Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A day at the US Embassy's non-immigrant visa section

As I am going on another trip to Washington DC (to attend the People and the Planet gab), I had to apply for a new visitor's visa. My old one was replaced by a J1 visa when I was an exchange prof at Louisiana State University( and this expired when my appointment at the university was over). So I needed to pay the 100 dollar fee and set an appointment which was originally scheduled for 12 October, a Friday. But since that day was declared the Eid al Fitri holiday, the embassy scheduled a new time for me at 2:30 PM the following Monday.

The procedures are largely the same the last time around except they have streamlined the finger scanning procedure. (cellphones, digicams, laptops and all sorts of gadgets are not allowed) Since the appointment numbers are chosen at random before one sees the consul, one can't read a book whilst waiting for your turn. (I was planning to lug along my new translation of Don Quixote. Cervantes' opus is apropro for this kind of situation!)

So the only entertaining thing to do is people watch! I observed all sorts of facial expressions. Some people it seems are applying for a visa for the first time. Some are renewing and some are on official government business.

What struck me were applicants who are working for call centers. I notice the American accent almost immediately but strangely I having been and stayed in the US for a time, this call center accent is rather different to the accent I heard in the US (or probably it's because I lived next to the Misissipi River dike near a Louisiana bayou!). And since they spoke in a rather loud manner, one can hear how much they get paid!

Sadly it seemed that only a very few of the call center employees got their visa. It could be that the consuls think that a call center agent can easily quit his/her job and decide to stay in the US. This means that they think a call center job isn't a long term career.

Since I was wearing my purple LSU colors as a jacket, the consul (who I learned surprisingly attended LSU and is a tiger herself) asked me the question, "Why did you choose to go to LSU?" Nonetheless our whole 5 minute conversation was about the Tigers and their chances this football season. She did not even bother to look at my supporting documents and granted me a visa. But she asked me the 64K question before approving my visa application

"What do you think about Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize?"

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