Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Visa Application, Part 1

Some observations:

  1. Keep your cool. The process is the process. You can’t speed it up or circumvent it by being angry or impatient. Answer questions calmly and articulately and let the process evolve. Don’t add spurious information to the process during the application interview. The consulate folks are just trying to get their jobs done.

  2. You are not going to explain away something that is wrong with your application, period. Get clear instructions about what you can do to fix it and try again. We saw second timers there who got rejected again. In our case, we didn’t get approved because we were missing three specific things (see below) but were given clear instructions about what was needed. When we explained that we were from Seattle, they said we could mail everything in (together) with the additional information and continue the application, thankfully. They initialed all the paperwork that was good and acceptable so when they receive it in the mail they will see that and not spend time reviewing it again.

  3. We were a bit worried about applying together as a same sex couple so we took great pains to separate everything but as we approached the service window it became apparent we were together and we were funneled to one window since so much of our paperwork was the same (financial, accommodations, flights). We didn’t anticipate that they would want to process us together and I would still give the advice to non-married couples of any kind to prepare separately but approach the window together and see how it goes.

  4. Hand over the information in bits and pieces as asked for. Don’t expect to hand over your meticulously prepared packet and hope they will gladly flip through it and know what to make of it. This piece of advice was passed on by a woman who had gone before us and was going through the process for the second time. We loaned her and her husband $100 bucks because they forgot money when they got up to the window. Yes, the SF Consulate takes cash. This woman said that the consulate person said don’t hand me your “junk bible” or something like that because she tried to hand over a blob of information all at once. I don’t know if that is exactly what was said but I like that phrase. Start out by greeting the staff person and clearly stating what type of Visa you are going for and then slip your application through the window and then they will ask you for what they need.

  5. Be over-prepared. You don’t know what they’ll ask for.

  6. The FBI proof of good conduct (background check basically) with fingerprints was not needed! And to think that took the longest to get. Do bring your driver’s license and passport. A copy is required but they have to look at the real ones too.

  7. Get there 15 minutes before they open. We got there 2 minutes before 1:00 pm and already about a dozen folks were in front of us and the door was open and applications were being processed. When we left the line was still pretty long and I expect since the office closed at 3:30pm that some people did not get processed.

  8. Bring an umbrella if it looks like rain. We stood outside for at least 45 minutes before we got through the door. Luckily it was cool and dry. There is a small waiting room inside but that’s for folks waiting for other things (like email, or a finished Visa, or mail, etc.). There is a separate window for “everyday” transactions so if you see people bypassing the Visa line they are probably going in to pick up something else and not applying for a Visa.

  9. Don’t forget your cashier’s check, money order, or cash.

In SF Consulate we saw a heated dispute where one couple came storming out, cursing, followed by several of the consulate staff. Heated words were exchanged and a fight looked eminent but thankfully didn’t happen. That sort of spooked everyone in line. When we got the window everyone was nice and helpful so I don’t know what happened.

For some reason the speaker system that you are suppose to talk and listen through at the service windows was broken so everyone was shouting and several times consulate staff had to come into the lobby (on our side of the glass windows) to ask “what did you say”? It also meant we were shouting what seemed like personal information for everyone to hear… “YES, I HAVE NOT QUIT MY JOB. WHAT? YOU WANT A LETTER OF TERMINATION FROM MY EMPLOYER? BUT I DON”T WANT TO QUIT YET.” “NO MY NAME IS NOT ON THE APARTMENT RENTAL APPLICATION BECAUSE HE PAID FOR IT!! BUT I’M STAYING THERE.” Etc. Don’t be shy; everyone is in the same boat.

We got in line at 2 minutes to 1:00 and finished up around 2:45pm. Don’t know if this is typical but this is what we experienced.

We are arriving in Italy 2 weeks before our apartment rental kicks in. We are going to do some sightseeing, get the permesso di soggiorno, and visit friends in Umbria. We were really worried about how to explain those days either with hotel reservations or specifics about who we are visiting. Our plans are not set in stone because we don’t know them all yet and we want some flexibility. It seems, however, that our quota of 90 days as a tourist on a US Passport will cover that time. The first day of our visa will correspond to day 1 of our apartment rental agreement since that is one of the conditions of a long term stay. This point is still is a bit murky. If you can, have a well laid out itinerary and let them tell you when the Visa will start.

Here is what we needed in our particular situation for an extended stay Visa:

  • Housing contract with both of our names on it. (We blew it here and need a redo. Either one of us is the main payer and the other is the guest or both of us are the payers. In some way both our names need to be on the contract.)

  • Copy of health insurance card from our preferred provider. That was the easiest to show. No medical travel insurance seemed to be needed.

  • Copy of passport and driver’s license and the real version of each.

  • Financial statement of worth. (They actually could tell we had everything together and suggested one would be fine between us.) They really didn’t scrutinize this that much either. We had sufficient funds from our financial institution.

  • Flight info showing coming/going flights.

  • Cover letter. Yes, my consulate agent actually read it. Not sure if she was chuckling though.

  • Letters of termination for both of us from our employers. (We blew it here too.) This is a bit odd because it is sort of a chicken and egg situation for Marx2 who wasn’t going to tender his resignation unless the Visa was in hand or so that was the plan. Marx1 left months ago. It still strikes us as odd why this is needed. I can only suppose it is for companies trying to send people over on the sly. If that’s what they need, that’s what we are getting.

Not needed:

  • Reservations for our language school. Mind you we are applying for an extended stay Visa, however, we thought the school reservation would help establish intent and how we plan to fill some of the time. Apparently, not.

  • FBI background check with cute little fingerprints on it.

  • Travel insurance. (Which still might be needed for permesso soggiorno.

  • Gory details of health coverage what’s covered and what’s not.

  • Birth certificate. (Brought it just in case.)

  • Extra copies of Visa application and extra passport-sized pictures. Nice to have, but they only need one of each.

Even though we brought things that were not needed we felt good about preparing them (except wasting time and money on the FBI check) because they’ll come in handy later.

The saga continues…

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