26 July 2016

Guest post: Matthijs's new visa

The following is Matthijs's story about getting his student visa. 
About a month ago, I was sitting in the U.S. consulate in Brussels, Belgium, waiting for my visa interview. Up to a point, sitting in the room (cheerless as it was) was an improvement since for the first fifteen minutes at the consulate, I had been standing out in the rain. For dramatic embellishment I could tell you that it was pouring, but thankfully, that's not true. There was just a minor drizzle to match my mood. If theoretically I was relieved to be at the consulate - a consulate, after all - and have my visa appointment, I didn't particularly connect to that feeling.

Applying for a new U.S. visa is an experience I am glad to share, though, with Americans who may not be aware what face its country is presenting to the rest of the world, and possibly with non-U.S. nationals who will commiserate.

By way of introduction: friends of ours and of Campus Edge may remember that back in 2014 it took Brenda six months before she received her work visa. Even though as a Canadian and as a soon-to-be Campus Pastor she's completely harmless – at least for the purposes of Homeland Security – it still took her six months, plus a lot of administrative effort and ad-hoc decision making (in which country to be when, and how and when we might see each other) and a fair bit of money in fees. But from then on she held the status of R-1, which in the alphabet of U.S. visas means a religious worker. Our next move for its renewal is planned for this fall. So this story is to be continued at a later point.

Brenda's visa got me in to the U.S. as well, as her husband. Our first appointment at the U.S. Consulate we had together. That was in Amsterdam, fortunately, much more convenient than Brussels although equally cheerless. So I had my own visa stamp in my passport, classifying me as an R-2. That means that I was the dependent of a religious worker, implying that I couldn't work and get paid for it, and that if somehow Brenda lost her position I'd get kicked out of the country with her. The old visa stamp is still there in my passport but it now has a large black stamp on it saying CANCELLED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Getting this stamp is more or less the first thing that happened at my interview, since you can't have two U.S. visas that are valid simultaneously.

Fair enough. But what that stamp also meant is that from that point on I wasn't allowed to go home any more. Apart from the fact that I didn't get my passport back with the new visa immediately – U.S. consulates need to sit on people's documents for a week or so before they are sent back – as an international student the earliest you can get into the U.S. is a month before your program starts. In my case that meant that 21 July was the first date I was allowed to travel into the U.S. (Hence the exile in Canada). So the one question I was not really looking forward to when we got to the U.S.-Canada border at Port Huron was, "where do you live?". The obvious answer is Lansing, Michigan, where all our stuff is and our cat, but from a previous altercation between Brenda and a notoriously unhelpful border guard I kind of knew that U.S. border guards live in a different legal reality. People who have not yet been admitted to the U.S. cannot possibly live there. So that answer would not get me to Lansing. In the end I simply said I'd been living in the Netherlands, even though I spent only a week there this trip. After another hour of border formalities we were finally through and my forced vacation had come to an end.

The wait in the Consulate was three hours for a two-minute interview and some formalities, like finger-printing. Why it had to be Brussels and not Amsterdam is for another time. Just one thing. In the room where we sat and waited were three enormous pictures of Barack Obama, John Kerry and Joe Biden. Now all three are decent, hard-working men, no matter if you agree with them or not, but imagine having Donald Trump and his cronies hanging there on the wall in like three-feet-long picture frames. I'd have run away screaming. Wouldn't you?

1 comment:

Monica said...

Great story, and absolutely delightful storytelling!