Day 740 and Immigration Failed Us Again

My second attempt at a securing a tourist visa for a friend failed this morning. If you’d have asked me a few years ago if I thought the American immigration basically worked, I would have agreed that, sure I thought it probably worked ok. No reason to think otherwise right? Phew I was wrong.

But after years of being humiliated over and over again by the state department for “the crime” of wanting a family friend to come visit us for vacation, I’ve never felt more ashamed of myself and my country.

I’m ashamed I was such a sucker. I thought we would still do the basic work of being a functional state. I’m ashamed that America treats people who want to visit us this badly.

We have well off, interesting, curious guests that want to explore our culture and spend their time & money seeing our land. We spit on our guests by turning away anyone who isn’t on a Schengen or ESTA waiver. You probably think that includes most people. I did. But we are wrong.

Only 40 of the 195 countries on the planet are granted travel visas without going through the visa embassy approval process. Most people have bad passports. Latin America, Africa, the Balkans, the former Soviet blocks and most of Asia have “bad passports” that require a tourist visa that requires years of waiting for appointments and almost assured disapproval at the Embassy.

I’ve never met a system so broken I couldn’t find a workaround. But here I am at the of my workarounds in tears at how I’ve let down my family and friends. The visa I’ve been helping with was denied a second time today after waiting since March for a second chance to re-apply. That first meeting at which we were also denied also took years of waiting.

And it is getting better. This round after flying to Prague, we got two minutes instead of thirty seconds in Frankfurt. In those minutes they still didn’t look at any of the materials prepared. Just a generic we don’t like the look of your people rejection. We got some boilerplate language about strong ties or weak ties and no we won’t read the 200 pages of supporting documents you brought.

I was a mess yesterday about how afraid I was we’d get down turned down again. But I thought surely I was being too paranoid. The lawyers we paid thought we had a good chance. We’ve brought everything possible for paperwork from mortgages to W2 forms. I’d taken personal financial liability for our friend. I let the government have an invasive look at our finances. I gave the consular offices the deed to my house. I worked for months to get a Congressional letter asking for a fair review of the application. None of it was reviewed.

Now in the aftermath, I’m not even sure if it’s possible to get a consular officer to do a fair review. Our congressional representatives wrote the consular office and they send back boilerplate with no details. No one reads the applications I guess. We can apply again. And again. But would good would it do?

4 replies on “Day 740 and Immigration Failed Us Again”

Hey Julie, big fan of you and Alex! I’ve been following this saga on your Twitter and each time I think you’ll quit I am glad you’ve persisted with this. When it comes to some boondoggles it’s good to stick to principles and be irrational. I faced an eerily similar circumstance, my boyfriend is from the global south and whenever he travels he seems to get harassed by airport officials based on the silliest made up pretext. So what did I do? I decided that so much of the abuse that happens at airports to minorities and brown people is allowed to happen because the abuse is not brought to light. People don’t hear about it. It happens in private and people who are abused just try to forget about it. Not okay with me, I’ve launched a website called AirportAbuse where anyone can post specific details of the abuse they face at an airport including details on the official who abused them. Sunlight is the best disinfectant as they say. I’ll continue to spend my resources to make life difficult for bad officials who abuse others at Airports simply based on racism and ignorance.

It’s ironic I am also contemplating starting a website where people can report visa issuance delays and mistreatment at embassies (allowing the creation of a dashboard that’ll show the nicest and most efficient embassies and the worst for visa issuance) if you’ve ever had to deal with the horrible company VFS you’ll know what I’m talking about. Because as you say soooo many people who’re not schengen/ESTA are being treated horribly during the visa application process. There needs to be more visibility into this abuse. That’s step 0.

Good luck to your friend. I’d highly suggest you have your friend show up at another appointment and before it starts to say, “Hello, I am sorry but before we start please read this letter from congressmen so and so” – that might help. Also it might help if you find a representative/congressman from a place that has a large diaspora of your friends’ fellow nationals living in the community and get that rep/congressman to write the letter. Wish you and your friend best of luck!

Amy, thank you so much for such a kind and helpful comment. I could not agree with you more. One reason I’ve written so extensively about the issue is I fear most Americans have little to no visibility into the abuses in the visa system towards the non-ESTA Schengen passports. It seems almost comically evil when pointed out so our reaction tends to be disbelief. I honestly didn’t believe it till it happened to someone in my own life. With my passport privilege I feel like I have a chance to speak up about it as sadly I’m more likely to be believed. Hopefully we can raise awareness and maybe over time it helps

Hey Julie, my pleasure! Thank you for responding. You’re absolutely right that most Americans have little understanding of this evil – just 37% of Americans have a valid passport as of 2021, according to a YouGov survey. Most Americans – this makes me sad seem to think that anyone can simply buy a plane ticket, hop on a plane and come to America. Comically evil is a pretty accurate description of how the visa application process to come to America works (or would work) for most people in the world who want to visit. Thanks again for writing about this and spreading awareness (your tweets and blog posts are awesome and very emotive). Obviously, you’ll be on the right side of history. I have a favor to ask you, AirportAbuse was just launched on 1st Jan and it’s gotten some users reporting abuse at Airports already (thanks to ads). I have no intention to monetize it (ever) – I simply set it up to help people; by creating a better feedback loop so that abuse at Airports is documented on a fair platform and brought to wider attention. You have a big following on social media; could you tweet about AirportAbuse please? Again, there are no ads, I have no plans or intentions to monetize (ever!), AirportAbuse is just my (some would say quixotic) attempt at righting a grievous wrong I’ve witnessed personally that made me very sad (somewhat like your persistent efforts with your friend’s American visa application). I’d be super grateful!

(I tried posting this as a reply but got the error “Nonce verification failed.” – sorry.)

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