Update: visa intructions found in this post no longer apply.
P.s: I have the tendency to write ridiculously long essays as you probably already know, so if you don’t have the patience to read from start to end in one go, there are some important points which I’ve numbered for your ease. Go on, delve into it.
Happy 1 month anniversary!!!
Yes I have some morbid humor, I’ll admit it. I’ve been itching to write this post ever since last week. So much has happened, and I have so much to tell you. But I couldn’t find the time until today presented itself and I thought, what better date than today! Though today has been impossibly difficult with regards to the visa unit (what isn’t with regards to it these days?!), I just had to force myself to halt all work and sit down at my desk to pour my heart out to these following stanzas.
I had only used to blog during my free time which already was like five times a year due to my no-commitment blogging ethic, but free time has become a total foreign concept to me nowadays. Heck, I never even find the time to eat breakfast or lunch. Or even do my laundry or clean up my chicken coop of a room for God’s sake. (Mom I’m sorry I’m such an embarrassing daughter). But I’m sure you know the feeling of being swept away to another world when you’re so engrossed in a book, right? Well it’s almost the same concept here except the authors come to you in flesh and bone, sometimes in badly written prose (emails) narrating their stories live and you become obsessed with trying to attend to them all you don’t notice the time passing.
Has it really been a month? I feel like I haven’t been a student at all and instead an employer who’s on their unpaid trial month. It has been exactly 33 days since we started this appointment-making system at the visa unit on campus. On the 21st of September, I saw this:
and decided that somebody had to put an end to it.
(no need to point out my mad editing skills..^^)
And every day since that date, believe it or not, my team and I had been going to the office without fail on every working day at 8:30am. Whether we had class at 8:30 or 10:00 or later in the day that day, come rain or shine (or haze), whether we had a wink of sleep at all the night before, whether we had a quiz or presentation, or had a morsel of breakfast at all, we were there for the students before the office opens its doors at 9am every single day that the sun rose from the East. Yes, we heard you all. We heard you when you had yelled at us thinking we were the visa unit themselves -we understand where your anger is coming from though, but please practice some civility even when the situation doesn’t really allow you to, even when you have all the right to, but it doesn’t mean you should. And we heard you when you thanked us silently or aloud, for the efforts even when the end results were not quite in your favour- they’ve told you to leave the country to obtain an “Exit” stamp or when you’re told you’re a Putrajaya case for that’s as worse as it gets.
Last week they told Hiba, my partner that they couldn’t find her passport. We call it “lost”, they insist on the word “misplaced”. You say potato, I say potAto. Same thing, son.
Today I found out I’ve become a Putrajaya case. On the day the Visa Unit and I turned a month old! Best anniversary gift ever, don’t you think? *tears*
4 weeks have passed since I initiated something, and through its implementation, I have been going over this over and over in my head- what has changed and what have I gained? Was it worth it?
Well, for one, I finally have my passport number engrained in my brain.
In all my 21 years of owning a passport (yes, I’ve had it since birth) and spending half of that time traveling, I have never memorized those digits as quickly as I did over these past 4 weeks. So that’s a small achievement that I guess most of you can relate to.
Ok enough about me. What has this system managed to achieve? Allow me to elaborate with as much imagery as you will allow me;
- A voice from the Students: A proper communication line with the visa unit: through my team’s appointment as student representatives by Prof A. A. B, the Deputy Dean of International Affairs, we have managed to make ourselves known to the Director and Head of the Immigration Unit. We secured a meeting with her through the Student Representative Council and since then I’ve directed all my concerns and ideas to them. We became the one voice of the students where previously there wasn’t one. (Or there were many attempts but no one from their side had wanted to listen. We learnt it the hard way, and here’s where I discovered my diplomatic skills ahem. Looking and sounding Malay really helps with these Malaysians. As goes the saying: When you want to get on the good side of people, learn to speak to them in their language. Ok I made that up, but I’ve heard of something like it. You get the idea.)
- Some law & order: There is no more camping outside the offices. From 60* tickets per day to 70! Submitting the passport at 45% and collection no longer require tickets, so the queue for tickets have been severely cut down, alhamdulillah. (*on the days the angry officer wakes up on the right side of the pillow, obviously).
- Prioritization of cases: More urgent cases have been given priority to have their cases (not settled, but) seen and addressed to the office
- A smoother process: Both of the above have impacted positively on the new applications that came after the new system came about. Documents would be sent in, keyed in and sent to EMGS right away. Took them only 2 weeks to reach 45%- most of the new ones anyway.
- An ear: Students previously did not even have the chance to even see and speak to an officer. No chance of getting a ticket meant that they could not even enter the office or even go near the counters. This made them miss their dates of expiry, making them “Putrajaya cases” which practically equals hell for the international student like you and I.
