My kingdom for a passport

64

“You have to wait,” said the lady at the Embassy.

“But I have been waiting, it’s been almost a month and my daughter’s passport expires in just a few weeks,” I protested.

The lady pursed her lips. She was getting tired of me. There was a modest line of people outside the embassy door. They all clutched their manila envelopes, waiting for their turn. Some glanced my way, sympathizing with my pleas.

“What about a passport renewal instead of a new passport?” I asked.

“No, we don’t do that. You have to wait until the SAIME system gives you an appointment and then follow the procedure for a new passport.”

“What about a passport emergency extension, for one year? Then I can process our resident visa before my tourist visa runs out.” I asked again.

“We used to do that, but we don’t do that anymore. You have to wait,” she replied, annoyed.

“So, are you saying that my child will have to stay with her expired passport and tourist visa?” I spat out.

Silence.

“You just have to wait,” she said mechanically, before turning around and taking some papers from another Venezuelan who looked at me with pity.

***

This happened two months ago. I was left with no choice but to scramble a last minute trip before my tourist visa period expired, and then had to re-enter the country once more.

If there is something more valuable to Venezuelans than dollars, it’s a valid passport. It becomes gold when you are living outside the country. My departure from Venezuela was a bit precipitated, I admit it. I didn’t plan it all that well, but I never thought I would have to return to Venezuela to get a new passport because it would be IMPOSSIBLE to get it from my consulate. It’s not like I’m in Vanuatu or something.

The passport process was appointed to one of the nine circles of hell in 2005, when it was suddenly a requirement to apply for your passport online via the ONIDEX webpage. My generation has the fondest of memories, of sleeping on sidewalks waiting for the office to open, or rushing from the offices to the airport so you could make it to your graduation photo on time since your passport appointment was right smack on the same day and cancelling the date meant not knowing when you would get a new one. (spoiler alert: I made it on time).

In 2008 came the programmed appointments, where you had to wait (sometimes for months on end) just to get an appointment to go to the ONIDEX and hand in your paperwork, then you had to wait a whole lot more for it to come out. The whole process was (and is) plagued by inefficiencies. Parents were terrified because infant and minor passports were just not coming out, and the lines were still heaps long.

In 2009, I had to wait for almost a full year for my little girl’s passport to come out, and if you check the SAIME page, I apparently still haven’t gone to pick it up .

Maybe I should go pick it up?
Maybe I should go pick it up?

Even APORREA has been aporreando the ONIDEX/SAIME passport process. They have a been at it for about 5 years, denouncing corruption, passport delays, and just plain bureaucratic nonsense: 20082011, 2012, 2013

In 2011, Dante Rivas, the SAIME Director promised that all was in place so another passport crisis wouldn’t happen. He said all was fine and dandy, except the Goverment had just spent the last years saying that there was no such crisis and that  ANYONE could efficiently get their passport with absolutely no trouble or delay. But yeah, there wouldn’t be another inexistent hypothetical crisis.

Today, we are living an inexistent hypothetical crsis again. Getting a new passport could take between 4 and 8 months. And SAIME has been quick to pass the blame directly to the Casa de la Moneda, in charge of printing the passport.

Still, whosever fault it is, Venezuelans are still waiting in line for another scarce good.

***

To put my situation in context, after that day at the embassy I called a few times. When they finally answered the phone and I explained my situation again, this is what they answered:

“The passport process is paralyzed, and I really can’t tell you when it will begin again… Maybe you should process it somewhere else. Can you go to Venezuela?”

64 COMMENTS

  1. If you go to Venezuela it takes the same amount of time as in another country. The problem is that if you go there, you are trapped until the new passport is issued. Unless you pay 15-20K for “help”

      • No, it can’t be used. That’s what I learned from a friend of mine who traveled from Caracas to Atlanta with her ‘still valid’ electronic passport 6 months ago while awaiting her new one in Venezuela. After swiping her passport at the immigration booth, the US immigration officer said her passport had been made invalid by the issuing authority. The new passport was actually issued —as well as neglected— and automatically canceled the old one.

