Monday, July 23, 2012

No exit

The final step for bringing a child of Indian surrogacy home is to get him/her an exit visa. Sure, your country's consulate has determined that the little guy or girl (or multiple!) is really yours and really a citizen, but India needs to independently reach this conclusion as well. That's the role of the Foreigners Regional Registration Office - or FRRO. Well, that's the stated goal.

The unstated goal is they want to make sure you've paid your bills while in India. Seriously, one of the most crucial stumbling blocks to getting an exit visa for your child is to have paid-in-full receipts from every single vendor you interacted with during your stay. This was the source of our problem at the FRRO - but more on that in a moment.

Our research had led us to believe that use of a handler at the FRRO was a smart move. It could cost us more than 100 USD but the benefit was having a local who understood the official and unofficial processes enforced by this Indian agency. To guarantee a same day departure, and after spending tens of thousands of dollars, another $100 or so seemed a pittance if it would get us the heck out of India. So we called a guy recommended by Surrogacy India and booked his time for Thursday, March 10 - the morning of our flight home.

Consulate papers now in hand, we gathered every scrap of material ever produced in advance of and during our stay in India. The idea was to anticipate any possible question or objection, to have proof of every decision and every step taken, giving the FRRO no leeway to delay our request. We even packed extra rupees to, you know, "accidentally" overpay the bureaucrat handling our case. And let's be clear - our handler told us to pack these extra rupees. It's just how things work.

The Mumbai office of the FRRO was located in a building that, like most building in India, exuded an aura of untrustworthiness. Is it safe? Will it collapse? Who are all those people looking at us and why aren't there more lights?

And like any government office, the FRRO - located on the fourth floor of a walk-up - was a line making machine.

Get there early, we were told. So we met our handler at 10am - the earliest he could meet us - and walked up the four flights with Archer and our 10 pound information-packed binder to start our first line. This line existed to make sure you had what you needed to sit in the second line. Shannon and Archer grabbed a seat in the room where the final interview would take place. I sat with the handler. He went through our materials. Documentation from Surrogacy India capturing the entire process? Check. US Consulate materials? Check. Hotel receipts? Wait, what? We didn't even check out yet. We have to check out before coming here? Well, a few rupees could smooth that over. Hospital receipts? Sure. But where is the final paid-in-full receipt? A what? Here are the receipts.... Sure, but where is the final paid-in-full receipt? I don't have a general receipt saying paid-in-full.  I have lots of little receipts.

No paid-in-full receipt, no exit visa.

It was 11:30 in the morning and I had to go to the hospital - 90 minutes away - to get a receipt. The FRRO closed at 5pm. There was a huge line ahead of us. Shannon and Archer are sweating their butts off in a crowded waiting room. I was in India!

We may not be leaving after all.

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