The civil registry and migration department’s online appointment system was scrapped this week after allegations of rampant exploitation and abuse of the programme.
For almost two years thousands of tax paying citizens faced immense stress as they tried booking appointments, unaware that the slots were being mass booked by shady “agents” instead.
When a person went to the department’s webpage they would see no slots available for about three months ahead. A slot would ‘magically’ appear for just a day or two ahead when they paid an “agent” between €100 to €200 to book an appointment under the online system.
A government spokesperson confirmed to the Cyprus Mail that abuse of the system by “certain interests” means that most appointments from March 20 and May 19, depending on your category, onwards are no longer valid from the previous booking portal.
The Cyprus Mail was contacted by three concerned members of the public who said that they eventually caved in and had to pay “agents”.
“It’s completely wrong to have to pay the government to see the government, I had to pay [a fixer] €200 to get an appointment,” Walker Rowe, a US national living in Cyprus for almost four years, told us.
“This causes real problems for real people. Because suddenly after following the rules, when you can’t get an appointment, you wonder if you can travel out of the country. Your paper is expired. Will they then let you back in? Maybe you can’t go to a wedding or funeral? This is a genuine problem,” he explained.
Those concerns were confirmed by another long-time Cyprus resident, an Australian living for 30 years on the island, who found himself unwillingly classified as illegal.
Repeated attempts to renew his documents were blocked by the misuse of the system.
“I was concerned that I was about to become illegal and the potential implications of that,” he explained.
“For example, if I have to fly to Australia for any reason, they wouldn’t let me depart again without proof of residency in Cyprus as my return destination. They will not be convinced by an email confirming an appointment with the immigration service, two months after it expired. I can’t really risk flying anywhere and feel that I am imprisoned here until my now overdue application can be accepted,” he said.
A third person, a man in his 50s who has lived and worked in Cyprus for 21 years, contacted the Cyprus Mail and backed up the claims.
“Unfortunately I had to pay, and the very next day I had an appointment – I went in and everything was solved,” he said.
He explained that had he gone the official route it would have taken at least three months.
“I don’t want to use this word but it looks like it’s corrupt, it’s abused – somehow – by different parties, and the only loser is the poor people out there waiting in line,” he explained.
“There are so many poor people being shouted at from the entrance, they are being treated very badly,” he said.
“Let’s say a third-country national working as a housekeeper, her salary is what €400? She’s having to pay €150 just to get an appointment at a government office, along with the bad treatment outside the office where they have been waiting for days,” he emphasised.
The online appointment system was launched in June 2021 and was supposed to streamline the process – reducing the number of people randomly turning up to be seen, turning the migration department offices into a rugby scrum.