I received my first residence permission here in Baden on 14 April 2003. It was a beautiful day and my lady and I went to France afterwards for the night, staying in a small hotel along a quiet road just a couple of small hills away from the Rhine River. We walked back to Germany the next morning. It was symbolic. I had migrated to Germany. A little less than two years later on 1 April 2004, I received a two-year extension with relative ease. In March 2006 I went in for my second two-year extension. This time the gears of bureaucracy sucked me in. Two and a half weeks ago, after having just come back from a week in California for Easter to visit my folks, I called the Foreign Authority (Ausländerbehörde, from here on referred to as F.A.) and the case worker said, Mr. Brown, I have some bad news. Your residence permit is not going to be extended. What, I said, how is that possible? I made an appointment with him for two days later, a Wednesday at 9:45am.
Normally at this time I have a class with lawyers 400 meters away from where my appointment was. I had to postpone it. We, my girlfriend and I, went in, her as the language verifier and me the concerned foreigner making his point pretty well in imperfect German with too much emotion. The case worker, upon being asked why I was being denied, grabbed a book that sat between us at his desk, photocopied one page and handed it to us most gravely. This page comes from Das Neue Zuwanderungsrecht, or The New Migration Law book. Paragraph 21, entitled Selbstständig Tätigkeit, aka Self-Employed Work, that now included an additional prerequisite, namely that to remain self-employed, I would need to invest one million euro and hire 10 people for some apparently very overstaffed office work for my one-person business as English teacher.
The case worker sort of shrugged apologetically, but he was nice enough to not ask outright if I happened to have a million clams to throw into the local economy. I then said that I wanted to speak to his boss and a couple minutes later we were being led into her office down the hall and then my case worker left the room. The boss, a pleasant enough woman began to practically mimic what the first guy had said. Then, as I was waiting for the hidden cameras to come out, she added, but in my opinion, you should get the extension. I waited for more. Ok, I ventured, what should I do? She said with a straight face: you should sue the city of Freiburg. What? Is that the best for all of us involved? That we all get lawyers now? Well, I said a little exasperatedly at this point, when this court process happens, are you going to say something on my behalf? No, she replied, that wouldn’t do you any good. Excuse me, ma’am, but you’re an expert. You deal with 300 cases of foreigners a year. Would you write a letter for me? No. Thanks, I said with my eyes.
Now I had a real problem. The government office responsible for administering residence permits on a local level had just officially denied my request for another two-year pass. I walked out of the office, kissed my girlfriend and thanked her for coming. I then walked down the street, across the river and six minutes later was walking up the stairs to my meeting with the lawyers.
This was all we talked about for our hour together. They looked over this 300 odd word law that effectively changed my life a half hour earlier. We focused on part four of the law which stated something to the effect of: when you’ve been self-employed three year, you could be eligible for a permanent residence permission if your planned profession has been successfully ‘pulled off’. I had had permission to live and work in Germany for three years and a couple of weeks. But, they were quick to point out that I should see an immigration lawyer, someone who was a specialist in such matters. The lawyers I taught specialized in corporate and inheritance law. I was swayed and decided, a month short of my 32nd birthday, that I would need a lawyer. It was a daunting idea, like the first time you paid interest on a credit card. I had heard occasional numbers, snippets of price structures that seemed to amount to two hundred euro an hour or more. I was in trouble.
I called a lawyer later that day. He’d been recommended by my lawyers. Only that guy wasn’t currently practicing law because of health reasons. I took an appointment with an associate of his for the end of the week. Our meeting would cost 50 euro. I was looking forward to it.
Friday comes and my girlfriend and I meet up at two-thirty in the afternoon, spend a few minutes preparing ourselves, and then entered before having to wait more than 15 minutes in the waiting room. When he finally called on us, Lawyer One as we’ll call him was dressed in jeans, a white t-shirt and Birkenstocks with socks. I am not a proponent of sandals and socks but that’s not here nor there. He escorted us into his office.
He then began talking. And talking; and talking. I tried to keep up with his continuous legal German searching for one of the elusive pauses where I might get an opportunity to ask him about my particular case. I had to endure his annoyed look more than once while I tried to interject. My girlfriend restrained me.
He claimed that our best bet was paragraph 2 of the law 21. If Germany has a special relationship with the country in question, a residence permit could be given. AT the end of our meeting, he photocopied a ‘Friendship, Trade and Merchant Contract’ between Germany and the United States from October 1954, twenty years before I was born.
I finally got a chance to ask him about my case. What about this part 4, I asked him. He dismissed me. I asked again and he put on his glasses. He read the fourth part. He then took my proffered passport and read what my residence permit said. Ah, yeah, maybe this is a possibility, he agrees slowly.
I harrumph. I had had to endure nearly an hour of his worthless time only for him to say at the end that if I wanted him to write the letter to the F.A., it would cost me the not paltry sum of 477 euro. And he could not guarantee success. We thanked him for his time and, after filling out a transfer slip for 52,37 euro, we left.
By the end of the weekend it was clear that I would need to see another lawyer. I also planned a letter. I wrote it in English, my Norwegian friend translated it into German and after typing it, I sent it to one of the lawyer students to take a look at. He corrected it and by Wednesday afternoon, we were ready for the second lawyer. We’ll call him Lawyer Two. He was an acquaintance of one of the lawyer students and younger than Lawyer One. The student arranged a meeting with the Lawyer Two by speaker phone while I was in the room. This consultation would cost 50 euro.
