Being an Indian national, the process of applying for travel and work visas to visit places is not new to me. It takes a lot of time, effort and mental energy to plan every visa application. In the past few years, due to my education and now work, I have traveled to countries all over the world, most of which do not have a visa-free travel arrangement with India, leading to what I call — my seasonal visa flu! It comes, stays for a few days, it is painful and annoying, and then it goes away.
A few months ago, I decided to move from Edinburgh to Oslo in hopes of a happier future with my partner (who resides and works in Oslo) and better work opportunities in the field of design, while I continued to write my Ph.D. in design research in Edinburgh. I had zero hopes of landing a job in Oslo (language limitations, imposter syndrome, being away from the industry for too long, etc.) and nothing to lose. And so, I applied for work, with almost EVERY Norwegian design firm!
This story has a happy ending, as I have now officially moved to Norway, and I am writing about this experience from my wonderful new office in central Oslo. What seems like my everyday normal now, was a far — fetched, unrealistic dream a few months ago.
After a painstakingly long list of rejections from design firms all over, I was extremely lucky to be offered a job by Netlife Design as a Service Designer. Now all I had to do was move to Oslo and begin work.
Sounds simple enough right?
While undergoing the process of applying for a work permit to move to Norway, I decided to map my experience as a customer journey, to visualize what this entire process entailed. Later, I decided to share this customer journey map with my wonderful colleagues, which led to some interesting conversations.
This is how I began.
I call the following my dates with immigration bureaucracy.
The first date:
Just like any typical first date, you are laying the groundwork of getting to know each other, talking about likes and dislikes, a little bit about your past life and favorite foods. Here, however, I had to familiarize myself with the entire work-permit application process beforehand, as I would need to be approved by the government to work in Norway. So, I read, A LOT. I stalked immigration forums, expat feedback blogs, read about people’s personal experiences and started to mentally prepare myself.
This was going to be intense and time-consuming.
In this scenario, to get to my first date, I had to give the immigration department a detailed blueprint of my current life. This included:
1. Names, contact details, birth dates and addresses of my family and siblings along with my details.
2. All my previous travel history of travel to the Schengen area.
3. Confirmed residence proof in Oslo
(This is an interesting condition, as most of us look for a place to rent once we have moved to a new country, and usually don’t have a confirmed address beforehand. The immigration department has an alternative for this, as you can also give a written note informing them where you will be staying when you initially arrive in the country. Here again, one needs to find at least a temporary accommodation for a month before moving here, as the residence card and all your paperwork will be registered on that address.)
4. A co-signed offer of employment letter, co-written by my new employers and myself, which I tried to coordinate across two countries, that too very close to the Christmas holidays!
Not stressful at all…
After getting most of my paperwork in order, I submitted my work-permit application online.
The second date:
This was when the immigration department and I would meet face to face, where I would hand in all my documents and they would scrutinize them to make sure everything was in order.
Did I mention, that was a lot of paperwork, which rested on the contributions of multiple people, where even the slightest error could cancel out the entire process, and I would have to begin from scratch… again.
Not stressful..at all…
The problem was getting an appointment date with the immigration department sooner rather than later. We have to remember here that time was of the essence as I was supposed to relocate to a new country and begin work in around two months. That gave me close to 60 days to complete my immigration paperwork, sort my old and new housing, book my travel arrangements, wrap up my life in Edinburgh, move countries and begin work in Norway.
The process of getting to the second date was intense, to say the least! I was unable to find any possible appointment dates with the immigration department in my city (Edinburgh), despite having a VFS (visa office for multiple countries) office there. I was clueless and this was way over my head. As I began to lose hope again, a friend came to the rescue and helped me secure an appointment with the Edinburgh VFS office.
Again, getting more people involved and taking favors, for what should essentially be a straightforward process…
Not stressful… at all…
Finally, the appointment date arrived, and I submitted my paperwork to the concerned authorities. It felt a little unreal and suspiciously smooth, especially after all the stress from the previous weeks. However, all this office was doing was processing the paperwork for the Norwegian immigration department. The immigration department would now have to take the final call to issue my work permit, which could take any time between a few days to a couple of months. To add to this, all I was supposed to do was to wait for them to get in touch with me, and not contact them proactively.
That should be interesting, just waiting for a completely unknown (to me) organization to go through all my life details with a microscope, decide my future and inform me whether I could have the life I was dreaming of or be told to give up.
While I waited for the final verdict from the immigration department, the world seemed to move extremely slowly.
