I arrived in Algeria in 2003 with a three month visa and, with all the things that needed to be done to settle down to life here, we left the renewal of my visa on the back burner, thinking it was just a formality. How wrong we were! When we finally got around to starting down the long road for my application of Residency here, we were given a very severe dressing down from the police for our tardiness. So for a brief while I was an ‘illegal alien’ in Algiers, something I proudly announced to my husband’s sister living next door to me. I suggested, rather tongue-in-cheek, that if she rang the police and ratted on me, maybe they would send me back to UK… and I could have a nice holiday there on my own! She laughingly refused and I knew it wasn’t necessarily out of any great love for me…. She is no fool and she knew who would be landed with taking care of my four children… and it wouldn’t be my husband! Anyway, as I discovered some years later from the experiences of several of my friends, things wouldn’t have turned out quite the way I anticipated. Where most countries are very happy and willing to turf anyone out of their country who has over-stayed their visa, Algeria is not. Many a person has gone to the airport or the port to make a journey abroad with an expired visa, only for them to lose the value of their travel tickets due to the fact that they were refused permission to travel until they had renewed their visa or residency.
For my Residency Application I needed (a deep breath) – a photocopy of my passport stamped, needless to say, at the local council offices (baladia), 8 photos (10 years down the line there must be a photo of me in every police station in Algiers, and I have visions of bored policemen sitting in back rooms throwing darts at them), Arabic Marriage Certificate, General Medical certificate including cardiologist and HIV tests, letter of confirmation that I am residing at the same address as my husband (and… where else would I be???? The Hilton???) also called a ‘Hebergement’, letter confirming that my husband is supporting/sponsoring me, and a piece of paper from the local tax office confirming I have paid the 3,000 dinars fee. In addition I also needed a letter from the Irish Embassy stating that I had left my country of origin and was now residing in Algeria. We told ‘the man behind the desk’ that, as there was no Irish Embassy in Algeria (although now that I live here I do think they really should consider having one!), we couldn’t obtain this piece of paper. The Irish Embassy in Berne, Switzerland is responsible for the Irish citizens residing in Algeria, and incidentally any Algerian who wants to obtain a visa to travel to Ireland has to apply for it from the Irish Embassy in….. Abu Dhabi. We were then told that we could go to the Italian Embassy and see if we could get one there. To this day I really don’t know why this was suggested…. was it because both embassies begin with the letter ‘I’ or was it because they are both Catholic countries?? The mind boggles! Eventually after some running around, hair pulling, jumping up and down and generally jumping through hoops it was agreed that we didn’t need this piece of paper, and we haven’t had to submit it since Alhamdulilah. The Residency expires after 2 years and you really need to re-apply about 6 weeks before expiration, and then they will give you a temporary piece of paper to keep you going until you finally get the blue card in your grubby paw. After five years residence here you are eligible to apply for a 10 year one with the addition of a couple of more pieces of paper and an increased fee payment at the tax office.
I am now in the process of applying for my 10 year residency and have had my temporary residency paper renewed 3 times already while they process my application, but to be fair, when we applied I could hardly see the policeman sitting at the desk behind the piles of applications stacked on his desk. There are so many foreigners coming to Algeria now from all corners of the earth – spouses of Algerians like me, an enormous amount of Chinese coming here to work on construction projects, Syrian refugees, people from Turkey, Yemen and other parts of Africa who are coming here to study or to work, that it helps me to be more patient about my own application.