been some progress over the years). Fortunately I'm in a rather strong position as a permanent resident with a permanent contract for a full-time job. Once I confirmed that I could sponsor B even though I'm not a Dutch citizen, that my permit is enough, then we were pretty much set for meeting all the requirements. B booked a ticket to come back at the end of June, once 90 days out of the country had passed, and I told him to get copies of documents like his birth certificate.

Monday though everything changed again. It started off well. I went into an IND office near my work and spoke with someone who was helpful and knowledgable, and who went over the application with me, pointing out the parts that would need to be filled out and the documents we would need. I left excited, being pretty sure that B would be able to get a permit. I got to work though and I decided I should finally give the Military Police (Koninklijke Marechaussee) at Schiphol a call to try to confirm whether B would indeed be able to return to the country after being gone for 90 days.

I got a guy on the phone who didn't seem all too thrilled to help me out at first. He said he could only speak generally and what he said couldn't be a guarantee of anything. He told me that B should call the Dutch embassy in the US. I told him that B had called them and they said to call the Military Police (and even gave him the number). So, the guy eventually sighed and looked up B's record in their database. Once his info was pulled up, he told me that there would be a "very high" chance that if B tried to come back he would not be allowed to enter the Netherlands. He told me he should look into getting a visa in the US, explain to the embassy why he'd want to come back, explain that there is our relationship and he's trying to be with me. I hung up and felt utterly deflated. It slowly sunk in that simply coming back in June was not likely an option and the issues regarding applying for the residence permit were nothing compared to this. It's only gotten more complicated from there.

For the last couple of days, I've been learning about the rules surrounding overstaying in the Schengen area and trying to find out what visas B could get when an American doesn't normally need one. B has been fighting with getting an answer out of the Dutch embassy, who have been really unhelpful. I shouldn't be surprised, but still, they first kept pointing him back to the Military Police and now they tell him to go talk to the IND if he needs a visa. He's found out that the ticket he bought is non-refundable and expensive to change, so a lot of money may be lost because we didn't wait to find out this information before he booked a flight back.

Going back to the Schengen area rules, they don't look promising for his situation. I fortunately found a site called Vagabond Journey which is full of real details about people's actual experiences of trying to get into various countries, and advice from Wade, the guy who runs the site and is a perpetual traveller. First of all, the Netherlands is apparently one of the most stringent countries in the Schengen, along with Germany and Switzerland, so Amsterdam was one of the worst places we could have returned to after Ireland. (At least it wasn't in Switzerland though where, along with being sent home, he would have had to pay a $500 fine.) So yes, things have definitely changed from when I first moved here. But I also found out why B would likely be refused again if he tried to come back. By being denied entry, he was likely entered into the Schengen Immigration System (SIS), which should be used by all Schengen border controls to check if someone has overstayed before. The penalty for overstaying is a 3-year ban on being able to enter the Schengen area. So B may have this ban hanging over him. Which is very bad news indeed.

Right now, we are weighing up our options and trying to learn as much as we can to see how this can work and if he can get a visa in the US so he won't be denied at the border if he tries to come back. I found the address of where you can write to the police here to find out your status in the SIS and he'll send a letter to them to at least find out if he's banned. In the meantime I am also looking at places that offer free legal advice and will try to get whatever help I can from them, especially since the actual officials are of course pretty hopeless.

It's rather needless to say that the past few days have been completely stressful and overwhelming. I partly wish I could go back to the lovely weekend when I was still in happy ignorance of all of this, and partly that I had found out about it sooner so we'd have that bit more time to work things out before B's planned return date at the end of June. There is the bright spot that we'll see each other when I visit the US in June. But I hope everything can be worked out for him to move here. I refuse to believe that one mistake such as this cannot be fixed, especially with the argument of us having a relationship. But then I know a couple of tough stories of people trying to keep their partner here, and losing. I just have to keep my fingers crossed.