We’ve appealed against the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) decision to refuse Cynthia permission to stay long-term in the Netherlands. Completing the appeal paperwork took days of compiling, copying and writing, but that part of the process was simple compared to the trouble we had getting the letter into the French postal system.
We don’t have room for a printer or a copier in our tiny home. We needed to find a business able to print the appeal cover letter stored on a USB memory stick, and copy dozens of bank statements sent by Cynthia’s American bank to our UK mailing address and then forwarded to us in France. An accommodating receptionist at Peyriac-de-Mer’s mairie, the local town hall, was prepared to print our cover letter for us. Our old USB stick had other ideas. It failed when she plugged it into her office computer.
We raced towards Narbonne to buy another. Our backcountry route took us along a road popular with bird watchers. Flocks of pink flamingoes wade through the shallows, close enough to encourage motorists to stop for photographs. A Dutchman, on his way through France from his Spanish home, stood scratching his head next to his upended van. In his rush to capture an idyllic natural scene, he’d driven into a deep ditch.
We flashed past, painfully aware how little time we had left to post the application. And then we wondered how we would feel if we were bogged down in a ditch. We drove back to help. Like the boy scout I used to be, before being thrown out for teaching my fellow scouts bad habits, I am always prepared. I keep a heavy duty towing strap on board. Much to the stranded owner’s frustration and my embarrassment, I couldn’t find it.
I spent fifteen minutes transferring the garage contents to a nearby grass verge. In the meantime, a battered council works truck skidded to a halt. The French-speaking driver mimed pulling the stranded vehicle backwards. He fitted a sturdy steel towbar between the van and his truck, reversed in a cloud of gravel, gratefully pocketed the twenty euro note thrust at him and sped onwards towards his lunch. The rescued Dutch driver stayed long enough to help me repack the Hymer and then left with a cheery wave.
We sped to Narbonne, bought another memory stick and tried to copy the appeal documents at a nearby post office. Their copy machine was broken. We hurtled back to Peyriac to the mairie. It had closed for the day.
We thought we knew that Leucate, twenty miles to our south, had a post office with a copier. It didn’t. The ‘copier’ was a high tech franking machine. After a long wait in a lengthy queue, we discovered that the closest business either able or prepared to help was the town hall. Leucate’s streets are horribly narrow. The only suitable parking for our Hymer near the mairie was next to the town cemetery at the top of a hill only accessible through twisting streets steep enough to make a marathon runner’s calf muscles ache.
By the time the time I reached the top, Cynthia had finished copying the documents and summoned me to the bottom again. The only routes back down the hill to the mairie were either an impossibly sharp left hand turn into a road too narrow for the Hymer, or a quick and illicit dash the wrong way along the same short one-way street I drove through on my way up the hill. As Cynthia is American and isn’t bothered by what people think of her, she stood in the road centre stopping traffic from using the street in the correct direction long enough for me to offer a very English half-hearted wave of apology as I squeezed between an uneven stone wall and a battered Citroen van.
The post office had closed by the time we finished disrupting Leucate’s rush hour traffic, so we resigned ourselves to another day’s delay and a night parked on Leucate’s stony beach. That’s where we picked up our first puncture in eighteen months.
I didn’t notice anything wrong until we drove back to Leucate the following morning. Actually, I pretended not to notice anything at all. The cabin vibrated as we heard an unhealthy rasp from somewhere beneath us. As I reached for the radio volume knob to drown out the sound, Cynthia instantly and correctly diagnosed a puncture. We limped into the local supermarket car park, walked to the post office to send off our appeal and then phoned Saga’s breakdown service. After last year’s fiasco in the French Pyrenees, we have their number on speed dial.
We waited just fifteen minutes for our saviour. Changing the wheel took him less time than I needed to remove the spare from the Hymer’s cavernous garage. The spare is stored in a tight recess in the double floor under the bathroom floor. It can only be removed by emptying the garage. In our case that means removing two folding bikes, a generator and fuel can, a large hose reel, several suitcases, two large plastic storage boxes, and maybe one of the dogs if they’ve misbehaved. Just kidding. We tie them to the roof rack if they don’t do as they’re told.
Anyway, the Hymer’s fully operational again and our fifteen-page appeal is now flying through the French postal system towards a Dutch post box address where, we hope, kind and compassionate staff are prepared to reconsider Cynthia’s application.
Living either on the road or on the water full time, we fall through the cracks of Dutch bureaucracy. We have been assured that although our situation is unusual, all we need to do to satisfy the government’s requirements is prove that we lived in the Netherlands for at least six months. We actually enjoyed eight months there in 2017, and we can confirm our stay. However, our application is for permission for Cynthia to stay in the country for longer than three months. When we provide information documenting our eight-month stay, we are admitting to stopping twice as long as Cynthia is officially allowed. We hope the Dutch government isn’t going to grant the extended stay permit because we’ve satisfied the appeal requirements and then immediately expel us because we stayed too long last year.
We haven’t been trying to break the law. We’ve bounced between Leiden’s council and the IND. After a lengthy wait for an appointment at Leiden’s town hall, we were given inaccurate information and then pushed in the general direction of the IND. After another long wait for an appointment, our contact at the IND told us that local council officials don’t always know what they’re talking about, especially with cases like ours.
We’ve been caught between a rock and a hard place and we, Cynthia especially, are getting more than a little fed up with it.
The Dutch government needs to ensure that they aren’t allowing freeloaders to stay long term. They want applicants to demonstrate that they can and will contribute towards their economy. We are more than happy to oblige. We spend a fortune at good quality Dutch grocery stores and we eat out as often as we can. We’ve even purchased two boats. OK, two vessels is one too many, and one of them was bought and is currently still moored in Belgium, but we want to do all of our cruising, and our spending, in the Netherlands.
The IND wanted enough detail to prove our stay beyond any reasonable doubt. We’ve given them enough information to make their collective heads spin. There’s a mountain of copied bank statements showing daily Dutch purchases and a link to an online album of digital geotagged and dated photos. There are copies of both our motorhome and boat travel logs showing everyday stops, mileage and locations. And finally, there are dozens of links to blog posts written as we explored the Netherlands last year.
We’ve done all we can. We’ll keep our fingers crossed now and hope that common sense wins the day. And if you are the IND official who has reached this post through the links in our appeal documentation, you are a wonderful human being and a gift to the world in general and the Netherlands in particular.