- More detailed documented information pertaining each case: Through the setting up of an email account (firstname.lastname@example.org) -please don’t send us LinkedIn friend requests, we’re not interested, thank you- we have managed to collect way more solid information- both about their visa situations (important dates, document details and process percentage statuses) as well as their personal predicaments such as not having able to go back to their sick mother until she had to pass on (our most heartbreaking story, Allah yer7amha), not being able to cancel their visas even after having been offered by another institution and the frustration of having to come all the way here just to follow-up on that cancellation, not being able to go back for Ramadan through Eidul Fitr and Eidul Adha altogether, the pain of listening to one officer saying one thing and another saying something else and many many more. Currently there are 1500+ emails in our inbox, overflowing with data. And in case you haven’t been keeping up, in the 2nd week we introduced a new improvised system where students just fill in a Google Form to make an appointment (bit.ly/iiumvisa) and within 24 hours they’re able to see their appointment date(s) up at tiny.cc/studentsvisaiium. In this response form we’ve collected over 500 applications, and we schedule about 90 per day on average. Now how does having all of this overwhelming information help us? In a gazillion ways, alhamdulillah, in which the visa unit previously did not have and still doesn’t because there’s no one there who is willing to take up this responsibility to get up close and personal with the cases of these students, sadly. Not only does this help us contact the student faster, this helps us filter the urgent ones from the not-so-urgent, give them correct and consistent information which we ourselves have gathered and request them for information that they might have missed out.
- Circulation of correct information: Don’t know why they haven’t thought of this one before, it seems pretty obvious from the start. With the help of the SRC, we managed to compile all the information about the required documents in which the students need for different types of visas.
- The opening of more counters: Heard of Visa Unit 2? Yeah that small office located opposite the post office. Although much to our dismay it’s only for inquiring about additional documents and submission of them (usually those at 25%), they still take away some students from the main queue. I say this with only a dash of honesty: it’s actually very veeeery few it’s almost comical. Somehow the visa unit still struggle to get their facts right: most of those students whose names they had put up in front of that office have already surpassed 25%, some even have already completed submitting their documents via the highway (by emailing those documents with the certified true copy stamp -by any Dean’s office and sending it to EMGS via email yourself. It has worked for many students, and it’s a clear path: you don’t run the risk of the visa unit losing them). Please get your head in the game, IO, and fast!
After constantly running through the root and branches of the many different problems we face every day in our minds; having to listen to and read countless of stories from many different parties, we realized it all boiled down to one major problem: <sadly I’m not allowed to explicitly mention it, but you can take a guess>. It is the most fundamental problem that if fixed, it would be able to solve all these urgent cases in (practically speaking,) just two weeks. Biithnika Ya Rabb. More than better organization and more than increase in hiring of staff, though those two remain as my top direct solutions I’m pitching and preaching to them all day ‘erry day, it is this very thing that is keeping them from achieving the results we are all waiting for. I don’t have to spell it out for you for you to know what it is though, do I?
The weaknesses of the visa office on the other hand, is equally as appalling as this root of the problem. Because there shouldn’t be these issues in any working environment. I’ll list down whatever I can think of as of now:
- A total lack of cohesion as a team: There is no clear production line. Everyone is working separately, and one does not know what the other is working on. When an application comes in, you know that most of the time it doesn’t go straight to the ‘key-in’box because some docs are claimed to be ‘missing’, which requires the student to re-submit. (Trust me this happens a lot. My case being Exhibit A). This also is the reason for ‘lost’ passports.
- Always needing students to follow-up: This is a by-product of the above reason. There’s no system that shows real-time updates of what is going on with each and every case. This can be done by a simple Google document editable by each and every officer. Beats me why this hasn’t been done.
- No sense of urgency and concentration, many redundancies: too lax, and there’s no earnest effort in updating the students. Examples: 1. The Insurance Cover Note is a new requirement yet the notice is only available on the wall INSIDE the office. What’s funnier is that there are two similar instructions one above the other, none outside. Before you say there’s a small scrawl on the original list on the glass door, that is courtesy of yours truly. (Now you know how ugly my handwriting is. My first time vandalizing, not bad eh?) 2. Many notices outside are redundant, outdated and too boring in font to call for attention. 3. A new announcement was pasted up today but there’s already a replica of it several centimeters near it, AND the best part is that it covered the EMGS website. Fail fail fail. Hiba had to move it to make the website url visible. (Me no understand why things like this happen).
