[EDITED] Visa Issue On Campus and How I Got In The Middle Of It All.

Disclaimer: This post was not intended to condemn any party. It was intended to journal what had happened on the 21st of September and how it lead me to be part of it all, from my eyes.

I did not know that the Monday of the 21st was a no ordinary day. I had gotten out of bed after Fajr with a small mission in mind- and that was to go to the much dreaded Immigration Office to enquire why in the world the status of my visa renewal process online is saying ’No Record Found’ when I had already submitted my documents a month ago. Prior to coming to the office that morning, I had received a message that was in circulation saying that the office was going to generously give out 200 queueing tickets for the entire week instead of 60 per day. Ahh bliss, I thought. Even if I came at 7.00am, there would still be tickets for me.

But what I found when I arrived that morning was a hot, hot chaos. Although I managed to register myself on paper under the 200th mark.

People were everywhere. You could see people on the green chairs dozing off, some with pillows, some viciously fighting sleep so no one could push them off their precious hard-earned seats (more on that later), people sitting on the floor, just a general buzz of chatter everywhere. It wasn’t the atmosphere you’d expect of civilized educated scholars waiting in line. Plus it was hot and stuffy, and I was hungry.

So I waited and waited with my friends. And we waited some more. A friend of mine, Hiba had been going around asking for students’ signatures to help support her letter of complaint and appeal to the university’s Rector. I myself was the first to sign it- something had to be done about this, were my thoughts.

At 8:30am, the crowd tensed up more, as many more students arrived at the hallway in front of the Immigration Office and the officers inside are seen to be preparing to open their doors at 9:00am. I took this opportunity to interview students for a Humans of IIUM comeback post which my co-founders and I had planned for a while now, and like the sneaky rookie journalist, I asked questions to fish out the worst of cases. I did get a few good stories (aka bad cases in reality) like the three Thai girls who had slept there since 10pm the night before, and a few snaps and videos of the disorganization that morning. Little did I know that all of this would later be of more significance in strengthening my story.

My interview rounds were cut short when one tall officer came out and many students rushed to him at the door- there were a lot of pushing and shoving action, which obviously created more heat and tension between the officers and students. The officer, now aggravated, shouted at the students, saying that because he has heard that some students had complained to the rector (not Hiba’s letter, as it had not been sent yet at that time), the office has decided to cancel the 200 tickets for the week and are going back to issuing 60 per day. This was wrong, it wasn’t professional at all- he was going back and forth with his word according to his whim and desire. Now the problem with this going back to 60 is that students will keep camping out every night just so they can get to be among the 60-promised for that day. If he had given out 200 tickets for the week, then each and every student who receives the ticket will have a secure appointment with the office that week, not worrying about not gaining entry. This means no one will have to camp outside the office, nor does anyone have to fight or resort to violence/ verbal abuse for a ticket. Many problems could have been avoided.

Naturally I was upset because it meant that I would not be getting a ticket at all that day, and that I would have to somehow fight my way to getting a ticket the next day (or in the next few days, who knows, depending on if I was willing to camp outside the office. In my father’s words, “takkan game lah!“). While all of these thoughts were bubbling up in my mind, and seeing how out-of-hand the situation was getting, something took over inside me. Suddenly I was pushing the chair in front of me and I was charging forward to the officer. Before I knew it I was face-to-face with him, who by then was red with anger. First thing I did was switch to Malay (and I thank God for my being bilingual). Secondly I showed him the list that we, as students have come up with that morning. I waved the list in his face saying that if both the immigration office and the students, follow this list, there would be order and discipline and none of this chaos. Since everyone’s guaranteed to have an appointment with the office, no one is going to bother crowding outside the office anymore. We won’t be missing classes, skipping out on meals or sleep. The officers will also be more calm and less stressed if the list is implemented, I stressed. He said, “What if the students themselves don’t want to follow this list? I don’t want to be responsible”. But what I heard was: “I don’t want to understand how this list will work”.

The students, even though they do not fully understand the Malay conversation the officer and I were having, picked up on his tone, maybe some familiar words of negation as well, and the crowd roared behind me. Boo-ing at the cross officer. I sighed heavily- Great, how do I make this man less angry, and try to get him to understand that this will not only help the students, but it will help him too!

I looked back at the 300 students that day and raised my voice, and asked if everyone would please agree to the list if the immigration approves or implements it. The answer was in the affirmative. I got a huge yes from them.

With a huge grin on my face I turned back to the officer and said, “See? They agree to follow the list.” But a pair of angry brows scrunched up and he spat, “No, I don’t trust them. It will not work, whatever you say. I don’t want to be responsible.” Again, all I heard was, “What do you think you’re doing, trying to tell me what to do!”

