To continue the US visa stories from my previous post about my own visa, my friend needs to get a new visa. Which is a whole different ballgame.
To get a visa, you need to go to an interview at the embassy, and
bring with you various forms with information about yourself and the
planned visit, and that photo I mentioned. They also take your
fingerprints, and try to assure themselves that you’re not trying to
sneak in and immigrate.
Once you have taken your picture (which due to the non-standard size
means you need to take it especially for this, and can’t use any other
passport photo you may already have), there are two problems remaining,
filling the forms, and getting to that interview. Oh, and paying a
hefty processing sum, which will not be returned to you even if your
visa application is not approved, but that’s just the cost of doing
business these days.
Let’s start with the simple one, the forms. Plenty of personal
information, along with the part where you’re supposed to honestly
reply to questions about whether you are a terrorist, drug dealer,
mass murderer, or anything like that.
Traditionally, you schedule the interview through a travel agent,
and the travel agent gives you the papers. You can then fill them up in
the time you have until the interview, and bring them with you.
But ever on the cutting edge of progress, the US State Department
have noticed the existence of the internet. So they have a special site
for Electronic Visa Application Forms.
And before we get to content, let me just say that the site is a
ensure that visitors run a browser version compatible with the site,
and have an Acrobat Reader version compatible with the PDF
(commonly used for documents that can be easily viewed and printed on
most platforms and computers) files they create. Except… The script
is a total bust.
The code was written in 2003. The newest version of
Acrobat Reader available today is 7, yet the code checks for, or rather try to check for, up to
version 9. Talk about forward thinking. But, well, it doesn’t check
properly, so visitors with Acrobat Reader 7 installed are told that
they don’t have a recent enough version. Apparently the minimum version
is 5. Now, I know 7 is greater than 5, but they don’t. So anyone who is
up to date is guaranteed to be told they are not updated enough to
properly work with this site. Cool, eh?
Anyway, you have two options. The first is to download the forms in PDF
format, and print them at your home. If you schedule an interview
through a travel agent, this is basically identical to taking the forms
from them, except that you pay for the paper and ink yourself. If you
get in by the other method (which I’ll cover soon), this can be
But wait, there is the second option. There is a web form there,
with fields for all the information you’d need to fill on the paper
form. So you can enter all the information directly on the site, and
submit it there. Now, anyone with even a little web experience would
automatically make the very likely assumption, that this would enter
the details directly into a central database, and it won’t be necessary
to use the actual paper forms, or remember to carry them with you on
And anyone who makes this natural assumption would be
wrong. What it does, once you fill all the information on the web, is generate a PDF of the form, with the information entered written into it. You still need to print it, and you still need to take it with you.
If you have a particularly lousy handwriting, it could make some
sense. If it’s much easier for you to fill forms on a computer instead
of write on paper, it could also make some sense. For most people, it
doesn’t make sense. People would use it to save dealing with papers,
but it doesn’t quite do that.
OK, say you’re done with that. Now you need to schedule an
interview. On the off-season, that’s easy. Contact your travel agent,
and have them schedule one. Two or three days, and you’ll get an
interview. But, well, now isn’t off-season, it’s holiday season, and
everyone is out to get a visa. The waiting time for a scheduled
appointment is about two months. Yes, two months.
So what do you do if you need it sooner, or if you just need to know
that the visa application will be approved, since you want to arrange
for plane tickets, hotel reservations, and the likes, in advance? This
is our case. There is time until September, but some things are better
done now. Yet if for some odd reason the visa will be denied, that’s a
lot of money that will be lost on cancellation fees.
Well, the Americans have figured out a solution. Based on the
classic first-come first-served system, each day the have a queue of people which
will be accepted for an interview, the first 100 of them. And yes, this
does imply that every day there are much more than a 100 people who try.
According to the web page on the site,
the people are counted in the morning, when the embassy officially
opens for business, and the first 100 are listed and told to return at
noon. This mean that you practically burn the entire day on this, but
you at least get an interview on the same day.
But there will be a line, so it’s best to get there before time,
right? Preferably a lot before time. How bad is it, you ask? My friend
planned to get there at about 5 AM. Which may have been very late,
since someone else
my friend talked to, who did the same thing a couple of days ago,
arrived at the
evening of the previous day, to wait all night long. Yes, all night. It
turns out that there are a lot of people who wait in line the entire
night in order to
get to the embassy first thing in the morning. It’s like those
super-popular rock concerts, or something. Some even bring sleeping
bags with them. Which I totally don’t understand. Waiting in line I can
get, but sleeping in line, on a promenade, with dozens of people
wandering around you?
My friend arrived on 5AM anyway, to see if maybe it would be enough.
Well, guess what? There were people coming… and going. No line. The
security guard outside provided an explanation, saying that about a
week ago the system was changed. They now count the first 100
applicants at 19:00, not in the morning. This of course was not
announced anywhere, and is still not listed on the site, so people kept
arriving and being turned away.
The guard advised arriving at 16:30-17:00, in order to manage to get
in. Looks like a reasonable time if people aren’t crazy enough, and he
should have the experience of the last several days, and so provide a decent estimate. Right?
Wrong. Just to be safe, my friend arrived some time before 16:00.
And got a number very very close to 100. Five minutes later, and it
would have been a no-go. And sure, that mean that they gave the numbers
to people when they arrived, not kept them waiting till 19:00. This is
the right thing to do, I think, and just keeping the people standing in
line would be pointless and mean, but that’s still not the official
guidelines, as were told to my friend. They need to get themselves in
Oh, and all the people got a numbered tickets, and told to return the
next day at 12:00. All of them. So at 12:00, another long queue of 100
people milling about, waiting for the few interviewers to go through
them. That’s a long wait, if anyone wonders…
At least my friend has strong family ties, work, university studies, and no reason to want to live in the US, so the visa will in all likelihood be approved. America be willing.