A couple of months ago I was invited to run some WordPress training courses in Hawai’i as part of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa Pacific New Media Outreach program (see Aloha! WordPress in Hawai’i). These courses are now scheduled for December.
The New Media Outreach program won’t actually pay me a fee, but they will provide expenses for a couple of days, put a small amount towards my travel and pay an honorarium.
In case you don’t know, an honorarium is essentially a small gift of money — what an academic friend of mine referred to as
a book token and a bottle wine in the form of cash.
Taken all together those things might nearly cover the cost of airfares, and I’m interested to visit Hawai’i. It’s been a year or two since I had a decent holiday, so a few days in a warm and beautiful place would be a bonus.
The Visa call
One of the first things I had to do was sort out a Visa. I’m not doing paid work, but it’s not just a holiday either. After consulting various US Government websites I was utterly confused. Eventually I discovered that I needed to phone the US Consulate in Auckland for guidance, at a cost of a few dollars per minute.
I gathered my info about dates and arrangements and gave them a call. After some discussion they informed me I’d need to apply online for a Visa, assemble all kinds of documentation, such as recent bank statements, proof that I own my house and run my own business, that I have family ties in New Zealand and intend to return here, my tentative itinerary, a letter inviting me to teach the courses, and so on.
I also need to pay a $170 fee and bring the receipt, get some passport photos (larger than NZ passport size), and fly to Auckland for a 30 minute personal interview. There’s an Embassy here in Wellington, but only the Consulate in Auckland can handle Visa matters.
That just added some $500 in costs to my trip, with airfares, transport to and from airports, and the Visa application fee itself.
Friends had advised my to lie and say I was just having a holiday, but I don’t really fancy getting on the wrong side of the mighty US…
The online application
Today’s the day I assemble my documentation and fill in the online form.
I have to complete Visa Application Form DS-156 (*E-Form) non-immigrant visa application. The first thing to happen are the warnings and the 45 Mb download of Adobe Reader — I’ve avoided it for several years till now, but apparently it’s essential. I’m not willing to mess this up, so have downloaded this unwanted software. Sigh.
The alert on the page complains that my up-to-date version of Firefox 3 isn’t up to the encryption job. I doubted that, and found confirmation:
Mozilla Suite, Firefox, and Thunderbird support up to 256-bit encryption (although it’s not commonly used) and is suitable for secure transfers on the Internet. You can use Mozilla Suite, Firefox, and Thunderbird with your bank or any other financial instution that requires strong encryption to protect your personal data. You can also set Mozilla Suite and Firefox to give you an alert when you access a secure page and when you leave a secure page.
Some websites incorrectly detect encryption capabilities and report that Mozilla Suite and Firefox do not have 128-bit encryption. You may be able to get around this problem by changing the browser’s user agent string to that of Internet Explorer.
Next up, filling in the form. At the end are an intriguing set of questions to which I must answer Yes or No. I can’t imagine who’d answer Yes to any of them. They include these gems:
- Have you ever unlawfully distributed or sold a controlled substance(drug), or been a prostitute or procurer for prostitutes?
- Do you seek to enter the United States to engage in export control violations, subversive or terrorist activities, or any other unlawful purpose? Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization as currently designated by the U.S. Secretary of State?
I will honestly answer No. I wonder how many terrorists answer Yes?