Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Alien Permanent Resident Certificate (APRC) Application

Around Chinese New Year it dawned on me that having been in Taiwan 183 days or more consecutively for five straight years without a break in my Taiwan Alien Resident Certificate (ARC), I could avoid the bothersome mafan of applying for an Alien Resident Certificate each year (thus having to renew my scooter and driver licenses annually as well) . The relative alienfreedom of acquiring an Alien Permanent Resident Certificate (APRC) sounded attractive!

Others have done an excellent job here and here (and probably other places!) laying out the process step-by-step as to how to obtain Taiwan’s “Green Card.” However, I have found during my 15 years here  in Taiwan that regulations vary slightly with regard to interpretation when it comes to taxes, ARC's etc. depending upon where you live, and perhaps even more importantly, who you know. (In fact, one time a tax office worker assigned to work with foreigners actually recommended to me that I didn’t need to pay taxes because the officials at the airport would most likely never bother to check!)  While my experience may not differ significantly from what is written from a northern Taiwan  perspective, here’s my take from the countryside—the western coastal plain of southcentral Taiwan.

First, as others have written, it really is true that the first step—the criminal background check from your host country-- is far and away the biggest hassle! First, how to pay for it? They don’t accept personal checks.  My local bank located in the nearest small town about 20 minutes away was not able to supply me with either a bank check or money order to send to TECRO  (Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States) and the FBI. Neither was the post office or another local bank I checked. When I checked with Citibank in Taichung, I was told they only offered this service to their account holders. Finally I resolved the problem by having my stateside bank send bank checks to a 3rd party in the US, which then sent one check to TECRO and the other along with my fingerprints over to the FBI ($15 and $18 USD respectively).  Even this small first step incurred  a lot of unexpected time and energy…

To get the fingerprints, first I went to the local police station, which then sent me to the larger police station in a township 15 minutes away. This police station then referred me to the County Police Station nearly an hour away. This Police Station then sent me to the Immigration Office in the same city. Thankfully, the buck finally stopped here and for a service fee of 100 NT I was able to get the fingerprints and mail them to the FBI along with my criminal background check application.

After mailing my fingerprints, I waited about five weeks before calling the FBI. One unexpected problem I experienced is that in confirming your identity, the service person will ask you for the address of the party to which you applied to have the results sent. I did not have this information handy, but the gentleman was very patient as I looked TECRO’s DC office up on the web again. To avoid this small setback, make sure  you photocopy your applications before sending them off!

To my surprise I was told that the current waiting time for FBI processing was 9 weeks!  However, thankfully by the 8th week the FBI had already sent the results to TECRO in Washington. TECRO was very quick (their service should be quick, being as all they do is collect your bank check and put a seal on the FBI letter… no translation). To save on their ridiculously high fee for mailing back to Taiwan, I had them sent the results to the third party in the US (just had to include a self-addressed envelope). The results were in my hands in a little less than two weeks.

Getting the physical was relatively straightforward, but for me it was nearly a one hour drive each way to the hospital, and I had to make two trips. The day of the physical, they almost gave me the standard physical for English teachers in Taiwan by mistake, so be careful to insist that they double-check it is the physical for APRC. Cost for physical: 1,570 NT.

Getting the Taiwan police report was also a breeze (Except that I no longer have in my possession the passport with which I first arrived in Taiwan—see below). Service Fee: 100 NT (also included 45 minutes of driving each way).

A second hurdle I experienced involved dealing with an Immigration Office which rarely handles APRC applications, and in particular, with an agent who had never handled one. Before sending my fingerprints to the FBI, I had already  verified with the office in Chiayi that I actually qualified within the 5 year period. Once I knew the crime check results were in the mail, I dropped by my local immigration office to make sure the rest of my documents (health check, local crime check, tax and employment records, etc.) were in order. However, in dealing with the agent of the county in which I live in southcentral Taiwan. I had to make 3 additional trips before the application was submitted (about 1 1/2 hours driving time each trip). She was very friendly. However, since she was just as new to the process as I was, it seemed each trip I made resulted in hearing I had to acquire another piece of documentation or authentication.

