Friday, July 24, 2009

Veni, Vidi, Visa At The US Embassy

With apologies to Mr. Caesar of Rome (47BC), yesterday those famous words, or my adaptation of them, rang true for me when I successfully renewed my US B2 Visitors Visa and so can continue wintering in Florida for the next 10 years at least. Wooohoooo.

I thought I'd post about the interview in case anyone else wanting to apply for a visa does a google search and finds this post - as I'm sure my experience was typical and thus, relevant.

And what an experience it was.

We (my fellow [non fellow] blogger Daphne was with me as my twitter secretary !) set off at 6am to get the 6:40am coach from Leeds to London which dropped us off at Marble Arch at 11am. That was a bit of a shock as our tickets were to Victoria Coach Station so I guess Daphne's constant descriptions of the trees and flowers along the M1 had annoyed even the driver !

No but seriously, we'd asked to be let off at Marble Arch as it was much closer to the US Embassy than Victoria but to be honest, with 2.5 hours to spare until my interview time, distance didn't really matter that much.

So we walked along Oxford Street for a while as it was a lovely morning with blue skies and a few fluffy white clouds. We stopped off at a McDonalds for coffee and when we came out, it was raining ! We went across the road into a Debenhams store to pass the time and when we came out reeking of perfume and after shave testers, it was sunny again. After walking almost to the end of Oxford Street, we turned round and walked back and got a light snack (see later) and then headed down to the Embassy.

I went in at 1pm (appointment was for 1:30pm) and after passing through stations where my paperwork was given a quick check and then through security, I was in the foyer of the huge building. My appointment letter with it's barcode was scanned by the quietly efficient receptionist and I was allocated a number, 449, and sent upstairs to the visa section.

I entered a large rectangular room with about 200 people already waiting for their visas !!

This was not a good sign. At one end was an area being run by the company who post passports/visas back to applicants. Then there were rows of 100 people seated facing 4 raised plasma tv monitors and on the other side of these monitors were 4 more monitors and rows of 100 more people facing them. In other words there were 100 people facing 100 people with raised monitors in between. Two of these screens were showing a series of numbers and which consular agent's windows were currently dealing with these numbers. The other two screens were showing scrolling information about the interview process.

Every so often these info screens would display a ticket number and a window number and a voice would say..........number 434 to window 12 please and the relevant applicant would trot off and be dealt with. I'd no sooner sat down than my number was called. Hurrah, I was jumping the line to my interview, I thought. I'd be out in no time, I thought.

Sadly when I got to the window I realised that this was only part 1 of the process. My compulsary documents were checked and scanned again, my passports were taken (I have 2 as my current visa in in an old expired passport) and I was asked if I had any other documents that would help 'my case' so I handed them all over......utility bills and bank statements to try and prove I actually have a life here in the UK to leave America for at the end of every trip ! Then I rejoined the 200 others and waited.....and waited. All the time that people were being called to have their interviews, others were coming in to replace them. I think new people stopped coming at 3pm.

The numbers being called out to 'invite' applicants to the next part of the process were in no particular order which meant we had no idea how long we'd have to wait. Speaking with those around me, some had been waiting since 10am (admittedly they HAD just arrived very early for their appointments) but the average was 3 hrs !!

At one point the numbers being called included 440, then 441 and so on. As I was 449 I got ready to go and when it got to 448, I picked up my jacket and remaining paperwork and started saying goodbye to my new found friends. After 448 the next number was....380. Damn and blast.

45 minutes later 449 was finally announced and I started the stopwatch function on my watch. Still thinking I'd be off to a room with a desk and a proper interview session, I went down a corridor and came to another bank of windows like in a post office ! I went to the one for me and there was a young chap already looking through my pile of bills and statements and he told me he'd never seen so many potential proofs of residency and that I'd definitely erred on the side of 'taking no chances'. He asked why I want to spend long holidays in Amerca so I said I am retired and like to winter in Florida. He said golf or tennis and I said golf.

