Monday, 16 March 2009

Getting to America – Part 2

I have not really done very much blogging since Getting to America - Part 1 so here is the second bit.
Anyone, who, like me does not pass the test detailed in the first part, should read on. Anyone who is amused by my startling inability to deal with simple paperwork should also read on.
Anyone else should also read on.
Getting to America – Part 2.
To set the scene…
I had been refused a visa-waiver from the US Government because I cannot, in all honesty answer Yes to all five questions postulated by the on-line visa waiver form. As a result I had to attempt
to contain an actual grown-up real visa from the US Embassy.
There are a number of steps to this process. This can be summarised as follows:
  • Firstly extract your criminal record from CRB at a relatively small cost. For the record, £35 if you are organised or £70 if you need it RIGHT NOW like me. There will be further cost.
  • Secondly, make an appointment at an appropriately located US Embassy and book a Visa appointment. This will cost 113 of your American dollars.
  • Fill out a spectacular number of forms. There will be further costs.
  • Attend your appointment at the appropriately located US Embassy. There will be further costs.
  • Wait, pray, eat fingernails etc. There will be further costs.
Now, you may be wondering what I did to deserve this, which is fair.
I distributed a small quantity of drugs to a bunch of people who wanted them. I did this on a regular basis. End of story. No small South American Republics were destabilised. No Afghan poppy farmers could attribute their contribution to the Taliban to my activities. Pablo Escobar didn't get the opportunity to roll around in a shinier Bentley cos of me.
Get over it; I was a little spoke in a really small wheel…
But, no matter how small I was, and no matter how distant in time the offences that occurred (13 years to be exact!) I still had to suffer the process, and this is how it began.
I had by this time extracted a full copy of my criminal record from the British Criminal Records Bureau. This was almost straight-forward. Fill out a form and provide some proof of who you are. The second bit requires photo-copies of various important documents, passport, driving license, utility bills, that sort of thing. This is fine; however the photocopies should be witnessed by someone who is deemed to be "official". That is someone like a doctor, solicitor, accountant, post office master, butcher, baker, candle-stick maker etc etc. I was also in the progress of remortgaging the house at this point and had already had to do this once. Back I trotted to the not particularly busy village post mistress and had another bunch of documents authenticated. She probably thinks I am smuggling people and providing them with new identities…
This was my first brush with bureaucracy, and not too painful. I understood all the questions on the form (of which there was only one). The documents, along with the all important criminal record were returned to me on time without me having to shout at anyone. This was however, good ole' UK bureaucracy, the best was yet to come.
Back to the plot; my next task was to make an appointment to speak to the US Embassy so my case could be reviewed before my grown-up Visa could be issued. I may have previously alluded to this but just to remind you all, I had left this a teensy bit late. Basically I had approximately five weeks from failing my initial exam to D-Day (flight day) to make this happen. So I phoned for an appointment.
Me: Can I make an appointment to apply for a Visa?
Them: (Nice sounding Irish person): Where would you like to make this appointment?
Me: London.
Them: There are no appointments in London for the next two months. When are you travelling?
Me (sweating): ermm… five weeks.
Them: Then you will need to go to Belfast. We can get you in there two weeks from today.
Me (sweating slightly less): Great, book it.
So, in the event, I had to fly to Ireland to get a Visa to America (anyone well versed with historical migrations to the US will appreciate the irony).
The day of the interview dawned and as I had to be at the Embassy by 10AM I had to be out of bed at the crack of dawn. One bleary-eyed flight across the Irish Sea later and I was in Belfast. This is all too straight-forward!
One little issue… you cannot take anything electronic into the US Embassy, this includes mobile phones. Thought there would be a baggage drop at the airport where I could leave it till my return, well, there wasn't. Arghhh! Spoke to a nice person who informed there was a baggage drop service in Belfast centre, (slightly out of my way!) but in the circumstances would have to suffice.
Next would be a taxi, which should have been simple and it was. Got in taxi, explained my requirements and was promptly asked what time my appointment was. 10am, I replied. You'll not be able to get there in time if you go to the baggage drop place as well. Oh I said. Fluttering my eyelids I asked if he was going back to the airport and if he would look after it for me. After some discussion he agreed to leave it in the taxi drivers "lounge" at the airport on top of the fridge in an envelope with my name on it. Great! So off we went.
I booked my flight which would leave three weeks after the appointment for processing of the forms (this in itself was not a foregone conclusion. For all I knew I would be clamped in irons for the mere temerity of asking to be admitted to the US, after all I had answered No to one of the questions.)
At this point I will round up this log, tune in next time for Getting to America Part 3 – The Interview.

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