A third hurdle had to do with the translation of the criminal background check. I was told by the local immigration office to go to the county courthouse. However, at the courthouse, they told me to go to another address (associated with the courthouse but located in a regular office on the other side of town) to have it stamped. All he did was take my personal translation, ask me if I had knowingly lied in my translation, and authenticate it. But of course he also managed to pocket a service fee of 500 NT. In the link above, the person says the translation does not need to be authenticated, so be sure to check on this for your area.

A fourth temporary hurdle I encountered had to do with my earliest passport in Taiwan having been confiscated by AIT after I had pages added to get the words “chuan2jiao4shi4” removed from my passport visa prior to trips into Mainland China. They performed the service, but kept the old passport! The immigration agent wanted all of my passports. However, she took my word for it in the end.

Fifthly, however, when looking up my travel  records in her computer, the Immigration office worker discovered that the airport had apparently typed one digit incorrectly in my earliest passport, meaning there were potentially two of me in Taiwan when I first arrived here back in August, 1997. She had the airport merge the records, but this resulted in another trip on my part. Service Fee for  having the arrival/departure dates printed out: 100 NT.

The same immigration office worker interviewed me and formerly accepted my application materials on May 25. One of the questions in the interview was “did you borrow money” to apply for this application? Thankfully, since I did not not have to submit my bank records for examination (which did indeed include a small loan for a time, but afterward I transferred out more personal monies), I did not need to answer this question—it did not apply since I qualified on the basis of salary requirements alone.

Presently I  find myself desperately hoping the APRC application processing time does not take the 1 month (plus additional 2 weeks after paying out the 10,000 NT dollar fee) others have written about above. I am scheduled to fly back to the United States on July 2, and if for any reason the APRC is not approved, I will still need to apply for the regular ARC (relatively simple procedure, thankfully!).  Stay turned to see how things turn out!

6/18 Update: Hallelujah! I was granted and paid for the APRC. Since I was able to prove I am flying out of the country in two weeks, they are expediting it and It should arrive in the mail in a few more days.

There was still one BIG final scare, however! The immigration officer told me that in order to retain my APRC, I had to be in Taiwan 183 days out of  the year BEGINNING FROM THE DATE WHEN THE APRC WAS ISSUED. Fortunately, after I questioned this twice by telephone, she made an additional phone call and corrected herself. As the web site says:  “The APRC holder, starting in the second year after receiving the APRC (beginning January 1st of the next year), will face APRC revocation if failing to stay in the ROC for more than 183 days in a calendar year.” This gives me several extra months of breathing room. Enough said.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The First-Digit Phenomenon

I just finished a fascinating book by Mario Livio called The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number. In the last chapter “Is God a Mathematician?” one of many surprises Livio offers up makes me want to run over to a local gambling den, or to the local temple (where prayers are believed to be answered by the gods using blocks similar to dice). I would then challenge those present to ask their gods the answer to a question while I consult the “Mathematician” God.

This would be the challenge: choose any set or sets of random numbers, such as a listing from a table in the World Almanac, a chart listing death tolls from major earthquakes, the population of places in given states exceeding 5,000 or more, the numbers listed out on the front page of your daily newspaper in a week, or any combination of anything like the above. What will be the probability that the first digit of any given number is  1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 or 9?

Common sense tells us that the numbers 1-9 should occur with the same frequency among the first digits. Right? Wrong!

Benford’s law states that the probability P that digit D appears in the first place is given by the equation P = log (1 + 1/D).

That means the probability of a 1 would be about 30 percent; 2, about 17.6 percent; 3, about 12.5 percent, all the way down to 9, about 4.6 percent. Counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

Some lists of numbers do not obey this law (for example, numbers in telephone books where the same few digits repeat in any given region).