Dave and I have just finished the most unnecessarily bureaucratic process we have ever experienced.  This honour belongs to the migration department in Guadalajara.  I was trying to get a temporary immigration visa, called an FM3, so I can legally work as an English teacher in Mexico.  Dave was applying for a visa so he can have Mexican computer clients.

Guadalajara Migracion building

Guadalajara's downtown Migracion department building

Let me go through the process we had to endure.  Keep in mind that to attend each booth in Migracion involved a wait of between 10 minutes and three hours – usually about an hour.  Also, every visit meant a drive downtown in peak time, taking up to an hour driving time each way, and paying for parking.

Step 1:  Visited Booth 1 to get an information sheet about what we needed to give them, and forms to fill out.

Step 2:  Photocopied documents and hired a secretary to type out the forms (as required).

Step 3:  Went to the bank with an approved form to pay the deposits for the FM3 processing, then photocopied the deposit receipts.

Step 4:  We both presented our documents and deposit receipts at Booth 3.  Dave’s was accepted, but I was told to get a new number and wait in line as we couldn’t hand in our paperwork at the same time. 

Step 5:  I handed in my paperwork.  We were told to come back in a week.

Step 6:  So we came back a week later to be told by Booth 7 that our documents hadn’t been processed.  We could wait or come back the next day.

Step 7:  We came back the next day, to be told that the proof of residency receipt wasn’t sufficient (because it was a rent receipt).  I wondered why Booth 3 accepted the receipt if it wasn’t sufficient.

Booths inside Migracion building Guadalajara

Some of the booths inside Migracion building Guadalajara

Step 8:  Returned with a detailed receipt showing our residency for 3+ months at the motor home park and presented it to Booth 3.  The Booth 3 lady told me that was not sufficient either; they needed an electricity receipt from the park, a letter from the owner (not the manager!) saying we lived there, and a photocopy of the owner’s ID and his signature.

Step 9:  We came back with the aforementioned papers and gave them to Booth 3.  Told to come back in a week.

Step 10:  The next visit a week later, we were told our papers weren’t yet ready.  We could wait or come back another day.  We decided to wait this time, to avoid the ragged commute.  Three and a half hours later, we gave up.

Step 11:  The next day, we visited Booth 7, were given our documents back and were told to go back to Booth 1 to pick up new information sheets and forms.

Step 12:  Waited in line at Booth 1 and collected the new information requirements, including photos and payment at a bank for the FM3 processing.

Step 13:  Hired a secretary to type out the new forms (which contained a lot of the same information!) and to take the visa photos. 

Mercedes filling out some of our FM3 paperwork

Mercedes the friendly secretary filling out some of our FM3 paperwork

Step 14:  Paid the remaining processing fee at the bank and made photocopies of the receipt. 

Step 15:  Handed in all the documents and receipts to Booth 2 and were told to wait a week.  We tried to hand over our photos but they were refused.

Step 16:  Paid the tow truck $500 pesos so he would offload our car and not take it to the impound lot on the other side of the city.  Okay, maybe that wasn’t Migracion’s fault.

Step 17:  Came back a week PLUS ONE DAY! later (to make sure the docs were ready this time), and waited over an hour to collect our ongoing documentation from Booth 7. 

Step 18:  We handed over Dave’s photos to Booth 2 with the documents.  Why they couldn’t take those photos the last time with the rest of the information flummoxed us.  I tried to hand over my photos, but was told I needed a tax number first.

Step 19:  Went back to Booth 7 a week later and was told a tax number wasn’t required yet after all, but instead I had to fill out another form.

Booth 7 at Migracion Building, Guadalajara

Booth 7 with our favourite cheerful attendants (the rest of the booths were staffed by total grumps)

Step 20:  Gave the form to Booth 2, but was told they needed photocopies of every page of my passport before accepting the information.  I had already given them the photocopies of every page, and I didn’t have another passport copy with me, so we had to leave.

Step 21:  Came back with the new form completed PLUS the second set of passport photocopies.  Delivered them to Booth 2 after an hour wait.  Was told to return in one week.