Finally, one day out of the blue (a few weeks after submitting my application), I received my work permit.
It felt UNREAL! Was I finally moving to Oslo?
I was ready to celebrate, but I still had a long way to go.
The third date:
Now that I had a work permit, I needed a separate travel visa to enter Oslo.
To be noted: A work-permit is not the same as a travel visa.
More paperwork cometh!
As I have an Indian passport, I need to apply for a visa every time I decide to travel to Norway or any part of the EU/EEA and Schengen region. This meant starting an entirely new process of organizing documents and going to a different city (London) to submit my paperwork. This time, the risk was traveling to a new city, hoping that all my paperwork would be accepted and I wouldn’t have to reschedule another appointment to submit or add any further documentation.
An expensive and time-consuming process, to say the least.
In a truly anti-climactic turn of events, I handed in my visa paperwork and received my travel visa almost immediately, in a matter of hours. I was dumbfounded and was very suspicious that I had missed a step or forgotten a document. After a few hours, I began to accept the fact that all my paperwork was completed, and I was ready to move to Oslo.
Or so I thought…
The backup date:
While organizing the paperwork for my work permit and wrapping up my life in Scotland, I learned that once I would officially immigrate into Norway, I wouldn’t be allowed to begin work until I had registered with their Police — that too within seven days of arrival. This seemed straightforward, except for the fact that booking an appointment with the local police in Norway takes ages, as they never have enough dates available.
Not stressful …… at all…
This is why, the moment I received my work permit, I immediately looked for appointment slots with the Norwegian police online. They were a few slots available a few weeks ahead of my intended travel dates (again… delays), so I strategically chose the closest week when I would travel to Oslo and booked an available appointment slot immediately. I would rather lose this appointment slot later than lose it now and cause further delays. Thankfully, this worked out well, as I received my travel visa very quickly and I was able to make it to the appointment date and register with the police.
I finally moved to Oslo by the end of February 2019 and began working almost immediately.
For the moment, I have no new dates planned with the immigration department. I have finally settled into work, have a home, a social security number, a bank card (after a LOT of hassle — that process could cover another medium article ;) ) and no new paperwork that I need to submit anytime soon…Or so I think!
What is interesting about this whole experience, is that this case was that of a successful immigration journey. I faced no actual issues, major delays or setbacks. I am privileged to have an amazing partner, wonderful colleagues, family, friends, and access to money to fall back on, had this process not worked out the first time around. My education and previous experiences with visa offices made it easier for me to understand and recheck the rules, look for loopholes and prepare a contingency plan.
In the world of Service Design, I was, what would be called, an IDEAL user persona, who underwent this mentally grueling immigration process and emerged successful.
In theory, this system appears to be streamlined and straightforward, with the immigration department’s website designed to give you access to all the information and steps required to immigrate into Norway. However, as a user of this service, despite my privileged background and access to resources, I was always on edge, nervous, unsure, stressed and at the mercy of my friends and new employers to help me navigate this journey. A lot of people who immigrate into a new country, don’t have access to half the resources and opportunities I did. This system is designed to resemble a stream of well-placed dominoes, where one wrong move could lead to complete failure. People with limited language skills, limited money and access to the right paperwork, limited resources and just general lack of awareness about this process, would probably find it almost impossible to follow this highly convoluted and complex trail of paperwork.
There is often a lack of empathy when one encounters services designed for the public. They are complex, need contingency, a lot of future planning and are rarely pleasant experiences. These services are designed to cater to the masses, but they are also designed to cause chaos and stress. As a user, I had to ignore my insecurities about my data and hand it over to a completely unknown organization, I had to keep track of keeping track, sort out tons of paperwork and second-guess every move.
According to the Interaction Design Foundation: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/design-thinking-getting-started-with-empathy “deep understanding of the problems and realities of the people you are designing for” involves learning about the difficulties people face, as well as uncovering their latent needs and desires to explain their behaviors. To achieve this, as designers, we need to have an understanding of the people’s environment, as well as their roles in and interactions with their environment.
My current job makes it possible for me to pursue my passion of making public services more empathetic for people. This need to ‘humanize’ public services has stemmed from years of being at the receiving end of complicated, chaotic and time-consuming processes that are ironically supposed to make one’s life simpler.
Maybe we need to scrutinize what and who are we designing for, and second guess our every move as designers before we decide to make someone else’s life ‘less complex’. Empathy is in our innate nature, and maybe it is time to lay a greater focus on fixing services that are difficult for people who are resourceful, and impossible for people who are unequipped.