Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Visiting the Embassy

I went to the US embassy yesterday to renew my visa. I had a work visa while in the States, but since I don't work there anymore, I needed to apply for a visitor's visa. I had been meaning to go for a long while, but procrastination will get you (or, more accurately, get me) everytime.......

Anyway, so I went yesterday and found a much more efficient and less stressful process than in the years before. Don't get me wrong, the process of waiting to be interviewed by the consular officers and even the whole notion of having to go through it at all is still totally nerve-wracking for many. But at least you don't have to get to the embassy at 5:30AM for a 9:30AM appointment anymore, only to find that you are just one of a gazillion people given the same interview time.

No, my appointment was for 7:30 and I got there at 7:30 to find the very short line moving pretty speedily. It was once I had gotten inside and submitted my passport, completed application form and payment receipt that the tedious part began. I've never had the gift of patience and that was patently clear yesterday, as I shifted in my seat every five minutes, stretched my legs out, tucked them under the chair, only to unfold them seconds later. I tried to read my book, but would get distracted by the goings-on around me. I tried to watch TV, but the volume was too low and the hum in the waiting room too loud to really pay close attention. I would have drifted off to sleep, but my fear of missing my number when it was called kept me awake somehow.

The nerves or the fun (in a sadistic and a God-I'm-so-glad-that-is-not-me) way starts when your number is eventually called and you enter the inner sanctum, where the interviews take place.

All the applicants are close enough to hear the interviews as they take place and after waiting there a while, it becomes easy to see when the applicant is going to be denied. Some refusals appear suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, following an interview that appeared to have been proceeding along sedately enough. Others are lumbering train wrecks that are easy to spot a mile off.

For instance, the applicant has come with no financial statements showing how s/he will pay for their trip and support themselves while in the States. Some have no job or have been at the job for a very short time. Some have no evidence of strong ties to Nigeria (e.g. a business, property owned, etc) that would ensure their return back to Nigeria. Some have members of their nuclear family living in the States. Some have family members living in the US but failed to state this on their application form. And by far, one of the worst strikes against you would be overstaying Uncle Sam's welcome. I can totally understand that sometimes, for totally unexpected circumstances, you might have to stay longer than you thought, but when people overstay by several months but still expect to show up at the embassy and not have the officials question that, I really wonder......

One lady explained that the reason for her overstaying was due to a "medical condition" that she suffered after getting to the US.

- What was wrong with you, ma'am?, asked the consular officer.

- I was pregnant.

The consular officer almost suceeded in keeping a straight face.

- Ma'am, pregnancy is not a medical condition. Nevermind the fact that you are not supposed to go to the States to have your baby.

Then, there were those who made it through succesfully and yet you wonder how?

After being told that she could come and pick up her passport on Wednesday at 2PM, the woman went "I'm sorry?.

- I said that you could come and pick up your visa on Wednesday afternoon, the officer repeated.

Apparently that wasn't clear enough and so the officer repeated herself once again.

Ten bloody minutes later, we still saw the same lady, now standing by the guard, saying that she did not understand what was going on and asking what she was supposed to do now?

I could not figure out if she hadn't really understood (maybe it was the whiny American accent that threw her off) or if she was disingenuously trying to rub it in the faces of those of us still awaiting our turn.

The lady sitting next to me exclaimed impatiently "This stupid woman is still here! What is it that she can't understand? Come.back.on.Wednesday.to.pick.up.your.visa!!!!! Heh? Wo, if she doesn't want the visa, let someone else come and collect it for her."

At the end of the day, whether you get a visa or not is very often a crapshoot- sometimes you get lucky and then sometimes someone with all the same credentials as you and in identical circumstances applies and is denied. There appear to be a few basic things that would really help a visa application (ahem..... here's me sounding like an expert after a few hours sitting in the US embassy lounge).

  • Have travelled frequently outside Nigeria (and come back, of-course)

  • Take financial statements with a balance that will support the cost of your trip

  • Have some evidence of strong ties to Nigeria e.g. property, a business, etc.

  • Do not apply if you have been denied for a visa in the last few months, unless your circumstances have changed

  • It helps not to have nuclear family living in the US (especially if they are citizens or permanent residents).

  • It really, really, really helps not to have nuclear family who have absconded to the States i.e. overstayed, at large or never to be heard from again

  • If you do have family living in the US, by all means, don't lie about it

  • Infact, don't lie about anything. That all-knowing computer screen that the consular officers stare at will almost always provide info that will catch you out.
These are just tips borne out of my observations. They are, by no means, hard-and-fast rules, so please don't come after me if you apply and are told that "You do not qualify for a visa at this time."


Anonymous said...

so you were granted a visa then.
sorry i didnt get that from your post. i really hope i'm not like that stupid woman

Pilgrimage to Self said...

Ah the good old American Embassy! They did me a huge favour in a round about kind of way.

Back in 1998 I wanted to go to Jamaica with my then boyfriend (now husband) for christmas and the most logical route to take would have been through Miami. Good old BF didn't have a problem because he had a British passport but I, on the other hand, had a nice green one. So it was off to the embassy for me. In those days it was still the time of queues backing up for miles and I was number 2678 (felt like it anyway) in spite of the fact I had gotten there for about 5.00am! Long story short - I paid, waaaaiiittted, was interviewed and refused a visa!! And mind you all I wanted was a transit visa - I had no interest in staying in the States. But the lady behind the screen just didn't want to know. Boy was I mad!!!!!!!! I think what made me even madder was the N5000 they had just 'chopped' from me for nothing!! As you may have guessed this still pains me to this day.

But, yes this story has a happy ending, this experience spurred me on to actively pursue my EU passport (my mum is German so I was entitled to one) which I did and I got!!! If I hadn't been refused by the American Embassy I would never have bothered to try for an EU passport. And now, I have been to the States. Twice! So there!! LOL

PS: Yes, we did still go to Jamaica that year but via Europe.

Everchange said...

I loathe the U.S. Embassy...they provide me the biggest motivation for getting a western passport (more likely green card) as soon as possible. I hate them! I hate them! I hate them!

Chxta said...

Everchange, if you hate the US embassy, you haven't been to the French...

TRAE said...

I could not figure out if she hadn't really understood (maybe it was the whiny
American accent that threw her off) or if she was disingenuously trying to rub
it in the faces of those of us still awaiting our turn.

haha...thank for the info, could come in handy someday.

Ore said...

You are welcome, Trae.

Anon: Yes, I did.