We were almost crying with laughter when we saw this gem on the auslanderhacks Instagram page: could technology from the 1980s really be the answer to all our first-world third-country problems? Read on to find more about #FaxHack.
Immigration lawyers urge their clients to send faxes when dealing with public offices in Germany. They’re often met with a scoff, but they do have a point. When you send a fax, you get tangible proof of each and every page you submit, which can be essential to prove that your complete application was submitted in a timely manner.
In this respect, a fax trumps a letter sent in the post, even if you sent it by registered post. Why? Because if you send something by registered mail, you can track it and see that it arrived, but its contents can’t be verified. Was the letter you sent a complete application or just a cheery hello? We’ll never know.
Does sending a fax really make them reply faster?
I tried it out myself just last week. A few weeks ago, I came back from a summer vacation to a most unpleasant letter from the district office of Pankow about my parental benefits for my youngest daughter, paid out in 2018. Yes, I know it’s now 2023. Almost five years later, the office resolved that I had been overpaid by more than 3,000 Euros and asked me to pay it back. Once I picked my jaw up off the floor, I had one month to dispute the claim. I wanted to turn to someone more knowledgeable to find out if their calculation was correct, someone like a family counselor or lawyer specialised in social law. Trouble was, I couldn’t find a consultation for at least 6 weeks.
I decided to send in an official “dispute” claim just to buy myself enough time to actually get a consultation. I used a fax app called Fax. Plus and also sent the letter by registered post. Probably overkill, but I was not mucking around.
Within two working days of having sent the fax, I had a letter in my postbox at home. “We received your letter by fax on 21.08.2023”, they wrote. “We need more information”. New deadline. What can I say? A response within 2 working days is phenomenal. Call me a convert.
Will this work for the Berlin immigration office?
In a Tagesspiegel article published in June 2023, the title loosely translated as “We’re one step away from being dysfunctional”, Engelhard Mazanke, the head of the Landesamt für Einwanderung in Berlin said that the staff in just one of his departments alone will often sit down to work on a Monday morning with ca. 10,000 unanswered emails to wade through. By the time they leave at the end of the week, despite their efforts, that number might have increased. Those kind of circumstances, especially on repeat, are “damaging to employee health”, he said.
Emails are so easy to write, aren’t they? You flick an email with a quick question, realise you’ve made a mistake or forgotten a detail, so you send another two or three in same thread. Half-baked questions, desperate midnight pleas. It does not surprise me that the immigration office in particular receives thousands of emails every day. The physical effort of swimming through this volume … in the words of Captain Raymond Holt, “I cannot even”.
Now consider how you would write a letter or send a fax. (If you’ve ever sent a fax, that is). You’d take it seriously. You’d get it right the first time. The page order, the number of pages, the attachments, the 1-minute waiting time per page transmission… it’s a project that requires concentration, you double-check your work before you close that envelope or dial that fax number. It’s very satisfying.
The Landesamt für Einwanderung in Berlin gets hundreds of letters and faxes every week, but certainly not 10,000. They are likely more formal in nature, complete applications, carefully worded questions, a handwritten signature, the relevant attachments… they are also probably much easier to process. It is quite possible that the foreigner’s office will react quicker to a fax or a letter than they would to an email simply due to the difference in volume and the formal nature of the fax or letter. So yes, I feel you would be likely to have more success with a fax… until #FaxHack becomes common knowledge and the number of faxes increases exponentially, that is!
What about their duty to respond in a timely manner?
You might have heard of the “Untätigkeitsklage” (“action for failure to act”). A public office in Germany has a duty to decide on applications or appeals in a timely manner. If months go by without any progress, you might be able to use this legal recourse to force the authority’s hand. In administrative matters, an Untätigkeitsklage would usually be possible after three months of inaction, assuming your application was complete and the office didn’t request more documents in the meantime.
The medium with which you send your application or appeal is irrelevant if it actually arrives at the office and is complete. But when push comes to shove, how can you prove it arrived and was complete? Email? Probably fine, but technical problems can’t be ruled out. Registered post is good, but what exactly arrived? Maybe only half the application landed on someone’s desk and the other half fell into a crack, rendering it incomplete. A fax confirmation is the most reliable form of proof you have that your application arrived and was intact and complete.
Red Tape Translation can’t actually send the fax on your behalf. Luckily, there are apps for that. But we can help you prepare your application as thoroughly as possible. We do it together with you. Then all you have to do is press send. Read more about submitting a written application and book a coaching when you’re ready.
Photo by Jon Butterworth