We went on like this, arguing back and forth; students booing and shouting, the officer refuting back insults, students cursing, and then there’s me in the middle, trying to keep diplomatic ties at the top of my lungs, I had nearly lost my voice that day.. and what with a growling tummy, and a worried conscience barking at me for skipping my 8:30 class.

If you are confused as to why we could not have implemented the list behind their backs, without the knowledge of the Immigration Office, although it is for the benefit of everyone, it is because some students believe in officiating rules, if it is not officiated, they would not follow it. If such a rule was approved by the proper authorities, i.e. the immigration office or any body that is higher, then it would make sense to obey it. Makes sense to me, so that’s why I agreed to fight this fight.

But for some unexplainable reason, the IO did not seem to be able to understand and process this logic reasoning and I can’t think of why it is so. Back then, I wondered, if they really wanted to make things difficult for the students. Or maybe it was just that one officer with an attitude problem. More on that later.

Sticking to the narrative, two guards then, under the officer’s instructions, began distributing tickets only to those sitting on the green seats. To them, those on the seats were those who came first. While that is true, they are totally ignoring the fact that these 60 students had been sitting in those seats unmoving, since the last 11 hours. And the rest of the students who are not on the seats too. They are either ignorant or they chose not to notice and made it none of their business. I believe it is the latter because anyone in their right mind would know what kind of response and effects such a poor system is bound to cause.

The situation erupted into more confusion as people scoffed in disbelief as to how that officer isn’t understanding the proposal to have that simple list- the biggest scoffer being me. It was like telling someone that 2 + 2 equals to 4, but instead of agreeing with you, for some reason that person chooses to say, “It won’t work”. It was definitely uncalled for. I didn’t even expect a rejection to begin with, because the proposal is such that it does not warrant it. It is one that solves a lot of problems, so I was really dumbfounded. I felt quite funny. I wanted to laugh, but I was angry at the same time. Hunger was also a contributor, so hangry would be the better term I guess.

In the midst of all that brain pain and chaos, Hiba and I still went around asking for signatures. And although I had a lot running in my head, I noticed the stares people were giving me. They were half-encouraging, half-sympathetic. They were of solidarity. Because in the tug of war of words earlier with the officer, there were moments where it seemed that I had won him over. He was really close to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but he chose not to give in. He kept saying these words, “saya tak nak bertanggung jawab bila mereka tak terima list ini”. It’s the same “I don’t want to be responsible” chant he was uttering the whole time- which, to me and the other 300, was Greek. WHAT is it that he didn’t want to be responsible for? That still remains a mystery to me.

I stood still for a moment with all the noise and hurried movements blurring in and out of focus around me, as I tried to absorb everything that I’ve just seen, heard, what I’ve just been told, what I am going to do, what steps I am planning to take next, and then I realized that the scene of the situation reminded me of the movie The Imitation Game where Benedict Cumberbatch played a new recruit of the MI6 during WWII, a mathematician called Professor Turing. Professor Turing, along with other cryptographers and scholars were picked to crack Nazi codes, specifically a German machine called the Enigma. While they all worked tirelessly around keying millions and millions of possible combinations themselves, combinations which were possible patterns in which the Enigma works, Prof Turing decided to invent a machine that will do all that work. He received a similar response from those around him. People, even the smartest of them did not understand why he would do something like that instead of working on the codes, which is guaranteed to give them an answer, but you see, it would take years, and would cost so many British soldiers’ lives. They did not see, or rather, they chose not to see, that his idea could solve many codes simultaneously without them making so much effort, it would speed up the code-cracking process and cut their solving time in more than half. Perhaps they did not see why something which they could not see results of yet, would cost so much to build, that’s why they were apprehensive about giving him such a big budget to cover the cost of putting the machine together.  Now, I am not in any way saying that what I had done is as brilliant as what Prof turing did, not even close. But the situation is similar. You, as the reader, can see how many problems having a list, a systematic appointment system (whoops redundancies) can potentially solve. I’m saying, perhaps the IO did not want the extra work of having to sort through case by case, and putting them in order of urgency. They could have just opened for students to volunteer to do all that dirty work, couldn’t they? I know many people who would step up to do that. People like me.

Hiba and I went around with two lists- the original queuing list and the list of signatures. Thanks to the suggestions from the crowd, I decided to make copies of the original queuing list and stick it in on the immigration office notice board so that only the names of 60 people starting from the top of the list, would come per day. The idea was simple, and the execution too would be simple. People just needed to be aware of its existence. That was a bit of a task, but not too impossible. We were planning to draft a simple announcement explaining how this system works on paper, and stick it up on the wall beside the list.

