Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Fiance Visa Adventure.

You know, sometimes things happen that manage to make me incredibly happy and bug me quite a lot at the same time.

I found out this week that a fellow blogger and friend recently got her fiancĂ© Visa approved and she’ll be moving to America to be with her future husband soon.

So, on the one hand I’m absolutely made up for her. I know exactly how stressful, expensive and annoying the Visa process can be. Getting the final approval feels literally like having a twenty ton weight lifted off your chest. You see, it takes a long time, is incredibly expensive…and you know that at any time they can turn you down, meaning you’re cut off from your fiancĂ© and you’ve wasted all that time and money.

On the other hand, her Visa process took around 6 months. Mine took just over two years… and that’s just not fair, Dammit!

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to know exactly what the process is like. So here’s my immigration experience:

It started when Sunny filed the first of a few million forms. A few months later, I received a letter saying they’d received the petition from Sunny and they’d be in contact soon.

Of course, ‘soon’ is a relative term. It was another couple of months before I received my first ‘packet’ from the embassy which gave me a list of documents I needed to get as well as four or five nice long biographical form.

This was when we hit out first stumbling block. You see, Sunny got on the phone to immigration asking why things were taking so long. She was told that a week before we started the process, the INS discovered a group of women, right here in upstate SC, were marrying Pakistani guys for money. So we were told that every application from SC was being triple checked.

It was at this point that my butthole decided to try and eat my underwear. You see, Sunny and I had known each other for about four years at this point, but we’d only spent about 6 weeks in each other’s company. Neither of us could afford to fly over to see each other very often.

Also, regular readers know that Sunny and I have a significant age difference. While we were totally legit, I could see that it could easily look like I was marrying Sunny for a Greencard. Looking back, it’s a good job I’m from England, a close ally of the USA and a country that is on the same economic level. I reckon if I’d been from Mexico or a poorer country, I wouldn’t stand a chance.

Anyway, it seemed that every time I sent off a form, I got three back. It wasn’t a background check like you get when you apply for a job, it was a full biographical profile. They wanted to know who I was, where I was born, who my parents are, where they were born, what they did for a living…I can’t remember exactly, but I’m fairly certain I had to supply information on my grandparents.

Then I hit two more stumbling blocks. I needed my full medical records, inoculation records and a statement from the police to say I’d never been arrested.

The police statement was no problem, I just went to visit the local police station, told them what was up…and after yet another processing fee I got my statement 4 to 6 weeks later.

The problem was my medical records. I went to my GP and the only records they had was the meningitis inoculation I got when I started college. I spent almost three days on the phone trying to track down the rest of my records. I never did find them.

So I called the embassy and the result was something like a three stooges sketch. I called their main number, got put through to someone with a hindi accent who gave me the original number I called. I called the original number again and they put me right back through to the same idiot. It went like this:

“No, I called that number, they put me through to you... Twice.”

“You need to call .”

“Will you listen to me? I already called that number, explained the situation and they put me through to you. If I call that number again, I’ll just get transferred back to you again.”

“I told you. You need to call

“I told you, I called that number. I just need to know about…”

“Call

After ten minutes of this dance, I just lost it.

“For fuck’s sake, how many times do I need to tell you? I CALLED THAT NUMBER AND THEY PUT ME THROUGH…TO…YOU. I need to speak to someone in YOUR DEPARTMENT!”

“All calls must go through

“I’VE ALREADY BEEN THROUGH THAT FUCKING NUMBER! THEY PUT ME THROUGH TO YOU. HOW MANY TIMES DO I NEED TO EXPLAIN THIS? ARE YOU DEAF OR JUST STUPID.”

“Just call

“I CALLED THAT FUCKING NUMBER. I JUST NEED TO KNOW HOW TO…”

Click

Yup, the fucker hung up on me. I call the main embassy number, explain the situation and they transfer me to this shaved monkey who just tries to palm me off by telling me the main call number is the ‘department’ I needed for information about the medical.

In other words, this idiot just didn’t want to do his job. It was easier for him to palm me off and hope I get transferred to someone else.

It took close the fifteen attempts but I finally got the information I needed. I’ve never talked to such a disinterested bunch of people in my life.

Anyway, the next snag was my fault and it was sheer ‘brown trousers’ time.

I got my date for the medical and interview and I thought the worst was over. Exactly one week before the date I was re-reading the instructions and noticed some small print:

Please bring your long-form birth certificate, the short-form is unacceptable. Failure to present this form may result in a delay in the application process or your application being denied.

I just about shit myself. I knew I had a birth certificate, but which one did I have?

A quick check online showed me that, yes, I had the short form.

Even worse news is that my long-form certificate was in Liverpool.

I went online again and checked the process to get a copy. Actually going to Liverpool was out of the question because I couldn’t take any time off work without losing my job. The processing time to do it through the mail was 2 to 3 weeks.

It was a catch 22 situation. I could either not get the certificate which would either result in another 6 month delay or result in me starting from scratch…or I could get the certificate and not be able to afford the rest of the fees.

This was the one time during the whole process that I came into contact with someone who actually seemed willing to help and actually went above and beyond to help me. I called the registrar’s office in Liverpool and explained the situation. I told her how I needed the certificate within a week or it was about ten grand down the drain.

