Picture this: fifty people gather slowly in the dark, early morning hours at one forgotten corner of the Liosban Industrial Estate off the Tuam road.
They huddle silently in the cold; strangers in the night, waiting.
Some lean against brick walls or lamp-posts, some listen to music through headphones, others sip coffee and stamp their feet in the brisk air.
People from all walks of life are queuing up.
There are families with small children, middle aged men clutching briefcases, twenty-somethings with lip rings and rucksacks.
They will be there for over an hour – from as early as 5:30 until 7:30, five days a week.
That’s when Galway’s Garda National Immigration Bureau office opens.
Aura of anxiety
Although all these people have one thing in common – they are all non-Europeans – there is little conviviality and almost no conversation this early in the morning.
But it’s not just the chill of the weather, or the fact that some arose as early as 5am to be here.
Everyone is worried.
If too many people come, they know they won’t all get seen today.
When the GNIB office opens at 7:30, the guard will hand out numbered ‘tickets’ – often just scraps of paper – to those lucky enough to be at the front of the queue.
Today, like most days, there are 40 tickets.
The ten or so others at the back of the queue are told to come back at around 11am to try their luck.
At this stage there is no guarantee the officers will be able to see them; but some of those waiting have no choice.
Their future depends on the outcome.
The chosen few
Now that everyone knows whether they will get in, the atmosphere relaxes.
One young lad – an American who was number 41 in the queue – complains bitterly about not getting a ticket.
Another American – a female student, number 45 – shrugs.
“I’ve been waiting nearly an hour,” she smiles ruefully.
“I’m not sure whether to come back today or not.”
Most here have tried multiple times to see someone at the office.
Autumn is the busy student visa season, and there appears to be a backlog.
A middle-aged Palestinian man says this is his fifth time attempting to get in.
On Monday, he says, the whole group waited until 9:30 before calling GNIB – who eventually informed them the Galway office would be closed that day.
On Tuesday, there was only one officer working.
He folds his ticket – a scrap of paper with the number 30 written on it in purple ink – carefully into his wallet.
A Canadian girl on a working holiday has been three times already.
She just needs to change her registered address.
Today she’s gotten a ticket, but has to work in town at 11am and isn’t sure she’ll be seen in time.
“If it’s 10:30 and I’m not next in line, I’ll just give my ticket to someone else,” she says.
The American lad sets up camp in the tiny waiting room, hoping that if they finish with the ticket holders he’ll be the first in line.
He opens a laptop, knowing that it’ll be hours before he’s seen, if at all.
Most others fill the remaining dozen seats or wander to the O’Brien’s cafe a few doors down to warm up and wait there.
The waiting room is pleasant and light, with wooden seats and a massive white stone sculpture on the back wall.
Every so often the door swishes open and people poke their heads in to look for a seat or assess the situation.
People are crammed in everywhere – standing in the aisles, leaning on the walls – and the room gets very warm.
Children wander around squealing “Hello!” or simply looking at people with shy, wide eyes.
The guards – today there are two – occasionally sweep outside for a cigarette.
They are remarkably good-natured, considering they work from 7:30-2pm with only one coffee break.
And dealing with so many people – most under a lot of stress – can’t be easy.
Many here aren’t sure if they will get the visa or the extension that they need.
One Argentinian man says that he’s marrying his Irish fiancé in January – but his visa is up in November.
“I’m just asking for a month and a half extension,” he says, worried.
“But I don’t know if they can do that.
“I can’t be on a tourist visa. I’ve got bills and rent to pay – I need to work.”
In spite of the agony of this limbo and the uncertainty of the future, people still get up early to come in and stand in the cold.
It seems that for most, life in Galway is definitely worth the wait.
Names of individuals have been left out to protect their identities.