Visa Tales

As a Filipino living in Pakistan I quickly learned that applying for a visa to other countries has become more and more complicated. And I’m not even saying that applying for a visa in my own country was easy either.

When I lived in the Philippines, and when the US still had bases in Clark and Subic, visa applications to the States were free. Partly due to this the lines at the US consulate in Cebu and Manila were unbelievable. Even when the US government started charging visa fees my friends and I still had to get in line as early as 5 am (only to find mosquito-bitten people who have been there since midnight). This changed when they allowed “dropbox applications” (for renewals that don’t require personal interviews) and introduced the interview by appointment only system.

My 10-year US visitors visa is expiring this year, so I took advantage of the winter holiday to have it renewed. It’s a good thing that I did because it took three months. I have gone to the US almost every year and never stayed more than 2 months during each visit. We were therefore surprised when I was asked to submit proof that I did not violate the terms of my 1999 student visa (thank God I saved all my school records) — even though I went back on a student visa in 2002. We heaved a sigh of relief when I finally received my passport with renewed visa just a few weeks before the old one expired. In contrast our baby’s new passport, which are printed in the US, took only two weeks. I did learn two interesting things during those trips to the consular office. One is that a lot of Pakistanis (at least a hundred a day) still want to go to the US and live there. The other is that it is important to use lotion and keep one’s fingers moist for fingerprinting. We thought it was weird when I got an e-mail to come for re-fingerprinting and “apply lotion on (my) hands for a week.”

The clear message is to never assume a visa will be granted even if you have previously traveled to that country before. This is also true when I applied for a Schengen visa to go to Germany for the second time last summer. My German friend, whose birthday we were attending, had to file an application in Nuremberg and show proof of her financial status. In hindsight we should have just shown them our hotel reservations in Munich, Garmisch, Koblenz, and Vienna. I also had to get a travel insurance because the international coverage that I already have is not one of their accredited insurers in Pakistan! When I asked the consul officer why I had to do all these requirements which were not required when I got my Schengen visa in Bangkok she simply said, “because you are in Pakistan.”

Now I’ve been wanting to go to Canada since it’s within driving distance from my husband’s hometown in Central Washington. And of course, they have a special requirement that makes it nearly impossible for me to do: a re-entry visa to Pakistan. Unfortunately for us our Pakistan visa is renewed yearly before we leave for the summer. So I’m currently without my passport while the visa is being processed. And I can’t go miss work until school ends on June 6; then we leave for the Philippines and US on June 11. So unless the Canadian embassy can process visas in 1-2 weeks without a personal interview (or in one day with one) this means I have little chance of driving to Canada again.

Bummer.

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