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Niamh Meister-Leifburger

Before we married, Andrew and I agreed he would wear his wedding ring for a minimum of 6 months.

In return, I would take his surname.

Well, it wasn’t written into the marriage vows – and anyway, Andrew only wore his wedding ring for 3 months. ALSO, my ulterior motive for the request was the expectation that the band would become an extension of his finger. In the event he was involved in a terrible accident resulting in severe arm trauma and his left hand swelling alarmingly, he’d fight off the doctor advancing with motorised cutters, deliriously screaming, “Get away from my ring! You’re not having it!”

Since that situation never came to pass, it seems pretty clear to me it constitutes a breach of said agreement rendering it null and void.

However, over eight years after the happy day when we yoked ourselves to each other till death or a misunderstanding involving a transsexual called Clarabelle and secret offshore bank account do us part, I applied for a new passport.

In fairness, I always intended to change my name. One reason I didn’t was because Andrew and I thought we might be able to engage in dodgy tax fraud that somehow turns out to be legal if I were still Shaw (in retrospect, I’m not sure how we envisioned that working). Another is I never got around to it. And finally, I wasn’t gestating a crotchfruit. If The Asset weren’t imminent early in the New Year, I would have waited until my passport expired in August 2012 before I became Niamh Meister-Leifburger or whatever Andrew’s surname is. I suppose I should really look that up.

Last time I renewed my passport, all that was required was a call to the Irish Consulate asking them to make out a passport in the name of Niamh Shaw, thanks a million.


Three months ago, upon my request, the Consulate General of Ireland sent me a passport application form. I knew it was for an Irish passport because, hilariously, it included an information pamphlet on how NOT to take a passport photo, with pictures of random people wearing clown noses and sticking their faces up against windows etc.

To issue a passport in my married name, I had to submit our original marriage certificate (The Consulate General of Ireland evidently doesn’t trust Notary Publics) – and my original birth certificate to verify my maiden name. If I wanted my original documents returned – along with the new passport – I had to include a self-addressed sign-on-delivery courier bag. Rather makes you wonder what the $160 fee was for – for which the only accepted payment was a bankers’ cheque.

The passport photos – four according to the application form, although the supplementary documentation stated two – had to be confirmed as a true likeness of the applicant by an authority figure, e.g. a policeman or, you know, librarian.

I have no idea what the big deal is about getting a passport. I mean, they’re not exactly rare. Pretty much everybody has one.

Anyhoo. It took a while to put the application together. Andrew took some photos and I selected the image which looked least like I was contemplating assassinating John Key. After spending an hour on MS Paint arranging it in a collage, I took it to the pharmacy to get it printed.

Then I went to the police station.

“I’m looking for someone with the appropriate authority,” I announced at reception, spreading the forms across the counter.

“Well,” said the personable Jason, “you’ve come to the right place, ma’am.”

He was required to write the application form’s unique reference number on the back of two of the passport photos, and sign them.

“Do you have a black pen?” I asked. “Because it says on the form you need to use a black pen. Oh, and if you can find a pair of scissors- no, wait. I have some here in my bag.”

“What else do you have in the bag?” he asked, suspiciously eyeing me snipping up photos.

“Nothing I wish to disclose, thanks.”

Jason got so carried away by the power vested in him that he signed all nine of my passport photos.

“Don’t want you coming back,” he said.

“Oh, come on. Are you trying to tell me I’m the dodgiest character you’ve seen all week?”

“Don’t know. You might have a bomb strapped to your waist.”

“No, no; it’s a foetus I swear.”

Policemen are MUCH more fun than Customs Officials. Except, I suppose, when they’re trying to get you to breathe into the nozzle.

Off I went to NZ Post to mail the application – which was where/when I found I’d forgotten my original passport.

Back at home, Andrew pointed out another problem.

I’m not even sure how to coherently relate this. Ok, so. Look. *sigh!* You see. On the form was a box for my signature. And I kind of panicked and put the wrong one. Well obviously it was my signature – I mean, I wrote it – only it didn’t look like it usually does. It’s like I had a fleeting personality change halfway through signing, resulting in a squirmy bit in the middle. I think I was intimidated by the stringent instruction to keep within the lines of the box, which was WAY too small to adequately express my personality.

In any case, after I had written my signature – outside the box, with a wobble in the middle – I realized it was supposed to have been witnessed by an authority figure.

So before going to the police station, I Tippexed it out.

