Monday, September 27, 2010

Government Inefficiency

Have you ever read an article about how the USA can't account for billions of dollars in Iraq? If not, here's the first one that came up when I googled, "Billions of dollars lost in Iraq."

It seems pretty mind-numbing and unexplainable when something like this can happen. Well, let me try and simplify it for you as politely as possible since I'm currently relying on the USA government to process Huyen's immigration paperwork.

Look at this notebook with empty folders:

Inside this notebook was my extremely organized I-130, petition for Alien Relative. I had spent hours putting together this notebook so it was as neat and organized as possible. Actually, I can't take all the credit since Huyen cut and glued all of the numbered tabs. The front of the notebook had a cover letter with a table of contents. Here's a small portion of the cover letter that talks about what is enclosed:

I have enclosed the following materials:

  1. Completed I-130 Form
  2. Completed G-325A Form for the Petitioner (4 copies)
  3. Completed G-325A Form for the Beneficiary (4 copies)
  4. Passport photo (4X6cm) of the Petitioner
  5. Passport photo (4X6cm) of the Beneficiary
  6. Copy of U.S. Passport of the Petitioner
  7. Copy of all Vietnam entries & exits stamps on U.S. Passport
  8. Copy of the Birth Certificate of the Petitioner
  9. Copy of the Birth Certificate of the Beneficiary (with translation)
  10. Copy of Marriage Certificate (with translation)
  11. Employment Verification for the Petitioner
  12. Employment Verification for the Beneficiary
  13. Copy of Work Permit (with and without Vietnamese notary stamp)
  14. Copy of Business Visas
  15. Statement from petitioner stating that I will be on the airplane to go back to the US with the beneficiary once immigrant visa has been issued
  16. Petitioner’s email address

Supplementary Supporting Documents:

A. Copy of registration form issued by the police station maintaining jurisdiction over Petitioner’s apartment (with translation)

B. Most recent US tax return and W-2 forms (2009 & 2008 copies included)

C. Copy of FBI Background Check (needed for my Vietnamese work permit)

D. Copy of TESOL Certification from HCMC

All in all there were about 200 pages of documents and forms.

Feeling confident about my petition, I went to the US Embassy this morning (I am writing this on 9/23 but it won't post for a couple of days). I approached the Citizen Services window and rang the bell for service. A Vietnamese woman came to the window and asked what I needed. I told her I wanted to file my I-130 package. She told me to pass the package through the small opening in the thick glass window and I did. She looked at the notebook for a second and then asked if I had a Service Number. I didn't. Frankly, I didn't see where to get a number when I walked in and there was only one other American there who was just sitting on a chair not doing anything. Anyway, I need a number and had to leave the window (picture yourself going to the deli counter and there being only one person nearby and the butcher not doing anything yet telling you to take a number...that's sort of what it was like).

I should have known it was going to turn into an annoying morning when all of a sudden the power went out. Yes, even the embassy apparently loses power from time to time. The power came on about thirty seconds later but it took another ten minutes to get a number since the machine had to be rebooted and then refilled with paper. Anyway, I'm getting off topic...

So I go back to the window and before I hit the service button, I see the woman showing my notebook to a few other workers. They must have found 200 pages of documents hilarious because all three girls were laughing at my notebook. I think at this point I let out a deep sigh and rang the bell. The girl came back to the window and I believe this was the conversation:
GIRL: Sir your notebook is very organized but we can't accept it. You need to give us the petition with just paper.
ME: So you want me to remove all the papers?
GIRL: Yes. We only accept it as a stack of papers.
ME: Really? It seem like that wouldn't be very organized and the papers might get out of order.
GIRL: I asked two of my coworkers and they said it must be only paper.
ME: Are you sure?
GIRL: Let me just check with the USCIS office in HCMC.
(NOTE: The USCIS office is the United States Citizens and Immigration Services office.)
(NOTE 2: The girl walked away for about twenty seconds and then came back. I never saw her get on the phone)
GIRL: Yes, the USCIS office says they can only take a stack of papers. Please take them out of the notebook. You can right the numbers on the documents with this.
(NOTE: The girl handed me little post it notes. It was at this point that my pretty transparent face started to say, "Are you f-ing kidding me?". I tried to hide my emotions but the girl clearly knew I was not happy.)

So I took my notebook and sat down and proceeded to take out all the paperwork and make a stack of papers. I attached post it notes to the top right corners of everything and numbered them just like I had already done in my notebook. I then went back to the window and gave the girl the stack of papers.

GIRL: Okay, do you have your business visas in here?
BEN: Yes.
GIRL: Okay, where are they?
BEN: They were in section 14.

The girl then rifled through the papers, making a little mess of everything until she found my business visas.

GIRL: Do you have a copy of your passport?
BEN: Yes.
GIRL: Where is it?
BEN: It was in section 6.

The girl then rifled through the papers some more until she found the passport. She then said it had to be notarized by the embassy (this was the first I had ever heard of this as it wasn't written in any of the forms the embassy had previously given me or put on their website). Next she told me to go pay in the next room.

I went to the next room and was greeted by another worker. That worker had my application with a rubber band around it. That made me feel a little better although a rubber band isn't exactly a notebook with a table of contents and 17 tabs. The girl then asked me:

GIRL 2: Do you work here?
BEN: Yes. My work permit and contacts are in the packet.
GIRL 2: But you have never registered yourself with the embassy?
BEN: No I don't think I have although I have been to this office about five times before and nobody told me I should register.

DEEP BREATHS.... Anyway, I paid the $355 fee and was told the USCIS office in HCMC would get in touch with me. I can only assume they'll be getting in touch with me to say that some forms/documents/pictures are missing from my application.