After I was asked to submit my right hand for another 5 digit fingerprint deal, he voided my current visa and gave me back that passport, told me my new visa application was granted and to have a nice time in America. The interview was over, I stopped the stopwatch and the time elapsed from my number being called was......2 mins and 44 secs.

I'd waited almost 4 hrs in a room with 200 others for a session lasting 2m 44s. Mind you, as Daphne later reminded me, that was much better than waiting for 2m 44s and having an interview lasting 4 hrs. She's a glass half full type of person.

Finally I had to take a form with my name and address on it to that service desk within the waiting room where I arranged to have my visa stamped passport posted back to me within 3-5 working days.

"And how would you like to pay, sir?"

PAY !!! Hadn't they taken $131 off me for the interview process ? Couldn't they take the postage out of that ?

I guess not as I had to stump up another £14.60 to have my passport returned to me via courier. For £14.60 I hope they drive it up the M1 in a Rolls Royce and leave it in a gold plated box at my feet ! Jeez.

And that was it. All done. And here are a couple of photos taken by Daphne on the day.

First up is me in front of the US Embassy, or as close as you can get to it what with the tight security and the trees that they've allowed to grow to mask the building from prying eyes like Google Street View.

And the last one is of me sitting outside the Embassy trying to eat a KFC meal in a hurry as it was 1pm and I needed to be getting inside for my appointment. Guess I could've taken my time, eh ?

I wasn't stuffing the chicken in my mouth there but biting my nails to show how nervous I was at the time.

Now it's time to sort out travel insurance and then book my flight (return of course) to Florida for late October to late April.

Sorry Britain but you'll have to survive the Christmas musical efforts of Slade, Shakin' Stevens, Wizzard, Wham, Band Aid and worst of the lot, The Pogues, without me again.

Cause I plan to work off my Christmas meal lying on a beach.


Daphne said...

I think the Embassy website should be kind enough to mention the possible loooong wait! It certainly mentions everything else! Though I must say I had a lovely time wandering about whilst Silverback was waiting for his number to be called.

Debby said...

Yay! My boy toy is legal for another 10 years!

ruth said...

Congratulations on your successful grant of visa.

If it's any comfort, I have sometimes waited at least 4 hours for an audition. Auditions often last a lot less than five minutes, sometimes less than 2m 44s and frequently with not such a pleasant outcome as you have had.

Milo said...

Big relief, well done! And LOL at Debby's comment!

Lisa said...

I think Ian has already planned to take along a small library to get him through his extra-long wait. What a pain, but worth it in the end.


Yorkshire Pudding said...

This human slant on the US embassy visa mullarkey will be very useful to my daughter who will be following in your footsteps next Wednesday... Given all the time and document checks and money - why the hell can't the blighters just provide the visa before you leave the embassy? The whole thing is a disgrace.

Silverback said...

YP - the visa takes a while to prepare (it isn't just a stamp) and contains a copy of the photo we provide as well as other information.

I can understand them not wanting to delay us even more but I think the amount we have to pay to get our passports sent back to us is ridiculous, considering we've paid $131 up front already.

rhymeswithplague said...

But quite well worth it, I'd wager, considering the fabulous country you're contemplating visiting once again.

You spends your money, you takes your chances....

jay said...

I'm glad they decided to let you in again! Well done!

Sheesh. ... four hours for a couple of minutes and then you have to pay some more money? You'd think with all that cash they're raking in for a mere piece of paper and card, they'd be able to afford a couple more bods on the windows, huh?

Brit Gal Sarah said...

Congrats Ian on your renewal, I remember that room well. Although I got out alot faster than you did, go figure as I was coming to live here!!

dylan said...

Congratulations! I remember my waiting in that room...the wait was much more unpleasant than the interview itself!

Could you not just spend one day less than 6 months of the year in the US under the visa waiver programme though??

Silverback said...

Dylan, the visa waver program is only for visits up to 90 days.

dylan said...

Ah, I see.

By the way, did you just write 'program'?

Silverback said...

Worse than that, I actually erased the 'me' that I typed originally.

Have a nice day, now !

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