Renewing My US Visa – Finally

Having jumping through multiple hoops to get the original – you would think that having operated into the States every month for the last two years, renewing my visa would not be that difficult a process. Well ..

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that despite being told that the process would be simple, quick and online – in fact renewing my US C1/D Crew Visa was not only an involved online process, but also required fronting for an interview at the consulate.

Q: Have you ever served in, been a member of, or been involved with a paramilitary unit, vigilante unit, rebel group, guerrilla group, or insurgent organization?
A : Does being a Trekkie count?

Due to operate to Phuket on Thursday the 18th, an interview with Consulate staff at 8:15 same that morning wasn’t going to meet the need; accordingly I managed to negotiate an interview the preceding Friday through a series of e-mails. This resulted in another roster change and some inconvenience for one of my fellow check captains who had to cover my duty (thanks Mike). I wasn’t desperate enough to try the phone call route, the US Consulate of Australia charges $1.15 per hour to listen to recorded information; $12 to reach a live person. I’m guessing they haven’t outsourced that to India yet.

Q : Do you seek to engage in espionage, sabotage, export control violations, or any other illegal activity while in the United States?
A : I’ve no firm plans at all, just hoping for a beer and bite to eat, actually
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A 6:15 alarm on the Friday morning for my 9:15 appointment. Despite heavy peak hour traffic between Geelong and Melbourne (how do people do that journey every day?) I did one block of the consulate and happened into a four hour park just round the corner. Then discovered that the meter was broken, so I texted the number with my car rego and meter number and hey presto – free parking. The wind was clearly at my back; today was going to go well.

Q : Do you seek to engage in terrorist activities while in the United States or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities?
A : No, Actually. These questions are clearly exposing the boring life I’ve lead so far.

I walked into the building at 8:35 just as they were calling for 9:15 appointments. Through stage one security where I surrendered my phone and bag. A sticker on my chest to tell everyone who I was and allow passing scanner carriers to bar code me and I was on my way upstairs. A quick somewhat personal once over (bar code scan as well) and through into the waiting area.

As my bottom touched the seat (in the non-US Citizen waiting area, I hasten to add) my number was called and I was at window #1. A brief explanation of why they had my passport instead of me and it was found. A quick review of the paperwork, ten fingers later and I was told “That’s it, we’ll post it to you later today.” and I was headed out through security. I hit the coffee shop at the front of the building well before the original 9:15 appointment time of the “interview”. It was the only way to fly. Awesome.

Q : Have you ever committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in torture?
A : Well, I’m and Airline Check/Training Captain, so I’ll just have to plead the Fifth on that one
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It was explained to me, by the way, that the reason I was back in for the ten finger print scan was because the original scan was done in Dubai. I asked if this was a Middle East thing. Apparently not. Had the original visa been issued in Sydney but then I chose to renew my visa in Melbourne – I would still have to come back in for a new ten finger print scan – the various consulates don’t share that information. I reserved verbal judgment on that piece of baffling bureaucracy. There’s this thing called the Internet …

Q : Have you ever sought to obtain or assist others to obtain a visa, entry into the United States, or any other United States immigration benefit by fraud or willful misrepresentation or other unlawful means?
A : Over the past ten years, I’ve conservatively left at least 20,000 passengers behind in New York, Houston and Los Angeles. They can’t all have been legal, surely?

So I was standing at the counter of the aforementioned coffee shop when I saw the downstairs security guard run past out into the street. I saw him stand on the footpath looking first one way and then the next; then walk back in. On a whim I popped out of the coffee shop and he recognised me. “They want you back.” he said. “Oh.” I said. And back in I went, coffee straight into the trash, of course.

It turns out that even though there was no real need to interview me – all that was required was the finger print scan – because I had come in and was available for interview (because of the scan requirement); I was required to be interviewed – a procedural issue. Of course. I grabbed another number and sat down.

What ensued was 60 minutes of broken process. They had called my original number to interview me while I was on my coffee shop soiree, so I missed that one. They gave me a new number, but because I was skipping the clerk at window #1 process this time, straight to the interview with the US Accent guy at window #3; he never called me. I was outside the system. I’m sure there was a question about that on the form …

Clearly there was no fall back position. It took 60 minutes and several attempts at clarification before I managed to convince them that without my smartphone, laptop or book (all downstairs at security) I was going to create an Emotional Incident (as opposed to an International one) if I was forced to watch the “Isn’t – the – US – wonderful – that’s – why – you’re- sitting – here – jumping – through – all – these – hoops 9 minute propaganda video” on a continuous loop. If I saw Mt Rushmore just one more time I was going to sob. Eventually interviewed, I headed out once again (very slowly) and finally got my coffee.

I did have a lengthy discussion with the Processing Officer as to the advisability of postage vs collection. In the end it was decided collection was best. I ascertained that it would be ready Monday; but that I could collect it Tuesday morning. There there were no public holidays in between that would catch me out; that no-one was exhibiting signs of the sniffles. So I took back my return addressed express envelope and left a phone number for them to call on Monday to advise when it was ready (I had a sim training duty in Sydney on Monday).

Q : Briefly describe your current duties in your employment.
A : I fly the plane and fill in Visa/Immigration related paperwork. Lately, in equal measure.

Monday came and so did the phone call. In anticipation I’d arranged a series of activities that morning including stopping in at my grandparent’s place to fix their computer, my parents place for lunch with my other grandmother, etc. All based on being there bright and busy tailed at 9:00 to collect my passport with my fresh US visa. If only’d I’d known while making those plans that in fact passport collection is a fixed window 15:00 through 15:30 and strictly no collection outside that. Oh well.

And we’re at the end of this tale (relieved? I am). My visa is due again in 5 years. As long as the Melbourne Consulate exists then, I may not need an interview, but I’m going build up my tolerance to US Video Saccharine in the meantime, just in case. Any suggestions? Family Ties re-runs come to mind.