        The immigration officer happened to be merciful, switched to manual mode and xeroxed her passport to let my friend enter the US. I wouldn’t push my luck if in the same situation, though.

        • I just did it a month ago. In fact, I was able to use it with the new passport in hand while the old one had 2 weeks left in it.

          For a while I heard stories about this, but then I tried and I had no issues.

          • I have witnessed incidents similar to the one mentioned by Gabriel. It appears that the issue of validating/invalidating an old passport while the new one is in process is discretionary, which could mean that not all offices where you apply for a new one (Onidex, Saime, Consulate and/or Embassies) canceled your old passport automatically. Granted,I am only speculating here.

  2. I don’t know if I was lucky but when I was in San Francisco I got my passport in 1 month. They even called me when they got it form Venezuela, I was really impressed about the efficiency. All the consulate employees are very professional and respectful with the exception of the Consul, she was a little bit pretentious. She arrived around 11:50 am with dark glasses and with the classic “Buenoj diassssss”.
    Again, maybe I was lucky but I have to be fair this time.

    • Same thing with San Francisco for my wife. Turn around time was reasonable; the majority of the delay was the scheduling for appointment, and that was still screwed up. We had originally had the Friday after Thanksgiving weekend picked, but when she checked the week before to verify, it was the “originally” scheduled for the Monday after Thanksgiving and getting there was a delightful adventure involving yet another 24 hour round trip with 18 of it driving.

      Curious, that. I recall the phone conversation from the day before Halloween and her being told that Friday was the first opening they had.

  3. Really a pain in the ass. And now I wonder how things will evolve with the new ministry.
    Kafka se quedó pendejo.

    A related question…something I don’t understand particularly after reading stories like yours: why are there over half a million passports that have been paid but not picked up?

    http://www.entornointeligente.com/articulo/2985503/VENEZUELA-Director-del-SaimeMas-de-500-mil-pasaportes-que-no-han-ido-a-retirar-estan-en-las-bovedas-%7C-P-06082014

    I mean: people had to pay beforehand and they couldn’t use those passports for CADIVI scams. So: why are there so many people who do not go to fetch their passports in spite of so many others wanting theirs?

    Now OT but within the same framework of the worst bureaucracy on Earth:
    I sent a book as present for someone in Venezuela. When my friend went to pick it up, the functionary told her she had to pay some taxes. The worst thing was that she couldn’t pay the taxes at the post office, but had to go to the bank to pay there and then go back to show the payment slip. How idiotic can a nation be?

    • A mi tmb me parece loco eso. Pero quizá el número de pasaporte que dicen es lo q aparece en una base de datos y yo en el sistema SAIME salgo como q jamás he retirado ninguno de los pasaportes q he solicitado.

  4. I feel for you, Audrey.

    We have had mixed experiences renewing our passports in DC.

    One the one hand, when we decided to get both of our daughters their first Venezuelan passport (last year), the guy at the consulate made the appointment for us from his computer (not the usual procedure) he said he was doing us a favor (he was). He was polite, friendly and efficient. And no, we don’t know the guy from Adam.

    Filled out the forms, gave our email address etc.

    The appointments were for 6 months down the road, and sure enough we actually got an email reminder from them. The day of, went in and left about 2 hours later with the passports.

    For one person I know here, it has been the 7 circles of hell alright. He can’t even get an appointment through ONIDEX as it seems he no longer exists as far as they are concerned!

    Nothing he has tried, Gestores, going in person in Vzla has helped him. Yet his wife and children had no problem whatsoever. He thinks that since he’s a known protester, perhaps that may play into it but who knows.

    He appears in the CNE rolls, his cedula exists in SAIME, but there is no way ONIDEX can make an appointment for him. The system will simply not do it.

    We have heard from others (depends on how friendly the consulate folks are with the person in question) that the problem indeed is passport blanks and the supply thereof. Some consulates seem to get more than others although the reasoning behind this is unclear.