It almost looked like I hadn’t touched it at all.

Jason hadn’t noticed anyway.

But THEN I got home and made the mistake of saying to Andrew, “Do you think it matters my signature’s blue?”

And he said, “No, but the TIPPEX MIGHT BE A PROBLEM.”

Seriously, I don’t know why I bother talking to him. It always ends in tears.

Since you can’t download the application form off the Internet, I sent off to the Consulate General of Ireland for another. Then I printed more passport photos and returned to the police.

I wasn’t looking forward to explaining The Tippex Affair to Jason – or persuading him I wasn’t stalking him. Apart from exceptional circumstances I’m not really into that and anyway, to be honest, I prefer firemen.

Thankfully Jason was off giving out speeding tickets, so I got Angela. She was evidently more clued in than Jason since she actually asked to see my ID. Although I’m glad I didn’t get her the first time around, because no doubt Angela would have detected Tippex.

However, when she went to stamp the back of my passport photo it rolled up into the stamp and, when she finally prised it out, my face was covered in blue ink.

The information pamphlet on how not to take a passport photo hadn’t mentioned anything about not having a blue face, so I licked it a bit and scrubbed it with a tissue from up Angela’s sleeve. I sent it off, even though I still looked like one of my recent ancestors was a full-blooded Smurf.

Two days later, the Consulate General of Ireland called to say our marriage certificate isn’t valid.

The PG version

Before we left Dubai, Husband talked to Trade New Zealand about my applying for residency. They gave him the distinct impression that all I had to do was sing a bar or two of the National Anthem, slap my elbows, and I would be naturalized in the airport.

It was John and Haze who advised us to get police certificates before we left Dubai. We humoured them because they’re good friends, but we were sceptical. Evidently, we ignored the alarm bell orchestra.

After arriving in New Zealand, we pretty much forgot about immigration, until I realised my temporary visitor permit was due to expire the following week, when we downloaded the application form for sponsorship and residency.

Husband’s sponsorship application was a six page form which had to be certified by a notary public and supplemented with certified passport copy, two passport photos and his police certificate from Dubai.

The residency application was another matter. This form was 32 pages and required: a comprehensive medical including blood tests and chest X-rays; a 16 page doctor’s statement; certified copies of our marriage certificate, my birth certificate, and my passport copy; two signed passport photos; my police certificate from Dubai; a police certificate from Ireland; and evidence of my relationship with Husband including photos and joint bank accounts, statements, tenancy agreements, investment schemes, property ownership, life insurance, etc.

We did not have much fun compiling the documentation and had a minor panic locating my birth cert, which we finally tracked down in one of the 118 boxes delivered by the shippers. Considering that in the Middle East we went out of our way to avoid appearing a couple until we were married, we managed to put together an impressive library of ‘evidence’ of our relationship.

The biggest obstacle was not having a police certificate from my country of citizenship. The Immigration New Zealand website did not list this in the requirements, but regrettably the application form was explicit and the scary woman at Immigration even more so.

While we waited for the Garda Síochána to issue my certificate, I applied for a work permit/visa. For about two weeks, I was an illegal alien, which didn’t at all appeal to my law-abiding nature (although Husband found it quite kinky).

The work permit/visa was processed fairly quickly although there was a blip when Immigration New Zealand contacted me requesting the blood test lab reports from my medical. My white cell count is 113, falling below the ‘normal’ range of 114-129. For a while it looked like my application would be rejected because I was vegetarian.

I applied for residency as soon as the work permit/visa was granted. I was impressed with the Garda Síochána, which issued a police certificate within three weeks free of charge.

A fortnight ago, Immigration NZ contacted me requesting a certified copy of Husband’s birth certificate. No worries: his mum tracked it down and we certified and sent it from Oamaru.

But on Wednesday, we went to NZ Post to collect yet another registered letter from our buddies Immigration NZ. Apparently we submitted insufficient evidence of Husband’s and my passionate, ongoing union. Perhaps our marriage certificate is out of date?

We are now required to submit a detailed chronological history/account of our relationship (I’m still not sure exactly how much detail they want: the PG version? Or R18?); letters of support from family and friends verifying that Husband and I still lick each other’s face in public; and yet more evidence that we are not faking a 10 year marriage for the sole purpose of my gaining New Zealand citizenship.

At least I’m not the only one with problems. The head of the Immigration NZ Service resigned on Tuesday amidst allegations that she gave preferential treatment to residence applications from her relatives 🙂

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