This morning, a courier arrived with a Fedex envelope. Unbelievably I didn’t catch on to what it might be until I saw the sender’s address: Legalisation Office, Milton Keynes. Oh yeah, my birth certificate with Apostille. This meant I could apply for Dutch citizenship. I set off on my bike for Amsterdam’s city hall.
Once again, I took a number and a seat and regretted not bringing a good book with me. It was busy with people from all corners of the world at Stadsdeel centrum where I was to apply for an “option” on Dutch citizenship. Having been married with a Dutchman for more than 15 years, I am eligible for Dutch citizenship without losing my British passport and without taking an “inburgerings” test.
While I waited I remember the first time I visited the Alien Police, just a stone’s thow away from the City Hall. The dimly lit waiting room was much larger and fuller. I sat on one of the wooden benches for a long time until a large gruff alien policeman called my name and asked for my details. It struck me at the time that I seemed to be treated slightly more courteously because I spoke good Dutch.
Back then I was issued with a blue card folded in two. On the inside, my photo was either glued or stapled to it with a stamp half on the bottom of the picture and half on the card. I think my name was filled in by pen. Compared to today’s security standards it was a laughable immigration document that could have been falsified on just about any street corner. Apparently little had changed since World War II in the land of Dutch bureaucracy. This was very pre-9/11.
Five years later, I was called up to renew the document. The alien police had been moved out of the convenient city centre to south-east Amsterdam. The authorities must have thought it handy for most allochtones (as the Dutch like to call their foreign residents) as the south-east is where a large community of people from Surinam live.
For me it was very inconvenient. I lived in the Jordan west of the city centre and I worked in the Pijp just south of the centre. I informed my employer that I would be little late because I had to be at the alien police by 8 a.m. I took the metro as it was too far to cycle and I wouldn’t have known how to get there. The offices were located in a temporary prefab building at the end of a muddy path. Already there was a stream of people heading in the same direction. I took a number and the lady at the reception desk told me it would be better to come back after 4 p.m. because otherwise I would just have to wait all day. It seeemed they were still working through the backlog from the previous day.
Slightly bemused – as I had been under the impression that I had an appointment – I went to work. I organised someone to pick up my two daughters (one from school and the other from the creche) and went back later in the day. I waited for hours and hours it seemed. Something about the place did not agree with me as I remember I spent much of the time vomiting in the toilet. Once my turn came I was done in a flash, and I left hoping never to have to go back there again.
A couple of years later, I was called up once again to participate in the “plastification project”. The alien police had relocated once again, although I could honestly not tell you where it was this time. Expecting to spend hours on end waiting to pick up my new residence permit I made contingency plans for my daughters in advance. But this time I just walked into the non-discript office building with its narrow corridors and picked up my new shiny pink plastic IND card straight away.
I was done. I had permanent residence status – which meant I would never have to visit the alien police ever again. I was so delighted I didn’t take much notice of the card’s expiry date, which must have seemed so far off into the future at the time – 2006.
to be continued….