Bombay Diaries: Two (Or, The Trials of an American Visa)

American work or student visas are a compound of two elements: (a) a document that your employer or school obtains by filing paperwork with U.S. immigration, which allows you to be in the country (b) a stamp on your passport that you must obtain at the U.S. consulate nearest to your hometown in your own country. You cannot enter the U.S. without (b) even if you are in possession of (a). If the date on (b) expires, you must travel back to the home country to get it renewed. If (a) expires or any conditions related to (a) change, you must get a new (a) and then get a new (b) if you don’t wish to be stuck inside the U.S. indefinitely.

So a recent change in circumstances meant that I had a new (a) and needed a new (b).

Step 1: Filing an online application form for my new American H1B visa (via a website belonging to a company to which the consulate outsources this process).

Correction: Step 1: Figuring out when you can leave the country for long enough to get through the process.

Step 2: Buying a plane ticket home.

Step 3: Now, filing an online application form for the new American H1B visa (via a website belonging to a company to which the consulate outsources this process).

Correction: Step 3: Looking up the visa fee ($190) and then asking your beleaguered sibling in India to pay it at one of the few authorized branches in India. Having your sibling send you the receipt number of said payment.

Step 4: Finally, filing an online application form for the new American H1B visa (via a website belonging to a company to which the consulate outsources this process). The form requires you to enter your exit and entry dates to the U.S. for the last x years (for which you peer myopically at every stamp on your passport).

Using the fee receipt number to get an appointment with the consulate officer in Bombay. The website takes you to another page where you have to make another appointment. Huh? You tentatively chose a day prior to the interview while thinking you will get a chance to figure out what it’s for. Bam! You are locked in for two days: one to submit paperwork and be photographed and finger-printed, and one to talk to the officer about your application. In the past, the paperwork submission could be done in your hometown but now you have to be in Bombay for two days. Nice of them to think everyone lives in Bombay and can waltz in and out of the consulate.

Step 5: Fly to Bombay. Have beleaguered sibling pick you up and drive you to your hometown. See family briefly while jet-lagged. Drive back to Bombay two days later to the overcrowded home of beleaguered cousin who lives near the consulate.

Feb. 7: 2:00 p.m.

Step 6: Take a taxi to the paperwork submission office in massive office complex spanning several miles. Find office.

Correction: Step 6: Strip yourself of every metallic object. The consulate offices do not permit keys, wallets, cellphones, etc etc. Put paperwork and paper currency in a plastic folder.

Step 7: Now, take a taxi to the paperwork submission office in massive office complex spanning several miles. Find office. Get passport looked at, go through metal detector, get called in to room filled with bank-teller-like windows. Submit paperwork to Indian chap who thinks you cannot speak English and kindly switches to one of your other three languages. You decide not to correct him. He takes a photo of you, struggles to fingerprint the fine lines of your palm, and tells you you are cleared for your interview. The process has taken less than 10 minutes so you are hopeful that the next day’s appointment will be just as quick. You ask the security guard to point out the location for the interview (which is naturally not in the same building).

Step 8: Get a reluctant taxi-driver to take pity on you in the afternoon heat and drive you home. (He would have preferred a heftier fare.)

Feb. 8: 9:00 a.m.

Step 9: Leave for the 10:00 a.m. appointment. Wander around for a half hour looking for an empty cab. Feel mounting sense of panic. Finally find one that is free.

10:00 a.m.

Step 10: Go through security at the actual American consulate. Enter a second gate into a courtyard that has a pavilion filled with chairs. Sit where told and think you will be called in any minute.

10:00-11:55 a.m.

Step 11: Wait

11:55 a.m.

Step 12: Get directed inside the visa processing center. Go through security. Queue up to one window to get some label slapped on your passport and have your interview language (English) noted.

12:00 p.m.

Step 13: Queue up to another window where your passport is taken.

12:05 p.m.-12:45 p.m.

Step 14: Stare at the screens to see if your number is being called yet. Entertain yourself by eavesdropping on the long-winded stories that applicants tell the officers. (” I can fly Embraer, Cessna…”,  “I am retired engineer with pension of…”, “You are calling me a liar? All lies?!”, “My son is going to go to Harvard. No, he hasn’t applied yet but he’s going there…”, “How many people came to my wedding? SO many…”)

12:45-12:46 p.m.

Step 15: Go up to the window. Officer asks the name of your new employer. Tells you the visa request is granted. Will be processed in 3-5 business days. Bye.

12:46 p.m.  Step out, pause to file a form to have the passport delivered home by courier, leave consulate.

Feb. 12

Step 16: Beleaguered sibling receives phone call from courier who has already arrived home with passport. You and sibling are both still in Bombay. Courier refuses to leave passport with anyone else. You request that the office delay delivery for two days because you cannot leave Bombay till you pick up a visiting friend from the airport. Arrive home at 3 in the morning two days later and passport is delivered at 9:30 a.m. The photo is ugly. Have Visa, Can Travel.

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