Suddenly at 11:30, when I was queuing up at the photocopy shop, my phone rang. A friend told me that the deputy rector was having a meeting with students regarding the issues at the visa office, and she thought I should go. We left the shop with her when she joined us a few minutes later, and dashed to the office- we crashed the meeting, panting and sweating. We had made quite an entrance. It was an long round-table discussion, each student taking turns to raise their concerns to Prof Dr. A. B  And because I came much later, I got to stand right beside the sitting Prof himself. When it was my turn to speak, I remember feeling that all eyes were on me, each student nodding in acknowledgement, knowing that I was that shameless person who had tried to stand up to the officer earlier that morning. To my surprise, after wrapping up my complaints and proposing short-term solutions to the table, the deputy rector asked for my name, which did not happen with the other students. I nervously gave him that. And as if that was not enough to make me squeal in excitement at the growing possibility that the list might be on its way to being approved, I was even asked for my number. After a number of rounds, a Ugandan gentleman, Br Taha and my dear friend Hiba were also asked to give their names and contact numbers. That was how the team was found.

In that short meeting he told us in great detail why the immigration office is facing such huge problems getting the students’ visas on time and all matters surrounding that. After that he dismissed the meeting, promising that he would keep in touch with the three of us. To be honest at the time I felt like abandoning all hope once again because it seemed as if he too did not see the use of the list, and that although he had taken our numbers, that he would not contact us in the near future, seeing as how busy of a man he was. However I left the office with an idea. But before I could proceed with it I had to fill my tummy first. After my hunger was sorted out, I felt like I could think again, I made my way to the computer lab to draft out a letter him. In it I outlined my reasonings for why it is important for us to have the list approved by him. But before I could sign off the letter with my name, my phone rang for the second time that day. It was Prof A. B himself! He had requested me to come to his office with Hiba and Taha. Excited, I quickly finished off the letter, printed it and called Hiba. We met in his office, and the three of us sat before him. We bounced off ideas and solutions, and I grew more positive. This was a man who is incredibly reasonable and you could tell that he has the students’ best interest. However he was still a bit doubtful of the list. So before we parted ways, I grabbed my chance to give him the letter. I told him to read it when he’s free.

I firmly believe in the power of written words. Talk can be filtered out by the ear no matter how great the idea is. But script is there, you can’t avoid it even if you wanted to. You are forced to process word by word, and you can’t move on to the next line if you haven’t fully comprehended the one before it. So you read it again, and again, until there is no mystery left hiding between the letters. You will be forced to pore over and ponder it before you go to sleep, the same effect a book gives you. You notice the choice of words the writer has chosen- more than you would a speech where it is spoken. There is beauty in writing.

I carried out my day adjusting to this new responsibility nestling in my mind, praying that Allah gives me a way out, and lo and behold, we got the list approved that evening. Without any hesitation, the three of us met up to create an email account, type out the list so we can have a clean version of it printed and pasted up on the wall and drafted an announcement about this new system.

Just within one day we managed to make a difference. 

I believe I have Mercy Mission, the Islamic organization to thank for, for the years of training I received in management- both when I was an employer there (before starting uni) and when I was only volunteering. Especially when I was volunteering. And I could not believe that no one had thought of doing this before, since the implementation of the new visa processing system and when the problems started- somewhere in May 2015, but then it hit me. I know I could have not done it without having the ability to speak Malay- which proved to be useful until today, and also having good timing on your side. The meeting which the deputy rector planned on having happened on that same day. So alhamdulillah, Allah had written it out for me. I was really caught unaware of such a heavy task ahead of me that morning, but it all played out in the way He intended it. SubhanAllah. Allah really is the best of Allah planners. And I am only a tool. Only a tool.

I am that person who cannot stand by a law that doesn’t make sense. My natural response is to rebel. One simple example is when I ordered a coconut ice cream cone one day at a mall. Because it was the cheapest of all the options, I was only allowed to take the coconut sprinkles as toppings, and not the chocolate drizzle, or the nuts, or the oatmeal.. none of those fancy toppings, although if I really wanted, I could easily conspicuously take those because it was a do-it-yourself counter away from the workers, where no one would have seen me doing it. My friends kind of urged me to take the oatmeal topping which I had expressed desire for earlier, but I didn’t, and the reason is because I felt that it was a reasonable ‘law’ to obey. Obviously I could not take something that costed more than what I had paid. And coconut sprinkles, my friends, isn’t that bad. (p.s. the ice cream is to die for!!) Sticking to our story, the next thing that happened was that we began to make our way to these “seats” near the centre of the mall. There was a lowered part of the floor where families and couples sat to rest and hang-out. We sat down to enjoy our ice cream. A guard then came to us and told us to get up, that we weren’t allowed to sit there. This was a ‘law’ my mind could not fathom or process. People all around us were doing the same, it was a public place of shopping and gathering, why wouldn’t we be allowed to sit at a place that looked like seats? Where are the traditional benches for people to rest on, then? What is this structure intended for then? Why are we even not allowed to sit wherever we liked? I did not find that rule reasonable although I did get up, but only to sit at a further section, far away from the guard’s mean gaze. I don’t know, maybe there is a law saying you can’t sit in places like that in malls (they honestly are those steps you see in an arena aka meant for sitting) that I am not aware of, but I don’t see why there should be such a law. So you see, that is a clear illustration of the extent of my rebel towards laws I find unreasonable. 

