Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Rant - Who are you to judge me?

Many of us, previously myself included, have never thought twice about the restrictions of traveling to other countries. As U.S. citizens we have a freedom to travel throughout the world with simply a passport and never need to question whether a country would let us in or not. (Although this is beginning to change as countries we have restricted are now returning the favor.) It is a luxury that we take for granted and that we often times don't realize doesn't exist for people in other parts of the world. If you wanted to invite a friend from another country to come visit as a tourist in the U.S., you would probably just assume they would buy the plane ticket and come right on over. Unless your friend is from Western Europe, Canada, or Australia, this is definitely not the case. 

The United States requires Visa's in order to be allowed to enter the country.  Even just to stop in a U.S. airport for a few hours in route to another country, you have to have a Visa.  There are many different types of Visa's depending on what the reason for your travel is; for example, Business Visa, Tourist Visa, Temporary Work Visa, or more long term Visas.  A tourist Visa to come visit the United States on a trip would seem to be the easiest to get, but I don't necessarily think this is true.  I will take you through a little bit of the process you have to go through just to be considered for a tourist visa.  (Tourist Visa's allow you to enter the country to visit friends, travel, etc... on a temporary basis.  The Visa is usually for 5 - 10 years and allows you to enter once a year for up to 90 days at a time.)

Please note this information is relevent for Peru; I know other countries have similar procedures, but I cannot say that each process is exactly like this.

The first step in obtaining a Tourist Visa to enter the U.S. is to submit an application.  The application can ONLY by filled out and submitted using the U.S. immigrations online website.  The website is pretty confusing and probably very difficult for most people to figure out on their own.  The online form itself is extensive, and will probably take you over an hour of your time to complete.  If this form is not submitted exactly correct, you will not be able to move on to the next step of the process.  At the end of the form you get a verifcation page where you need to submit a current picture of yourself.  After doing this, you then print a one page receipt with application number, a brief overview of the application you submitted, and your picture. 

The next step is to take your application stub and head on over to the bank and pay your $140 fee for application.  This is a fee you have to pay in order to get an interview.  The money is non-refundable, which means whether or not you actually get a visa - they keep the money anyway.

After the payment has been processed under your application number, you can then log in online to a site at the local embassay to register for your interview.  Typically, the earliest you can get in for an interview is 2-3 weeks from the time that you register for a time slot.  After selecting a date and time for your interview, you get a confirmation to again print and bring with you. 

Now we have reached the time for the interview.  The average interview is between 2-5 minutes in length, and during this time you state why you want a Visa to go to the U.S..  The agent interviewing you will then ask you a few specific questions and make a decision on whether or not you are going to be allowed in.  The interview process is very hard to read, and there are no set guidelines.  It appears that the decision is up to the discretion of the agent interviewing you and the small amount of information obtained in the interview.  They simply need to decide whether they think you are going to the U.S. legitimately just to visit, or if they suspect you might be trying to stay illegal once you enter.  It is written all over that the main criteria for this decision is if you have something substantial keeping you in Peru.  This could be classified as a good job, close family, large investments,  commitments, etc...  The agent must decide in 2-5 minutes if they feel your individual case presents enough evidence to state that you have a good reason to return to Peru.

I would like to describe Julio's interview directly:

(probably a 3 minute conversation) He stated that he wanted to travel to the U.S. in July to visit friends in Minnesota for 2 weeks.  He was asked if he was still a student and when he was graduating - answer is Yes, and in July.  He was then asked about his work, answer - yes he currently has an internship that he will be hired onto after graduation.  The agent told him that based on his criteria he does not get approved.  He asked for further explanation and had another discussion on exactly why he was visiting the States again, since he had already been there as a student worker.  He explained that he was dating me and would like to visit my family.  Also that I am living in Peru, and we intend to stay in Peru.  Once again he was told that he does not meet the correct criteria.  And he was told that he has already had the chance to go to the United States before he shouldn't need to go again.  The agent told him to wait one year to re-apply - and only if his current information changes.

As you can imagine, we were both completely surprised by this result!  We thought that there was no reason that Julio should be denied.  He is educated, has a job, has traveled to other countries before and always returned, has someone willing to vouge for him coming to the U.S. to visit....... unfortunately none of this matters.

Doing more research now, it is evident that hundreds of people apply for U.S. Visas in Peru every day, and hundreds are told "NO".  The selection process seems to be entirely random and not based on any rational reasoning.  Also, where is all this money for Visa applications going?? It seems the U.S. government must be getting rich on making people apply, then re-apply, time and again while paying $140 each time.  (This is a lot of money for most Peruvians!)  Many people with parents, kids, friends, etc... located in the United States will never be allowed to go visit them.

I called the U.S. embassay here in Peru to talk with someone and was told I needed to submit an email.  I submitted a very nice email explaining the entire situation and trying to be very fair and reasonable.  5 days later I got what seemed to be an automated response with a link to a webpage that states general criteria for getting approved.  I replied being more firm, stating my disappointment and that I felt like no one even read my email!  I got an automated response stating the rules on re-application and that a Visa can not be reconsidered once a decision is made.  I sent one more email basically pleading and telling them exactly what I thought of their process.  I never got an email back, and when I called to ask about it - I was again told, submit another email we can not answer your questions at this time.

I wrote a letter to the Senator's office in Minnesota, as I read somewhere that getting a letter from a State Senator may help you get approved the next time you apply.  I still haven't gotten a response, and everything I read seems to tell me that the U.S. Embassay no longer considers these letters of invitation when making their decision.

It seems the only way to get Julio in, is for him to completely lie and hope he slips through the cracks and gets lucky enough to get a Visa.  Something seems entirely flawed in this system.  Yes I understand that the U.S. government has reason to regulate who can enter the country.  If we didn't, we would have far too many people staying - yes this is true.  But when so many people that I know here in Peru have tried to get simply a tourist visa and only want to visit have been denied - something seems wrong.  The process is no doubt unsuccessful.  I realize it will probably cost too much money, time, and someone actually doing something in order for this to ever change.  Apparently that is something that U.S. government is unable to do.  This is very sad, and I can not express enough my disappointment in this entire process.  Why are we denying foreigners who want to enter as tourists and spend their money in our country??  Is there not a better way to decide and screen applicants.  Shouldn't someone from the U.S. be allowed to submit a letter of invitation and take responsibilty for the visiting tourist??  With a struggling economy I think we would be supporting allowing more tourists to enter!!!!!!!!!!

I actually am feeling embarrassed to say that I am from the United States.  Who are we to tell someone that they are not good enough to enter our country?? 

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