After everything that happened on our last trip to the FRRO office, I was naturally trepidatious when we had to go back a few weeks later to request a further extension (Our initial visit got us an approval only until December 8th, but our plane ticket out of India is on December 22nd). As usual, day number one was a flop (we spent the entire morning gathering all the paperwork, we thought, and when we arrived we were informed that applications could only be submitted in the morning, 9:30-1). Now I’m back here trying to pass the time on day 2, and I have suddenly had an insight that changes everything: Somehow the whole experience has turned into a game. Here’s how it goes:

Where we have now spent 7 days of our trip.

There are three desks in the building. Your goal is to exit with a visa extension, but you can only do this by passing through every desk. Think of this as leveling up. Points are scored for fewest visits to the FRRO office and/or fewest hours spent there. Extra points if your children manage to stay entertained without getting kicked out of the building (ours are currently very excited about checkers). Points lost if you don’t make it through before lunch and end up spending the whole afternoon here as well.

10:30: We are currently at level 2, on day two of our visit, 1 hour in. How did we get here? First off, we scored at least 100 extra points (reduced the effort by one whole day) by asking the right question yesterday just before leaving. We stopped at desk #1 to ensure that we had the correct information about the fees owed. The correct number was different than what our support staff person from IIIT had told us, and we were able to correct the mistake yesterday after we returned. Second, we managed to get both our driver and support staff person moving early enough this morning that our applications are numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5 instead of 22 or 62.

On level 2, we had a near disaster: We were informed that the rules had changed (not an uncommon event in this particular game), and my husband no longer qualified for an employment visa, making any extension impossible. This is because our salary is really small at IIIT: just cost of living plus free housing. Would we have to leave the country on december 8th after all? Click to find out ….

10:45am

The answer is: We were saved by a lucky coincidence, but at the cost of extra time in level 2. It turns out that since we are flying out within 14 days of December 8th, we can simply apply for an exist visa without requiring that we extend at all. In the long run, we will save time since we won’t need to come back a few weeks from now to get permission to leave the country. After a mad rush to get online (luckily we had a 3G dongle with us), download the e-tickets proving when we will leave the country, and a trip to a local printing place (my husband is now looking for one), we will be able to continue our attempt to level up.

Printouts provided, but two pieces of paper magically disappeared from one application. Where could they be? After a third trip of the day to the photocopiers the process proceeded.

We lost a few points when we had to take out the ipad and entertain the kids with video games, but at 12:00 we leveled up to the third desk. We were released from purgatory a few minutes later. However, we failed to complete our mission on day 2, and one person will have to return the day after tomorrow to collect final papers (our exit visa is to be approved). We will neither be kicked out of the country early nor forbidden to leave. Score!