I haven't gone to visit the States since I left over three years ago, and to be honest I have no desire to do so now. However, parents do start to miss their children after a time, and as my Thai fiancé and I have both recently finished graduate programs (or rather, she finishes soon), and as I'm finally at a school that gives me Christmas holidays, my dad bought us return tickets to visit them in the States over the holidays. Ok, sure, it'd be nice to see the family and whatnot; sounds fun.
Having returned to the States after a stint abroad in the past, I am already well aware of the hoops I have to pass through, as a citizen, to prove I'm not harboring terrorists and whatnot before returning; it's taken me hours in airports to deal with this before. So, I knew it wouldn't be a cake walk to get my Thai fiancé a visa, but surely it's doable.
Apparently not. We paid the $160 (currently almost 6,000 baht) application fee, I guess to make sure none of the wrong type breach the borders, filled out the comical application (have you, or anyone you know, ever aided in international drug smuggling schemes? -I wish), made the appointment, and showed up bright and early.
Her appointed application officer, according to her and several other applicants I met outside (as a citizen, I'm obviously not allowed to go in the embassy with her), was, let's say, not too keen on his job. Keeping in mind my fiancé is completely fluent in English, and that the only document the officer had at the time was the online application itself, the interview went as thus:
Where are you going? -Savannah, Georgia
Who is this contact person listed on the application? -my fiancé's dad (glances up at her)
Your fiancé... let me see his visa and work permit. -...he's waiting outside, they wouldn't let him in!
How long have you been dating? -over three years.
And you've never travelled abroad together? -well, it's expensive and we both work full time.
Application denied. You can't show his passport OR work permit, you've been dating for years and haven't left the country together, and that's suspicious. -(tries to hand him her folder of evidence) but... (tosses denial slip and slams window shut)
Now, for those of you with a keen sense of... sense... may notice that this gentleman never even offered to look at her paperwork, which contained her working contract as a Thai government officer (a relatively sought-after and respected position here), salary slips, paid return ticket confirmation, and other proof that she has absolutely no intention of eloping to the US and staying there. She tried to offer it just before the officer slammed the window shutter, but alas, no success.
She wasn't the only one with the gentleman who had likely suffered from the bad Thai hooker experience; several others had similar stories. Now, well-riled, I decided to do what any good citizen would do: write a letter to the embassy that would make absolutely no difference. I was very cordial, even kind in my eyes, humbly suggesting that procedure may not have been followed. Shall I quote a bit? Yes, because the response (shockingly, I got a response) was comical.
"I would like to file a formal complaint regarding the Embassy's handling of a recent Non-Immigrant visa application made by my Thai fiancé. While I fully realize the need for strict filtering of visa issuances, and while I also realize that application approval is at the discretion of the Consul Officer, I feel that this particular application was inconsistent with the published guidelines and requirements of the application process.
[brief description of what happened]
My complaint is thus: the Officer never even asked to see the applicant's documents that would have proven her intentions, and my understanding is that the Officer was not in the best of spirits per several other denied applicants I met as I was waiting outside the Embassy.
Keeping in mind that the application documentation does not require my legal documents for an application, although those could easily have been supplied, I feel that the Officer did not follow proper procedure as the applicant's verification documents were not even requested for validation."
Nice, eh? I was rather proud of being nice. Am I wrong in thinking that the officer should at least LOOK at the validating paperwork before denying the application?
Their response, though, was spot-on with US governmental authority. You have the "burden of proof" to "prove" that you don't intend to immigrate to the US (how can you prove anything if the officer won't even look at the documents?), the officer must use his/her discretion in the interest of national security (I feel safer already), do feel free to apply (and pay) again, etc.
Essentially, the lines from Matilda: "I'm big and you're small, I'm right and you're wrong," all copied directly off their website. Good of them to bother replying though; you'd never even get that Stateside.
I can count on two fingers the number of times I've actually been angry since moving to Thailand, and the first was my last 8+ hour stint at Bangkok immigration. At least in Thailand, the government's upfront, basically like, "We're completely full of shit and you're just going to have to deal with it, foreigner."
In the US, it's more "YOU'RE completely full of shit, we're the greatest country on Earth and we'll prove it to you by bombing everyone and denying your visas because we can, HA, HA, HA." Ok, so that's obviously a dramatization, but you get the idea. To quote Walter from The Big Lebowski, "Dude, am I wrong?"
The irony is, I don't even want to visit the States; although it'd be great to see my family, this kind of bureaucratic nonsense is exactly the reason I don't live there anymore. Well, that and the fact that other Americans generally annoy me.
Although this particular officer isn't representative of the whole country, I can't say that I really blame him for his lack of enthusiasm; he's working in an environment full of the reddest of red tape, and what can we really expect the result of that to be?
If the US is so bloody proud of its superior law and order, shouldn't it at least try to bother following it?
Obviously, we'll have to do this whole process over again and hope to get a different officer; the tickets are paid for and the family is all excited for our visit. But, having been known to have a slight temper when dealing with the government, I can say that if they deny her again (and there is absolutely no reason to-she has all the required documentation), the hell with it, we're going to Fiji... somewhere I actually WANT to go.
I hope you enjoyed my blog. If you would like to get in touch or perhaps e-mail me with a question, I would love to hear from you - All the best, Sam Thompson.