Step 22:  Returned one week and a day later to collect the FM3, and give my signature and fingerprints.  But I still had to collect a tax number within thirty days and deliver it back to Migracion.

Step 23:  Returned three weeks later with the tax number to Booth 2, and was told to wait in line for an hour to collect another form from Booth 1.  The lady at Booth 2 showed us the form, we needed, but refused to give it to us. 

Step 24:  Collected the form from Booth 1.

Booth 1 at Migracion Building, Guadalajara, Jalisco

Booth 1 - the information booth

Step 25:  Dave and I filled out our forms stating details we’d already given.  We also had to write them a letter explaining that we were fulfilling the tax number condition, give them a copy of our tax numbers, and the sheets they gave us requiring the tax number.  Triplicate reporting when the information was self-explanatory.  After another long wait we handed them into Booth 2, and were told to come back the next day to re-collect the FM3s.

Step 26:  Two days later, after a mercifully short wait for our final visit, we were handed our FM3s.

By the time we got to the last few steps, I was starting to swear under my breath.  I longed for the efficiency of the Canadian and New Zealand visa processes.  Just two, maybe three visits, one processing agent to deal with, one set of requirements and a simple, easy-to-follow process.  But here in Mexico, my theory is that there is no incentive for the Migracion to become more efficient or customer-friendly.  They are doing you a favour in their minds, and so they can use as many different processes and booths as they like.  Time and effort is not money for them. 

The scary thing is, on Step 21 while waiting an hour to be seen at the booth, I read in Migracion’s magazine that they recently modernised the visa process and made it more efficient.  I shudder to think of the torture new migrants must’ve suffered before then.

Corruption and the Drug War

My partner and I haven’t had to deal with much local corruption here in Mexico.  The times when we thought we’d have to pay a bribe here or there: when our car was towed, when receiving a cellphone plan discount, getting our immigration papers etc., nothing was implied.  Even trying to give a generous tip was sometimes refused.

It’s a nice reality from what we read before we came.  We were told that the local police would stop you for a cash payment, border officials might need an incentive to leave you alone, and “morditas” (little bites) would be required to make life smooth.

Instead, in recent years everyday Mexicans seem to be less and less corrupt as a culture.  Maybe they instinctively recognise the damage it does to their economy and way of life, or maybe enforcement against such corruption has increased.

Unfortunately, corruption in Mexico still permeates anything to do with the drug war, senior business leaders and politicians.

As part of the federal government’s protracted war on drug cartels, swathes of mayors, local police chiefs, elected officials and community leaders are arrested for corruption relating to the drug trade.  Even the head of Mexico’s narco offensive in 2008 was bought. A lot of the times the problem is greed for money and power.  But sometimes the corrupted don’t have much choice.  Either they accept money and help the drug traffickers, or they and their families may be kidnapped or shot.

And the latter is also common here.  An English language client of mine was shot at in his car while giving a friend a ride back home.  She is the daughter of a member of the judicial police and had received death threats.  Federal police and soldiers are ambushed on the roadside, tortured, decapitated.  Senior politicians are assassinated.  There are thousands of kidnappings per year.

I still feel safer here than in many parts of the USA and New Zealand – partly because most of the crime is centered near the US border, in Mexico City, and/or is drug related.

The problem is that many state and local police are corrupt or inefficient.  I read an estimate that 98% of crimes in Mexico are unpunished.  Municipal police can be paid as low as 30 pesos an hour ($US 2.27).  That sort of wage doesn’t encourage anyone to put themselves in harms way.  It also promotes widespread corruption.

There is a lack of transparency and checks and balances in local, state and federal budgets.  Politicians earmark essential funds for pet projects, and siphon money as it is spent.  This is a problem in the USA as well, but in Mexico it’s harder to trace.

In my opinion, Mexico’s Drug War started by President Calderon (a good man, but hamstrung by widespread self-interest and corruption in his government and administration) is unwinnable unless the rich and powerful of Mexico renounce corruption and their own ties with the drug cartels.