- Language: This is rather important seeing that it is the medium used to communicate the cases from the simple ones to the most complex of them all. Miscommunication is the one main issues there. I’ve had to play translator most of the time and it’s no fun. Especially when you have to be careful not to mix up jawaaz (passport) and zawaaj (marriage) lol. Also I don’t understand why international students are not hired there when many of them have applied for a part time job and are willing to do all the tedious work, yet they bring in new staff who can’t speak a word of English :(
What you can do to save yourselves are these simple steps:
- Apply for your appointment in the correct manner by filling up this easy form: bit.ly/iiumvisa and checking your name here after 24 hours at tiny.cc/studentsvisaiium. There’s no need to panic if your name comes under ‘Reserved’. That’s just for our reference, you just need to do your job by coming. If I do not answer your call, Whatsapp me.
- Turn up diligently on the dates that have been set as your appointments at 8:30am or 2:00pm. 40 tickets for the morning, 30 after Zuhr- come at your convenience. We are trying to go back to using the ticket machine but still retain the appointment-making system, so please keep civil and do not create any disturbances, please. Text me or my partners if you need any help.
- Ensure you have the correct documents (see: here )
- Email EMGS at email@example.com to ask what documents they require should your status show 25% and “pending additional documents”. Then, submit them to visa unit 2 or email it back to EMGS yourself after getting them certified-true-copy stamped.
- Patience. Wait 5 working days after your first application. Here is the EMGS website where you should be checking your visa status: http://educationmalaysia.gov.my/index.php/emgs/application/searchForm/. If it still shows ‘No Record’, apply for another appointment at bit.ly/iiumvisa with us to follow-up with them. Verily Allah is with the patient :)
- Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if your status has been stuck at 45% for 3 working days and you have already submitted your passport to the visa unit.
- Make tons of duaa and never lose hope. Whatever you do- make all efforts, then only tie your camel, mate.
Now having mentioned all that, I feel obliged to publicly thank my dedicated transnational team that has since grown, for I did not single-handedly achieve all of this by myself. By the way I say transnational because we have someone who has been working far from our shores.. across the Arabian Peninsula. These amazing hardworking people are Sister Hiba Ashraf and Br Taha Kasule (the original three), sister Dini Handayani for creating the online dashboard that publicizes your appointment dates, Br Nahid Muzzamil for creating the Google Forms that you are now using to make appointments, Sister Izzani who is now taking over replying your emails, and not to forget the ones who did other data-collection work -Sister Aicha Sano and Munawar Shah, as well as those giving IT tutorials and advice- Br Abdulaziz. May Allah reward you all more than ten-fold of what you have done, and may our intentions be purified again and again. Sorry if you helped and I missed your name, your reward is with Him alone, and that’s better than being mentioned once in this meagre blogpost, remember that.
Please forgive us if there have been any slip-ups, we are constantly learning and discovering new things with each passing day. I welcome every reminder and naseeha, every correction and every constructive criticism- provided they are given in a beautiful, islamic manner. Whatever that is good ultimately comes from Allah, whatever bad comes from my own weakness. Jazaakumullah khayran.
Let’s all learn to look at things in ways that will help the situation, and not in a way that will destroy all hope for a better tomorrow. I may be critical when it comes to what the visa unit has or has not done, and trust me, there are still many more left unspoken, but I am also aware of the fact that they are also trying their best under the given circumstances, despite their countless weaknesses (and we see them even more than you do, *shudders*). I’ve also learnt to look at things rather positively especially since many good things have come my way alhamdulillah so I’m not complaining. I even got a job offer as an English teacher while I was in the midst of running around that stuffy room. Lol!
As always, I must include a disclaimer lest there be anyone out there who will be quick to accuse me of showing off or blowing things out of proportion -if there is such a person please see me personally and I’ll gladly hand it all over to you, I’l do it without a second thought. I’m not obliged to do this anyway, so I can just leave if i wanted to. I am not in any way, shape or form equipped with the intention to harm the pride of any party; this post has entirely been a pure analysis of the combination of facts that I’ve gathered throughout my entire time working there and my own personal thoughts about it. And as always, for documentation purposes. 10 years from now, who knows, I might look back and laugh :’) Words are all my own and used at my own discretion, therefore they do not represent any of my colleagues or even the student body as a whole.
If that’s still unclear, let me say it in the mother tongue of this land, “marah tandanya sayang”. Meaning (not literally) we’re being hard on them because we want the best for them (and us).
I hope the entire article was not too boring, but rather full of clear and rounded information of the real matter at hand.
I shall leave this with one of my most favorite and oft-repeated duaa,
يا حي يا قيوم برحمتك أستغيث أصلح لي شأني كله ولا تكلني إلى نفسي طرفة عين
O Ever-Living, O Ever-Sustaining, I appeal to You with Your Mercy, Fix for me all of my affairs and do not leave me even for a blink of an eye.
To Him Alone do we seek Help, and none is more Knowing than Him. May He allow us to grow from this and make us better Muslims in overcoming every trial that comes our way. Qoolou Aameen!