This absolute star pulled out a form then and there and filled it out for me while I supplied the information over the phone. She told me she’d put it in as a ‘rush’ that day. The day before I was due to leave for London it arrived.

I relaxed for the first time in weeks. Then I remembered I had my medical and interview in two days time. I felt like I had a vice around my chest again.

Now, I’d planned to go to London the day before my interview and stay overnight. My medical was at 9am in the morning, which meant I’d be getting on a train at five in the morning. I figured going the day before would give me plenty of time to do a ‘dry run’ to make sure I knew where to go.

It was my first time in London and the underground system is like a rabbit warren. I also have the sense of direction of a dead stoat. I didn’t want to waste two years and ten thousand pounds because I got lost. It was a damn good job I did.

I arrived in London, checked into my hotel, and pulled out all my paperwork to give one last check that I had everything.

Unfortunately, the night before I’d looked at all my paperwork and left everything I didn’t need at home. In the hotel in London I realized that on the back of one of those bits of paper was the map of where the doctor’s office was for my medical.

I thought I could remember the map. I knew the doctor’s name and had a rough idea where it was. Getting directions to the Embassy would be no problem, and I thought I knew where the doctor’s office was in relation to the embassy so I thought I was golden.

I walked around London for seven hours in brand-new, non-broken in shoes looking for the place. I was clutching at straws by going into every pharmacy I could find and asking if they knew where the doctor’s office was, no-one did.

Right now you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just call my parents, get them to look through my paperwork (all nicely filed) and tell me the name of the street.

Well, here’s the thing. London’s a lot like New York, in that you don’t carry around anything valuable that you don’t actually need. My phone was safe in my hotel, which would take me nearly an hour to get back to.

So for the first couple hours I was sure I was going to find it eventually. For the next hour I figured I’d find it soon. Then I was struck by inspiration. The security guys outside the embassy probably get asked for directions to the doctor’s office all the time, they’d know.

I’d printed out a map of the area before I’d arrived in London, mainly for the underground map that came with it. The security guard looked at my map and pointed me in the right direction.

Oops. Did I say ‘right’ direction? I meant to say “Completely and totally the wrong fucking way’. After four or five trips too and from the embassy, I asked the security guy if I could use the phone in his little hut thing so I could call inside for directions. The security guy was cool (even if he had sent me the wrong way five times) and let me.

I got that same fucking Hindi guy who told me it wasn’t his job to give directions and that I’d already received a map so I should check that.

I told him that I was in London and that the map was back up north.

The fucker told me it ‘wasn’t his problem’.

I asked him why it was such a big deal for him to stand up and say “Anyone know how to get to the doctor’s office from the embassy?” and he gave me more bullshit.

He actually started getting aggressive with me, and it gave me the greatest satisfaction in the world when I winked at the security guard and told the idiot on the phone that I was standing outside the embassy right now and asked him if he’d like to come outside so we could discuss the situation further. The security guard started giggling like a schoolgirl and the dumbass guy inside stuttered for a few moments and hung up.

“They’re all assholes in there, fucking yanks.” Said one of the guards. I laughed and wondered if I’d ever find the damn place.

Finally, I admitted defeat and went back to the hotel. I called my dad and he gave me the name of the street in fifteen minutes.

Well, hindsight is always 20/20. The entire time I was wandering around I was thinking “If I go back to the hotel now, it’ll be getting dark by the time I get back here…plus, Dad might not be able to find the map and then I’ve just wasted an hour of daylight.”

The next part was quite nice.

I didn’t bother going back to find the place because it was pitch black outside, and I’d actually walked down the correct street three or four times. I just hadn’t gone far enough down the street to see the teeny-weeny plaque on the door with the doctor’s name on it. Plus, my feet were torn to shreds.

Well, just as a fortunate coincidence, my best friend from work was doing a work-exchange thing on the same day I was in London. He was working for a week in a front-line office in London instead of at the processing center. I’d picked the same hotel as he was staying in.

So after my ordeal, I got back from my marathon walk to find a note on the room’s TV from Jim telling me what room he was in. I called him up and we went out for a curry and a beer.

I retired to my room early though, I was (and this is a technical term) fucking knackered.

Of course, I didn’t sleep at all that night because I was terrified of oversleeping, despite the fact I’d ordered a wake-up call, set the alarm on my phone and set the TV to turn on at the same time. I was waking up every 15 minutes and looking at the clock.

They’d also put me in a non-smoking room by mistake. I didn’t say anything however, because they’d given me a double instead of the single I ordered.

The next day I arrived at the doctors office an hour and a half early. I’d got so antsy waiting at the hotel, and still terrified of fuck-ups I left ridiculously early. On the up side, I missed the crowds and traffic.

The medical was an experience. Me, along with 15 other people, went inside and handed over our documents. Then I got to wear a very fetching flowery surgical gown and hold a lead plate over my twig ‘n’ berries while they took a chest X-Ray. Did I mention that single X-Ray cost 250 pounds?

