Tuesday, December 18, 2018

What a long road it's been....

Meeting Beth at the airport after her second stint in Ireland.
It all started during the summer of 2017, when Beth was preparing to join our team here in Vienna. It had been five years since someone new joined Team WorldVenture in Austria, and Nate and I had just stepped into the field leader role. This was also the first time a team member of our would be applying for a "church worker visa" through the Free Church, since the Free Church just became a government-recognized religious group a few years ago. Since receiving that recognition, the church has had the ability for the first time EVER to bring over workers on it's own visas.

So, the field leader role was new, overseeing someone's arrival was new, and the visa process for the Free Church was new. We all had a lot to learn. Most of our information about the visa came from one particular family who had gone before us and received the visa two years earlier. We tried our best to do everything exactly as they had done it, not knowing if rules and laws had changed in the meantime. Beth applied for her visa at an Austrian Embassy in the U.S. and then, without hearing a final answer, came over in October 2017 for her first 90 days on an automatic tourist visa.

The questions started popping up from the immigration office - uncertainties about her income (which was not at it's full level until she arrived in Austria and became a full-time employee), questions about her rental contract (which was not long enough, apparently) and most importantly, questions about our American health insurance coverage. Little did we know, they had been cracking down on health insurance plans that had certain "exceptions to coverage", after an unfortunate incident the year before where someone came to Austria with insufficient insurance and ended up in the hospital. The national health insurance had to foot the bill and they sued the immigration office for letting this person into the country without sufficient coverage. Since then, laws became stricter and were highly enforced.

For several months, we had a back and forth with the immigration office. They asked for more documentation, we tried to provide it. Beth signed a longer term lease and provided more proof of income. We sent in more insurance documents, trying to prove our insurance coverage was sufficient. Then in January, Beth's visa application was suddenly denied without any warning. We were stunned! We had never experienced a denial before, and had through that we would have some warning if we needed to acquire different health insurance.

God blessed us with a friend in our small group who studied law. He was truly a God send. Richard helped us submit an extensive appeal to the decision and then we waited. Beth left Austria for her 90 days out of the Schengen Zone of Europe (required) and went to Ireland to join WorldVenture colleagues there. She returned in late spring, but still no answer on the appeal. She left again in the summer...still no answer. Finally, just before she returned in the fall, the appeals court contacted us and asked for copies of her passport. Then a date was set for a hearing before the judge on December 5th. This was 16 months after her initial application was submitted for a residence permit.
Celebrating the end of a long visa journey

Through all this, there were many ups and downs. The journey was very challenging for Beth, as she had no permanent home and while in Ireland, very few opportunities to serve and have "purpose" there. I was also struggling with a lot of guilt, that perhaps somehow I had made some wrong decisions along the way or wasn't thorough enough during the process. I kept wondering if I could have prevented this whole mess if I had done more research or asked more people how to proceed. But God provided comfort and reassurance that we had made decisions along the way based on what we knew then and there should be no regrets.

On December 5th, with hundreds of people praying (truly - so many people were praying that day!!), God answered our prayers. The judge was not very friendly, but he did decide fairly and in Beth's favor. She was granted the residence permit as of that day. We were so thankful and blown away. She is finally allowed to stay in country and can begin thinking more about her future here.

The official positive decision!
We are so thankful for the prayers for Beth and for us along the way. It's been such a long road, and a huge weight has been lifted. We are confident God has helped us all grow as a result of this experience, and God has already used Beth's challenges to help her understand and connect with the refugees she will serve (who experience an even longer and more difficult immigration journey).

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