    Bottom line, many of the folks in consulates are not necessarily rabid chavistas, but it depends where you are. Some care, some don’t. Some do their jobs well, some just don’t give a rat’s ass (unless they know you)

    I have heard that the NYC consulate is chock full of rabid chavista types, but until the purge here in DC a couple months ago (courtesy of Max Arbelaiz) we still had several decent types.

  5. One part of the problem is the outside vendor who provides passports to Venezuela is the German company Bundesdruckerei, and that company’s official representative in Venezuela is Rafael Núñez, head of outlaw reputation management outfit Clean Perception. You can read about their relationship here: http://infodio.com/node/566 and you can read my exposé on his work for the Bolibourgeoisie here: http://settysoutham.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/who-protects-reputation-for-the-bolibourgeoisie/

  6. Why do they do this? If i were a Chavista, I would do anything to make the “escualidos” leave the country asap. It’s just plain incompetence without political overtones, right?

    Meanwhile, we will soon have 1000 people confirmed to protest in front of the Venezuelan consulate in Sao Paulo on the 12th of September. It’s getting big.

    https://www.facebook.com/events/417662228440362/

    • The one phrase that unites all venezuelans is “no hay material, miamor”. We’ve all experienced it throughout our entire lives. My mom didn’t change her cedula for like 30 years because it was such a traumatic experience even in the 4ta.

  7. This was my experience in DC in 2013: March 27 SAIME provided appointment at Washington DC embassy for June 25. June 20 SAIME notified appointment was unilaterally postponed to Sep 24. Sep 24 had appointment at embassy. Dec 26 Venezuela passport arrived by mail, as requested (Valid until Nov 2018)

  8. We were able to get our appointment here in Boston but after that it’s been 6+ months and we are still waiting for our daughter’s passport. Thankfully she has a US passport. We have tried many things to no avail. I guess we’ll just wait it out.

    • Contempt? Seriously?

      con·tempt
      noun kən-ˈtem(p)t

      : a feeling that someone or something is not worthy of any respect or approval

      : a lack of respect for or fear of something that is usually respected or feared

      Full Definition of CONTEMPT
      1
      a : the act of despising : the state of mind of one who despises : disdain
      b : lack of respect or reverence for something
      2

      I would understand envy, maybe jealousy but contempt?

      Like we had something to do with getting our passports!

      What we got was lucky, nothing more nothing less. I don’t think anyone that has written here in this post deserves your contempt.

      Either your command of the English language is not 100% because you don’t understand the term “contempt”
      or you really have some issues you need to deal with.

      If you wrote the word contempt knowing full well what it meant, then all I can say is I feel sorry for you.
      #SourGrapes

      • Same here and it was a pleasant experience. The bad news is that it will expire in early 2016… smackdab in the middle of the worst of the crisis maybe?

          • Good for you. You’ll be able to use it anywhere except Venezuela. Don’t forget the chavista rule: Venezuelan citizens must enter their country with a Venezuelan passport.

          • That rule exists in many countries. I’m not sure if I agree with it, but it is not only “chavista”. Same thing happens in Colombia and I think in the US.

          • Of course the rule isn’t only chavista but there’s no denying this particular requirement did not exist in Venezuela before they came to power.

          • also questionable if it actually really a “rule” ? – i entered in 2009 with my US passport (saying “born in Venezuela” without any issues?

          • Aha! And what happens if you go to Venezuela with an expired Venezuelan passport? What do they do? Deport you?

          • I used to enter Vzla with an expired passport, leave it with a Cdn one. But that was years ago, until I started using a Cdn passport, for both entry and exit. Helping matters is a designed technicality: my Canadian birthplace.

          • Not true! I just came back and I used my American passport, they will ask and you just tell them you don’t have one or has expired or you lost it. They will ask for your cedula number just to check if you left el pelero or appeared on Lista Tascon!

          • Our passports don’t have a maple leaf but on the inside 😛 you’ll show a coat of arms on the cover!

            You can enter with any valid passport to Venezuela as long as you identify yourself as Venezuelan (show your ID or an expired passport Venezuelan passport). They write your Cedula number down in the little form you give them and off you go. Same for exiting the country.

