When Immigration Resembles a Video Game…

The reality of living and working outside of Canada, means that I have to expect that things will be different than they are in Canada. While this is one of the joys of working overseas, it can also sometimes be stressful or frustrating. Take the process of applying for an employment permit in Zambia for example. While I did not expect this to be a short or simple process, I did not expect it to be what could be a script for a video game!

The process for applying for an employment permit in Zambia involves bringing a bundle of forms, photocopies, pictures, and of course $$ to the immigration office.

In order to maintain sanity, and a smile during this process, my room mates and I enjoyed imagining that the process was a new version of one of our favourite Mario Brother’s video game (cue theme music here). Each step in the process was merely another level of the game that included a series of tasks to be completed. We knew there would be certain things we had do to achieve each level, but the process was not linear, and if we made too many mistakes (or made someone mad), we had to restart the level!

The immigration game level by amusing level:

First level was getting the criminal record check (CRC). Due to financial reasons with my employer beyond anyone’s control, the window for getting my CRC in Canada was too short, it arrived (in Toronto) the day I landed in Zambia. Level 1 attempt 2: I went to the Police Station in Zambia, they were able to do my fingerprints, but not process the CRC as fast as at Police Headquarters (HQ). Notable of this attempt was the morbid photos of what I assume to be murder victims in past cases the police have worked on – creepy! Level 1 attempt 3: waited an hour at HQ to drop off my forms, and was told to pick them up 24 hours later. Attempt 4: (24 hours later) forms are not ready, sent to the gate outside to wait. Three hours later, lots of begging and pleading and going into the staff only zone, I am victorious! My CRC is ready!! On to level 2!

Level 2 is really an optional level. Some are fortunate and hit a secret tunnel that provides a nice short cut to go straight to level 3. But I was lucky enough to play the full version this round. Task: to secure one 1,000 Kwacha Bank Cheque. There is only one bank in Lusaka who prints bank cheques – the Bank of China. This level was uniquely challenging in that we had to play in Chinese. This made even opening the doors at the bank a challenge as we could not read the instructions indicating what surely must have said: ‘swipe hand over sensor’, ‘enter first door’, ‘allow first door to close’, and then ‘swipe second sensor to allow second door to open’. Two hours and $35 dollars of service fees later – victory! Level 2 complete!

Level 3 has its own interesting twist providing cultural clues to the paper culture in Zambia. Paper culture is the norm here, and very few things can be done electronically (I really could say this about the entire immigration process). Coming from Canada where we have largely moved away from paper culture perhaps meant that my organization’s appreciation for the stamp is not what it should be for working in Zambia. The challenge for this level therefore was to stamp my paperwork with my organization’s stamp. But, no such stamp existed. The solution when we could not get a real one made in time? Buy a nice fresh apple and an ink pad and carve myself out a stamp 🙂 Level 3 – accomplished with artist flair if I say so myself!


Level 4 was a breeze. I just popped by, dropped off my freshly stamped paperwork and fancy bank cheque at the immigration, got my receipt, and just had to wait until the permit arrived!

Level 5 still ceases to amaze me. Myself and my two room mates did the same level, at the same time… yet, the process was completely different. All we needed was a letter from immigration saying our paperwork was being processed but not yet ready because our temporary visas we got on entry to Zambia were expiring. My room mates were told by the desk they went to at immigration that it was ‘meeting day’ so no such letters could be printed that day. My first desk sent me to a second, third and fourth desk. Desk 4 helped me (despite the ‘meetings’) and sent me to desk 5 to have the letter printed (small win!). I encouraged my room mates to go to my desk 4 who promptly sent them to another desk where within 5 (5!) minutes both of their letters were made, printed and signed. Big win – for them…

immigration photo

Meanwhile my desk 5 asked me to sit on a couch (pictured above) until she was ‘ready’ to serve me. 1 hour and 45 minutes later she was ‘ready’. Ready for, just wait for it, to send me back to the first des I went to almost 2 hours ago! Desk 1 told me to wait in another corner (at least my view changed) until he was ‘ready’. 25 minutes later he was ‘ready’. Comically the blank letter form he needed was at the desk 5… 2 hours 15 minutes later – complete!

And this is where I am now, letter in hand, hoping that my employment permit arrives before this letter expires 3 weeks from now. So the game is currently paused, but I am hopefully victory (ie my work permit) is just around the corner!


4 responses to “When Immigration Resembles a Video Game…

  1. This is a great post Megan! Maybe you should join the process create a side business with you ewb apple, stamping other people’s papers!

    Liked by 1 person

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