Other than the bloodwork and the X-Ray, the medical was a bit of a joke. The doctor put a stethoscope to my chest, took my blood pressure, did the old ‘turn your head and cough’ signed a bit of paper and told me that was it.

That medical cost another 250 pounds. Not bad for five minutes work, huh?

So, having just had a bank-accountectomy, the doctor told me the inoculation records I had were no good because they were hand written. He also told me not to worry because he said I could get them when I went for my Greencard.

I didn’t want more worries or stress so I asked him two questions:

1) Could I get the injections and documentation for them there and then?

2) Would it do me any harm to get an inoculation I’d already had?

The answers were yes and no respectively. I think I actually say dollar signs in the guy’s eyes.

Six injections and a hundred and fifty pounds later I was set.

1 X-Ray, 1 phial of blood drawn and a five minute cursory medical : 500 pounds. (That’s about $1000US). 6 innoculations, normally given at your GP’s office for free : 150 pounds ($300US).

On my walk to the embassy for my interview I pondered that doctor’s job. In country where medical care is free, that guy gets to charge at least five hundred pounds per person for 5 minutes work each. There were 15 people in my intake, so he made $15,000 that morning. He does that twice a day.

$30,000 a day for very little work…I’m definitely in the wrong business.

I arrived at the embassy and shared a smile with the security guard:

“So, you found it then?” He said.

“Eventually.” I replied. “Wish I hadn’t now, I’m six hundred and fifty quid lighter that I was the last time I saw you.”

“Christ.” He said. “Well, I hope she’s worth it.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll be holding this over her head for at least the first decade of the marriage.”

The security guard laughed and ran my over with that metal detector thingy.

My first port of call inside the embassy was to hand over more money. I had to give someone 15 pounds for a courier envelope that my Visa would be sent to me in. This was the only money I’d spent so far that was actually refundable if I was turned down.

So I found myself in the waiting room, realizing that everything came down to the next hour or so. I was expecting to have my name called and spend the next hour being grilled Gestapo-style about every aspect of me and Sunny’s relationship.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. I was called to a window like you see at the post office and handed over my paperwork. I was expecting to be sent back to my seat to wait for the interview, but the guy started interviewing me then and there.

He asked me a handful of questions:

“So, how did you meet?”

“How long have you known each other?”

“You know she has children, right? Do you know their names?”

It was on that question that I nearly screwed the pooch. I forgot that Sunny’s kids go by their middle names. The guy’s eyes narrowed slightly.

“Oh, sorry.” I said. “They go by their middle names. So I know Clay as Clay, rather than Charles.”

“Oh, ok.” He said.

“When did you last visit her?” He asked.

At that moment I had a total brain-fart. I couldn’t remember the month, never mind the actual date. I figured honestly was the best policy.

“Sorry, I can’t remember.” I said. “I’m nervous as hell. The date’s in my passport though.”

I took my passport back from him, checked the stamp inside and told him.

At this point I still thought this was a preliminary interview, so I was shocked as hell when the guy said:

“Ok, well as long as your bloodwork comes back okay, you’ll get your Visa by courier within the week.”

My mouth dropped open, then I said, stupidly:

“So I can go?”

“Yup.” The guy said.

I was walking on air, I smiled and nodded to the people I’d seen at the medical and headed out the door.

I was halfway across the road when I realized something.

My passport was in my pocket. I’d just shoved it in there when I’d read the date off the stamp. If my passport was in my pocket, how the hell was the guy going to put my visa in it.

It was at this point that I actually became thankful for getting lost the day before. The security guards knew me, knew what a fucking awful time I’d had, so it should be no problem getting back inside.

I sheepishly walked up to the hut and caught the guards attention.

“Hey.” I said. “I’ve done something stupid. I forgot to give them my passport and they’ll need it to send me my visa. Can I get back inside?”

“Do you remember the guy’s name who interviewed you?” he asked. I had no idea. Luckily the guy was cool about it.

“Tell you what, I’ll escort you back in.”

So the security guy got me through all the check points and back into the room. I went up to the desk and asked for the guy who interviewed me.

“Do you remember his name?” They said.

“No, sorry.” I said. “But he was interviewing me at this window less than five minutes ago.”

“Oh, ok.” She said. Minutes later the guy who interviewed me arrived at the window, looking confused.

“Hi.” I said. “I got halfway home then realized you’d probably need this.”

I handed him my passport. He laughed.

“Yeah, probably.” He smiled. He opened the passport, asked to see another ID (to make sure I wasn’t doing some kind of scam) and I said goodbye, again.

This time I was halfway back to the tube station when I remembered someone I needed to call.

“Hi Sweetie.” I said.

“Hey baby.” Replied Sunny. I could hear the sheer terror in her voice.

“See you next month.” I said.

We had our fourth wedding anniversary last week, I still haven’t got the hearing back in my right ear.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

It doesn't matter how many times I hear that story it still makes me smile.

When you were telling me not to worry about the interview, I so wanted to believe you, but this tiny part of my brain said 'he's just trying to calm your nerves, they're gonna be evil to you'...

As it turns out it was every bit as anti climactic as you'd said...and as I sit here writing this, i'm waiting for the courier to arrive with my visa.....