            You can always ask for a “salvoconducto” in any consulate and without ANY passport you can board a plane for Venezuela.

            I actually know someone who got his Venezuelan passport stolen abroad (central america) and was able to board a plane to Canada with a salvo conducto and a PR (green) card. Entered Canada using only the PR card and was welcomed home… they never even asked for the passport he didn’t have. He got his passport in a couple of months

            We got an appointment in less than two weeks for a family member in Ottawa… and it was scheduled within two weeks. One month from requesting to appointment, not bad. We have to see how long it takes to be made and sent. In Toronto, from my own experience and the ppl I know, everyhting is done in less than three months.

            It is not as bad as it seems… at least for those of us residing in Canada.

            Anyone has a different experience?

  9. By contrast, my US passport has expired twice when I was outside the US. The first time, I had a new passport in 15 minutes. The second time, it took several days- there were more procedures for the USG to follow this time.

    • Of the US passports I’ve held, its never been more than 10 days from when I’ve mailed them with the requisite photo and application. The one time I paid for the expedited service, it took the longest turnaround of the three. The others were back in 5 or 6 days.

  10. I have been doing some extensive traveling the last few years, to the point I need to get at least one new passport every year, two on 2012 and 2013. Thanks to the airline mess, I still have a few pages left, so I will not need a new one until next year. The problem is that some airlines and airports will not let you travel or pass immigration if your passport is completely full. In Colombia some immigration officers will not stamp a page that already contains 4 stamps, China and the UK (thank you Chavez) require four blank pages to stamp a visa, and so on. My advice to frequent travelers is to get a new passport if a window of opportunity arises at SAIME, even if your current passport is still valid (you will need to pay a gestor). Until your old passport expires, you can still use it to enter other countries.

  11. In my personal experience, Venezuelan diplomatic staff have been courteous and willing to help DESPITE the Kafkaesque system they and we must all suffer. Two anecdotes:

    2009, while visiting Southern California (from Japan, where I lived) my bag was stolen with passport and everything else gone. After a few “Esperame un momentico que te conecto, mi vida”s I got through the consular agent in D.C., who arranged an appointment at the consulate in San Francisco for two days later (only because the next day was President’s Day). Most difficult part was getting to SF (try that with no ID or credit card!) I made my appointment and a new passport was issued and handed to me the following day. Nothing but praise for the people involved.

    2014, while living in Singapore I suddenly receive an email from the Embassy telling me that my (non-biometric) passport will become null and void in mid November, by government decree. “Le aconsejamos se acerque a las oficinas del SAIME en Caracas, o a la Embajada de Venezuela en la Republica Popular China, en Pekin”. WTF! After a short exchange of emails with the Secretaria and sharing my travel plans, she was kind enough to arrange an appointment for me at the Embassy in Paris. After that was done I applied online through the SAIME website and showed up in Paris. Fingerprints and photo taken, my passport is somewhere in the depths of SAIME in Caracas (if it has been printed…). Now I have to wait for them to send it to Paris, then have to arrange a pickup by DHL and have it brought to Singapore. IF it is issued before November, I should be safe…if not, then what? No one seems to know.

    Complaints aside, the human element of the process has always been positive in my personal case. The people I’ve come across just want to get their jobs done and do care about the well being of their con-nationals. Maybe I’ve been lucky.

    Problem is…what about next time? Until I get a Japanese passport (in the works), every time expiration looms it opens a new chapter of “Will I need a refugee travel document this time around?”

    • Agree with you Oscar, regarding the courteous and willingness to help among the Vzlan diplomatic staff. Decided to forego my “durito” for a new Bolivarian 🙁 passport, must have been c. 2004. Was surprised by the greater efficiency of the diplomatic staff, when I compare it to what was more like day camp for staff, decades ago.

