Saturday, September 17, 2011

My first visa encounter

So the year is still 2008, I have a passport now and can start finalising plans to travel. My initial plans were to go to Europe for 3 months and then work in an American summer camp.

They were quickly shot down as the American consulate wanted to know exactly where I would be going for 3 months and exactly what I would be doing. I had to write a 3 month itinerary, for each day.

My plans for Europe were basically, fly into London, start exploring, see Ireland and Hungary, and some other European Places, fly out of London 3 months later to America. Very vague and exciting and no doubt were giving my mum headaches.

Not very conducive towards a detailed 3 months itinerary. Not wanting to be restricted by The Man, and not even my Man some other countries Man, I decided to do it the other way around. Neatly avoiding all that paperwork.

So of course I applied for my visa to America.

I was given about three hundred pages of forms.

I dutifully filled them all out, and realised that the photo I had left over from my passport shot was no good for the visa as America has different sizing. How inconvenient. I was soon to learn that America does everything different to the rest of the world.  Still using the Imperial system of measurement which is a very odd way to measure things.

So I trotted off down to the Post Office to get a different sized photo and encountered the Hag (this lady still hated me about 2 months after our first meeting for my passport, I would only make it worse).

She promptly informed me that I was making things up and America would be happy with the Australian way of doing things.  I said 'No I have the specifications and it specifically says DO NOT USE AUSTRALIAN MEASURMENTS'.

She scoffed, snatched the paper out of my hands and said well this is only a guide.  I asked her if someone else could help me.

Mistake number one of that day.

She looked at me, trying to cause me physical pain with her mind, and told me 'Everyone else is busy, it looks like your only option will be to deal with me'.  I looked around at the empty shop.

'There is no one else here, that guy looks helpful lets ask him if he can understand the written English language, specifically where it says 'DO NOT USE AUSTRALIAN MEASURMENTS'.

Mistake number two of that day.

She got mad

She huffed up, gave me the evil eye and started this huge lecture on respecting elders, the state and her position as a official.

I told her that I would find someone else who respected the English language enough to understand that DO NOT means exactly what it says and left.

The Post Office near my mum's work was very helpful and sorted it out fine.

I booked my appointment and waited two weeks to head down to Sydney and enter the American consulate.

I stayed the night before my interview in Sydney with my grandparents, who checked my forms for me and found some discrepancies.  I quickly fixed them on a new set of forms knowing that mistakes cost time and money.

At the entrance to the building I asked the kindly people behind reception where I might find our friends the Americans and their consulate. I was told to proceed to the lift and go up to level 10

I followed instructions and stepped out of the lift and into the arms of two security guards. I was ushered into a line and told to empty my pockets of all metal items, place them in a tray and walk through the metal detectors, and God help you if you had brought electrical equipment.

Luckily I had been warned about this and so had left all my electrical gear elsewhere. A massive Tongan guard watched me carefully as I stepped through the detector.  

Thankfully I didn't set it off and I was allowed to proceed to my second line of the day where I would have my forms checked.

It was sitting in this line idly passing the time talking to my fellow travellers that I heard rising voices behind me. A businessman needed to go to America urgently and wanted a visa. The problem was he didn't book an appointment, which was frowned upon.

He began to yell, as I tried to mentally silence him. The idiot was arguing with the very people who could write him down as a terrorist forever denying him entry to their country! Also they had BIG GUNS.

Fearing the worst I tried to blend into my surroundings. The man continued to yell, until at some unknown signal or code phrase two massive Tongans grabbed him by each arm and escorted him into the lift, no doubt to be killed. Or used in tests by bureaucrats to see just how many forms it takes to break a man.

My forms where checked and I was allowed to proceed to the next level of the consulate, which was 49 floors up. There was just a blank space between the number 10 and number 59 in the lift and I was not allowed to press the button myself, a security guard had to do it for me and also scan his ID card.

I got out at 59 with two other travelers and watched a young guy come into the lift throwing his passport into the air and catching it.  Just as I thought 'That seems like a bad idea', he dropped it and it went towards the crack between the elevator and the floor.

Once I got out at the other end I was ushered into another line, with more Tongan security guards and more metal detectors. I passed through unharmed once again, and made it to the other side. I felt like I was running a gauntlet.

I opened the heaviest door I have ever had to open and saw the biggest man I have ever seen. 

He was easily two heads taller than I am, and about two of me wide, all muscle. He took one look at me, than looked at the window near him. I knew right than that if I messed up I would go out that window with extreme force, as surely as the sun would rise the next day.

 I accepted my fate, took a number and sat down, praying to every single benevolent being I could think of that I would not mess up in anyway.

 My number was called, I handed over my forms. I was told to sit.

My number was again called, my fingers were scanned and once again I was told to sit.

Again my number was called, I was asked a few questions and finally told that my visa was approved.

Thanking the teller and all the benevolent beings I had earlier prayed to I left, looking back only once at the man-mountain that guarded this place. He acknowledged my passing with the smallest of eye flickering. I had been allowed to live by that man, but I knew that next time we met I might not be so lucky.

Some of you reading this might feel I was being sarcastic towards the Yanks in this latest addition to my encounters with bureaucracy.

I say you are wrong, in fact you couldn't be more wrong. They made it easy for me to get into their country, and were much nicer and more professional than my own country's bureaucrats.

It is sad that it was easier for me to get permission to go to another country, than it was to register to vote or get a passport, things that I receive as part of my rights as an Australian citizen.

Of course it is not just Australian bureaucrats that cause me problems, but so far I had only encountered the American consulate in Sydney, and my relationship with the American consulate in Sydney is a good one. Possibly the only set of bureaucrats to treat me well and with respect. Bureaucrats could learn a lot from these guys.

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