I’ve reached what I hope is the final part of my story about getting a Visa to visit Hawai’i in December. I’ve written about it in Trip to Hawai’i – the Visitor’s Visa and Aloha! WordPress in Hawai’i.
I flew to Auckland earlier this week for a 10.30 am appointment yesterday with the Consulate. I was prepared with photocopies of numerous documents they’d told me to bring, after spending several hours digging through files to assemble everything.
I had the printout of the application form I’d completed online — their statement that I required Adobe Reader was bogus. After download the PDF opened just fine in Apple Preview.
I had James Gilberd at Photospace take the specially sized passport photos, I’d paid the $183 fee at the Post Office and bought the $6 prepaid courier envelope.
The shuttle bus from the airport to a friend’s place in Westmere cost $35. The driver clearly thought he should be in some rally team and that he needed to alternately exercise both accelerator and clutch every few moments. We made it safely though the Auckland afternoon traffic though, after I’d checked the map to tell him how to reach our destination just off Richmond Road.
The Consulate lobby
On Wednesday morning I left my cellphone, iPod and other electronic gadgets with my friend who dropped me outside the Citibank building in downtown Auckland.
Important Security Notice
1. Please do not bring mobile phones or any electronic devices, such as Blackberries, iPods, or PDAs as they are not allowed within the Consulate.
It had been so much hassle to get this far that I almost couldn’t care if now I wasn’t granted a visa. The whole process was so annoying, time-consuming and costly that if the whole trip fell through it would just be tough luck.
I took the lift to the 3rd floor and arrived around 10.15. The lift doors opened into a small hallway that was a secure area, with one guard in a secure cubicle and another working with visitors. Security cameras were evident.
A few of us queued to enter the line for admission. The security guard took my passport away for a moment and when he returned he asked about electronic devices. Others, who had brought cellphones etc had their bags taken and stored behind the guard’s desk, in return for a luggage tag.
One at a time bags went through one of those scanners the airports use, and we went through a metal detector gateway. Finally the guard directed us through a heavy door into the ‘interview’ area.
The Consulate interview area
After being told I needed an interview, and being given an appointment time I’d somehow imagined the ‘interview’ would involve me and a staff member in a tiny room where I’d be asked about my travel and show the hundred and one documents I’d copied.
I guess that’s the problem with being a New Zealander where we are seldom faced with heavy-duty security.
After being ushered through the security door I entered another hallway that contained around 8 ‘windows’ — some for ‘immigrant visas’ and others for ‘non-immigrant visas’. Again I stood in a queue, until it was my turn to approach the window.
Security cameras were obvious, the ‘office’ area for the workers was visible through the various windows, everything else was locked steel or plexiglass (or whatever the material is these days that’s secure). A few seats were available, but the guard had cautioned us to be sure we’d visited a window before we sat down.
In the corner was a silent colour TV showing grand pictures of the glorious Republic of the USA, and there were colourful posters on the wall, again showing off the splendours of the USA. Behind the queuing area were photos of George W, Condoleeza Rice, the local Ambassador and someone else I now forget.
I queued for a little while — maybe 5 minutes, until it was finally my turn to approach Window #6. The official was very pleasant and friendly. I slid my papers through the tiny slot at the bottom of the plexiglass.
He considered them and asked in a somewhat surprised tone why I was there. It sounded as though he thought I shouldn’t have needed a personal interview.
I explained the previous phonecall with a Consular official, and why I needed a visa. I gave him the letter the University had sent me inviting me to teach the courses. He consulted someone else out of my sight, riffled a few papers and then had me put the fingers of my left hand on a green-lit box that scanned my fingerprints. Then my right hand was scanned and both my thumbs.
After a few moments I was told to sit down.
I waited several minutes and was called to Window #8. First I had to put my thumb on a red-lit box, to match prints and confirm I was the same person who’d been granted entry to the heavily guarded room a few minutes before. The official double-checked with me that I didn’t have a criminal record or anything, and then printed off a web page I’d never stumbled across in my searching. The page explains the Honorarium Payment rules: 9 FAM 41.31 N11.2 Honorarium Payment, part of the ‘U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9 – Visas’.
She went on to explain that the visa she would give me would allow me to return to teach other courses, and also to vacation if I wanted. Finally she let me know my passport and visa would be back with me in a few days time.
All up I spent around 20 to 30 minutes at the Consulate, around $200 in travel, around $200 in fees and courier envelope, and another $50 or $60 in incidentals. I put at least 4 or 5 hours of unpaid time into gathering documents that weren’t looked at, phonecalls, web searches and form filling. Oh, and a couple of days where I couldn’t or didn’t do any actual paid work because I was travelling or away from home.
The consolation prize is that in the last month or so the exchange rate has changed considerably in my favour. The honorarium, per diems and contribution to my airfare being offered by the Pacific New Media Centre may actually pay for my airfares, not counting this extra ‘visa expedition’.
Now we just need people to sign up for the courses so I still have reason to go on my trip. 🙂