  12. I wase living in Charlotte, NC, and tried to get an appointment for a new passport at Saime -at no avail- and after #3# years I had to pay someone in Venezuela to erase my Saime process in order to get another appointment. Finally I got it and had to fly to Miami in a hurry as it was the next day! Got a nice service at the consulate and went back to Charlotte to wait for my passport to be deliver äround the 15 of December””. It did not come so I called and was told “la valijaq diplomatica no llego, espere a Enero” and then THE CONSULATE WAS CLOSE BY CHAVEZ HIMSELF! No way to get my passport from Whashington or Houston……..
    The Saime page stated “pasaporte en la oficina” and NO WAY to get another appointment. Catch 22!!!
    Finally in Brussel they canceled my “old” one and it seems thay a new one is on its way (in a record time of 7 months!)
    The whole thing it’s Kafkiana!!!
    Good luck Audrey!

  13. 4-8 months? Try Madrid’s consulate: 18 months is the current waiting period for the appointment. In January it used to be “only” 14 months…

  14. I was lucky to have my passport tramitado, printed and delivered in a week, but that was back in July 2012 in Valencia (Fuerte Paramacay), after five or six years with my veneco passport expired. I wasn’t born in Venezuela, so every time I went there I handed over my Brazilian passport, y me hacía el Brasileño si preguntaban algo. Never had a problem.

    I expect to have another passport, one with “E Pluribus Unum” in it, in four and a half years.

  15. My ordeal with my middle daughter’s passport seems to be nearing its end: They printed it and sent it to the office! Big but: I was bounced TWICE in previous appointments, both because imaginary faults in my ex’s authorization (They wanted me to know el número de cédula de la notario- I’m not kidding). Three seems to be the charm.

    Datos del Trámite
    Trámite en proceso
    Tipo de Trámite: Menor con un padre
    Oficina: La Trinidad
    Fecha de Inicio: 07/07/2014
    Fecha de Fin:
    Estados del Trámite
    Estado Nombre del paso Fecha de fin
    Datos Captados 07/07/2014 04:01:47 PM
    Imágenes Captadas del Padre Uno 07/07/2014 04:05:04 PM
    Imágenes Captadas 07/07/2014 04:07:13 PM
    Planilla de Control 07/07/2014 04:15:18 PM
    Documentos Aprobados 07/07/2014 04:17:23 PM
    Datos Aprobados 07/07/2014 04:18:02 PM
    Imagenes Aprobadas 07/07/2014 04:18:08 PM
    Chequeo Dactiloscópico 07/07/2014 04:20:15 PM
    Chequeo Dactiloscópico del Padre Uno 07/07/2014 04:20:15 PM
    Pasaporte Impreso 01/09/2014 12:36:49 PM
    Calidad 01/09/2014 12:36:50 PM
    Sobre Impreso 01/09/2014 03:08:47 PM
    Embalado 02/09/2014 10:25:37 AM
    Pasaporte Enviado 04/09/2014 03:05:45 PM
    Recibido en oficina
    Pasaporte Entregado

    As a curious note, I know someone (ahem!) who paid for a “VIP” appointment due to an emergency. He got the passport 3 days later at a substantial cost. But the thing is, that “VIP” service was catering almost exclusively to people appearing to be from the Middle East.

  16. Interesting all of the anecdotes from DC, I also got a new passport from the DC consulate just last year and did not have a single issue. and my original passport had been expired for 5 years (whoops! dual citizenship FTW!) and I did not bring it in to “trade” it in for the new one, the lady just kind of frowned at me when i told her i “forgot” it and shrugged. my new passport came in just a short month later or so, and picking it up was a breeze!

    on a somewhat unrelated sidebar, it is this exact phobia of having to deal with this inept bureaucracy of the government that has prevented me from changing my civil status officially with Venezuela (from single to married), or even attempting to get my daughter a Vz passport (her US one will do just fine, methinks). 300 dollars to take my chances with you people? no thanks.

