Good Guys In, Bad Guys Out: Adventures from Immigration Offices Around the World

 

“Good Guys In, Bad Guys Out” was the banner heading on my visit to the Thai Immigration Office last week. That in a very blunt way is what every immigration office in the world is about, I guess. In this case, quote was attributed to a Police Lieutenant General whose whole job is to sort us foreigners out. They get to figure out who the good and bad guys are, and the bad guys. I was there to let them figure out what category I fit into. (No, the privilege is not reciprocal–I don’t get to figure out if they are good or bad guys.  It really doesn’t matter to them what I think–but it really matters to me what they think!)

I have been in Thailand about three months now, and that date means something special to the Immigration Office. It means that my initial non-immigrant “Teacher” visa was done, and I would need to go into the local immigration office early in the morning to get a number, and appointment, and then be inspected for my goodness. Or badness.

Armed with the usual accoutrements of bureaucratic goodness, including a letter from my employer, 1.5 inch photos, passport, former visa from the Thai Embassy in Washington, 1,900 Baht for my wife and, and certification from the US Consul General that I had signed a paper saying we were married, my wife and I went in. Funny thing was that the US Consulate charged the same thing ($50) for this notarized statement about our signature, that the whole thing would cost us.  But that’s a different problem!

Anyway, we got there at about 6 a.m., and were about twentieth in a line of nervous and tired people, all preparing to convince someone of their goodness. The people in front of us (and behind us) all had the same mission in mind: Prove their goodness as a teacher, spouse, volunteer, student, or other measure of goodness that would give them legal status in Thailand, because they were indeed a good guy.

The wait in the line was done by seven when we were given a queue number, and told to come back at 1 p.m. So far so good! Only an hour or two early in the morning spent waiting and queuing.

We actually got back early for the appointment, about 12:30, in the hope that we would be sped through the process because I had a Thai class at three. No go. We still had a queue to wait in. The wait wasn’t too bad—only about an hour, during which time we tried to guess the nationality of others waiting. Seems like there was lots of Chinese, a French, Italian, and a couple of Americans. The waiting room was probably running half Asian, and half European.

Finally we were called into a back desk where there was a cheery immigration officer; after all they get to be cheery, because after all, I’m not judging them!! He had under the glass on his desk souvenirs bills from many country of the world—appropriate for an immigration officer I guess. He thumbed through our paperwork smiling, signing, and stamping. There was even a random question or two—the content of which I forget. Five minutes later, we were told to wait again for our photos. So we waited some more, and were finally called by the photographer. Who would take our photos, presumably because the two 1.5” photos we had brought with us were no good.  So it goes. And then wait some more. We still didn’t know if we were good guys (in) or bad guys (next plane out) yet. A half hour later, I sauntered up to the counter to ask the woman there where were are in the cue. In a deep voice she instructed us to take our pictures. Cool. That done we were instructed small price to pay the 1900 Baht for officially being good guys.  This status will remain assuming that we report every thirty days to the immigration office.   Good guys pay, after all.  They also wait.

At one point, I wanted to have a Socratic dialog with the immigration officer about the meaning of “good guy,” which at least in the world’s immigration offices seems to revolve around getting the picture sizes right, having paperwork in order, and collecting fees.  I was going to ask whether I could be a good guy if I save babies, rescued people, or had a sterling character typically associated with “goodness.” But I thought the better of it. And so I willingly wandered back into the real world where the only good foreigner is a documented foreigner, irrespective of anything intrinsic, much less philosophical.