Two weeks have passed since the implementation of the new system we had created- which is an appointment-making system via email, where we group cases according to their urgencies. Just 3 days ago, we managed to get the Director of IO to increase the number of ticket issuance to 70, and on Fridays, 40. That makes a whole world of a difference to us students. Although each and everyone of us knows that there is an internal disorganization going on in that office, in that they are quite overwhelmed with work and there’s a massive backlog of visa applications, but at least the human touch of entertaining stressed out students is there. At least what is left is for the office to figure out a better way to administer their internal problem, which can be solved by these ways: 1. hiring of more staff , 2. opening of more counters; information desk for enquiries about what documents a type of visa requires, another for vetting of documents, etc. 3. a reorganization of filing documents and passports, and lastly 4. addition of more utilities i.e, computers for the keying in of application data so we don’t get cases of ’No Record’ like mine, even though it has been submitted many weeks before. These may sound Greek to the one who isn’t a student in this university, and to the one who has never encountered a visa problem in his life, but these are the points any student here with a visa issue will understand immediately. 

It’s funny when I look at the situation that I’ve put myself in. As I am typing this right now, I am sitting on my bed surrounded by a pile of mess, literally. I will not go into the details, but I have assignments as well as a 100 unread emails -I know it sounds like a pretty number, but it is a 100 as of now, and 900 already read and replied to. Quite simply, I am fixing the mess of others, but abandoning my own. Now before you accuse me for making this sound like a sacrificial move with attention-seeking motives, it is hardly that. Think of me as the barber who cuts the hair of others but not his own. Also, it kind of started with a self interest. The thought of camping outside the IO and fighting for a seat against thousands of other students? I was not having none of that, brah. So you can also think of me as doing something for my own benefit, which, in order to achieve that, I have to help others too. Whatever my intention and role, the results were clear. Some order was born. Alhamdulillah for that.

*Of course, thanks to the countless amounts of duaa’s I receive everyday, I am constantly reminded to refresh and purify my intentions. I have learned that when you purify your heart, you ultimately are on your way to overcoming the trials of life itself. Which makes this deed seem like a greater investment of the Hereafter, more than which I had bargained for, don’t you think?*

Alhamdulillah for this weight of the world that is growing heavily on my shoulders. To be honest with you, I was in a sort of a slump before all this drama. At least this distracts me and keeps me busy, and is something of benefit. So alhamdulillah for this chance to get busy.

My two partners and I have been coming to the office every morning at 8am to give out tickets, guard the door and answer questions. We’ve taken both criticism and praise. Our phones will not stop ringing. My money’s being spent on phone credit. I have personally pulled all-nighters just replying to the emails that just won’t stop coming. The Students Representative Council (SRC) has reached out to us and taken the initiative to speak directly with the IO Director, which I previously did not have the chance to. They are doing a good job for taking this matter seriously. And finally, I must say that even the officer who was angry on day numero uno, has softened up a bit. The calm has come, but has the storm passed? I find myself asking this. I am tired- mentally and physically, and like every problem I face, I write it out.

And since it is out now, I wish to reach out to students who can offer some sort of help. If you are a post-graduate student especially, (because your time is more flexible than us UGs) and would like to extend us a helping hand, I am more than happy to pass this on to you, my friend. 

Lastly, I do not expect from this post compliments or praise, but rather I ask you to find solutions, aid us and contribute to how we can collectively overcome this mountain of a test. Be part of the solution. 

p.s.: Any emails unreplied please forgive me for I had to take some time out to write this article. Any mistakes in terms of grammar, or in terms of idea/thought linkage from line to line, para to para, please forgive me for I was hungry during the entire time I was typing. I may or may not make a huge edit later, I don’t know yet, but I tend to like keeping things raw. Update: I’ve edited this post already. How embarrassing of me to post something so atrociously written. Update 2: There are still some more mistakes after my 3rd reading of it. I guess I should start proofreading at least 5 times if I want to get readers at all. Will edit again later when I have time inshaAllah.

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