I ate a doner kebap before going in. My girlfriend noticed it through two pieces of gum. I was in an out-of-body state of indifference. We went in. He was indeed younger, mid-30s and I knew I would like him when the first thing he did was pull out a piece of paper and a pen. The irony is that he too had to read part four of the law in question when I brought it up again. He agreed that that was the plan of attack. I told him I wanted to know my chances. He feigned reluctance. It’s probably going to come down to the case worker’s mood when he reads the letter. You’re kidding. No, they decide these cases, he said, or something else obtusely honest. Uh huh. We discussed strategy. Should we send the letter by mail and wait for a response? Or should I go in there with the letter and sit there in some imaginary European patience until he’s finished? Hmm, he decided, let’s think about that.
My savior letter, as I’d begun calling it in Microsoft Word, was going through its fifth and sixth pair of eyes. That thing started to look like plaintiff’s exhibit A and I even got one reaction that came out as, Ooh, that’s good, he probably won’t understand this. This was not my intention. I merely wanted to explain in its most thorough clarity how I fulfilled every prerequisite of the law (with the exception of the million dollar thing). An old friend of ours here who is a law student looked her over again and a few students of mine at the university did too. By the time it was ready to be sent, the only thing I wasn’t certain of, based on some comments, was whether the word was “gewendet” or gewandt”. What do you think it is? Yeah, me either.
Unsure of whether the case worker would appreciate it more (i.e., how my chances could be best) if I barged in or mailed it in, I asked him. He told me that bringing it in and then going would be best. Ok, I said and hung up. You never know when I’m going to speak to a German in an inappropriately overfriendly way at the wrong moment. It’s usually best if I hang up.
The letter, now finished, just needed some bones to go along with the meat. I added the following:
· My weekly schedule in order to prove that I was succeeded
at my planned profession
· Letters from the university, a VHS (local night school), the Carl Schurz German-American House, and from one of the language schools that farms me out to companies. These letters all basically said the same thing, that I was needed specifically, because not only did I fulfill their conditions for employment, but also over time how those conditions had partially changed to emphasize their need for me.
· A business card
· The original letter they had sent me which basically says nothing.
As I try to catch up to where I am at in the story at this point, I’m thinking of all the other things that have happened that I have yet to add to the story. Like how the F.A. originally gave me two job description sheets to have two employers fill out. But these are already my jobs, I had whined when the case worker said the two filled-out sheets would then be sent to the Arbeitsamt (Employment Office) and. Yes, it was like his sentence had ended with and. And? Then they will send them back when they are finished. Finished doing what? When they’re finished with them, was his answer more or less.
Anyway, I ended one class Wednesday morning early to walk over to the Buergeramt(some city administrative offices where the F.A. was located) and drop off the letter. He granted me a short audience, copied a couple of things and said, ok, now I’ll have to talk about this with my boss. Of course. Let’s cross our fingers for me, yeah? And I left, starting to feel the clarifying embers of feeling insulted. Insulted by the government that I’ve paid the past three years. I stewed in my juices that Wednesday, having left the house at 7:20am and not getting through my door before 9:55pm while working for five different companies.
The next day I called his boss. I got through after my fourth attempt. I greeted her as pleasantly as possible, asking if she had had a chance by the grace of God to have had a perusal of my response. Yeah, it was a nice paper, no question. Pause. Uh huh, I led her. So I need to talk about it with my boss. What? You said last time that you were the boss. Luckily, I didn’t say that. I asked instead when I might hear word of a decision and should I contact her or what? I was to receive a written response, she assured me. Ok. Hung up.
The next day I was on a train by 7:30am going south to teach over an hour away from home. That was a Friday and I was wearing a tie. That shows you how well-paid that job is! I came back from that job at a quarter to two in the afternoon. I changed into human clothes and ate spaghetti Bolognese with my girlfriend. I then went into the city and set up my second photo exhibition opening. The first 45 people got a free drink from yours truly. There were 13 nationalities represented. If nothing else, I felt like I was bringing Germany together. I gave a speech at 7:30 that night while wearing a German colored sweatband on my arm, which I pumped into the air while it was on, showing the assembled crowd that I was probably more German than they were.
That’s about where I stand, on this Sunday evening in mid-May. We grilled on the balcony this evening, the very balcony I’m finishing this story on. What’s next? Well, either I’ll get a two-year extension or a permanent residence permit or:
· Take a meeting with the mayor of my town, explaining my situation and what a wide demographic of his constituency I teach.
· Get the proper forms to demonstrate in front of the Buergeramt for two hours.
· Find a lawyer who will take this case pro bono.
· Get my work permission extended at least until the end of the teaching semester at the end of July.
· I don’t know yet.
· Marry my girlfriend who I love with all my heart.
Why don’t I jus marry her, you ask? Just what It old them. It’s none of their business. My work should stand on its own merits. Shouldn’t it? I love Germany. My schedule through the end of July is going to take me to on average five different cities in Baden each week, splitting my time with nine employers. I’m just shaking my head, wondering if I’m one of the first “major players” in this industry to be going through this. Setting a precedent that could save hundreds of people’s lives here that seems like a good thing to have schadenfreude over.