    • Hello arepatricolor, I would like to know how long did it take you to get the appointment from SAIME to do the process at DC, because i requested mine 2 months ago and I have not got any email from them yet. I’m really concerned right now because im a pilot with an F1 visa and i really need to renew my passport in order to keep flying and maintain my non-inmigrant status, otherwise im going to be kicked out. Hope you can help me and sorry for the inconvenience. Thanks

  17. I could not miss the opportunity to bring in this related issue: Venezuelan children who left the country at early age and could not apply for a Venezuelan ID (e.g.: Cédula de Identidad) then are not eligible to renew their Venezuelan passports abroad. The SAIME system, which relies enterily on the ID number, does not offer an application process for those in this situation. My nephew, who is now 18 and left the country when he was 4, has been without a valid Venezuelan passport during the last 4 years since the Venezuelan consulates argue they cannot issue a new one (only SAIME does), nor wanted to extend the old one (for all sort of reasons). Their suggestion during all these years: buy an airplane ticket and go back to Caracas. Fortunately, he will eligible for American citizenship next May (he came under his parents’ student and manager visas until 2010 when they became legal residents). For the same reasons, he cannot vote and moves internationally with a special US document. It would be interesting to know if other Venezuelan families/children are in a similar situation and how many would be affected by it.

    • We had that problem with my daugther. We live in USA. At the Washington consulate they told us to go back to Venezuela for a cedula. We did so. She entered with a Spanish passport (her grandfather is a Spaniard) and the Venezuelan passport expired,. She got a Cedula and left again the same way. When we wanted to get her passport in the USA, saime rejected her on the grounds that the number did not exist. We took a chance again and went back to Venezuela. At immigration in the airport, they hardly let us enter and siad that the cedula was fake. Somehow we convinced them that we were going to go to the main office in downtown Caracas to see what happened. There, we were were explained that my daughter’s CI number was right and that the problem was that not all the information in the databases was unified and that the database at the airport was not up-to-date. For the same reason they could not give her another CI number. Of course we could not get a passport for her in Venezuela because we could not afford to stay there forever until her appointment was given. She left agin with Spanish passport. The agent a Caracas airport immigration was not too nice but we survived. We did not comeback to Venezuela for a few years, but when we wanted to get a new passport for her, she was denied by Saime again.She continues on her Spanish passport eventhough we live in USA. At this point, I doubt that she would be ever able to get a Venezuelan passport from abroad. She has not tried to go back to Venezuela without a Venezuelan passport again. My conclusion is that you always depend on your chances to find an officer not too radical, not too resented, not too hateful. If luck is not on your side, you might end in a legal limbo like my daughter. I guess that we should not complain because at least she has double citizenship. What really bothers me is that if you decide to leave Venezuela for wahtever reason it might be, you need to rely on a second citizenship eventhough it was not in your original plans. Venezuelans, abroad sooner or later become parias. The State does not make any effort to protect us and there are big chances that you fall victim of political apartheid.

    • Hello, if you can please email me. I need your assistance in a question I have. I was born in Venezuela but brought to the US as a 3yr old in the early 90’s. I don’t have a cedula, but I need to renew my passport. I need your help, willing to pay. You might have some answers to my questions. I call the embassy and they don’t help. I live in Washington state, and can’t afford to make a trip to be told to go to Venezuela and get one. I can’t risk leaving the country and getting told I can’t come back in. Please teach me at franklinalvarez16@hotmail.com

  18. So this is my experience. I had to renew my passport at the consulate in New York city. I registered online at SAIME and a little before four months elapsed (which was the time I was told it would take), I received my appointment date to show up at the consulate. I went there with my papers, sat for about an hour waiting because there were others in front of me. I was also told that the service was a bit slow because of computer trouble with the system. Once it was my turn, all all went well. The consular staff was friendly and polite. Now, I have to wait two more months for the passport, which I can pick up at the consulate, or have it mailed to me. The latter, by the way, is not one of the options shown on the consulate website. So, you might want to ask at your own consulate.

  19. Hi! I live in FL… my parents moved us feom Venezuela when I was an infant so I never obtained a cédula… my passport expired and of course now I need it. I cannot find a way to renew it unless I travel to Venezuela but because I value my life I will not, so how in the world can I get a passport? Please please help!!!!

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