Friday, March 4, 2011

Final Visa Interview

(PICTURE: Huyen with her medical bag. The consulate is across the street.)

To prepare for the final interview, Huyen and I had to collect over 500 pages of documents. Yes, over 500 pages. This doesn't include the emails, phone records, blog entries, photos, etc. that I printed to prove that our relationship was legitimate. Putting together this many documents naturally made me nervous that we were missing something. Huyen started to fear that we didn't have enough pictures and TWICE went to a photoshop in HCMC to print more. Then the night before our interview she went threw all 100 pictures and put post-it notes on them to help her remember where and when we took them (they were already in chronological order based on the governments requirement). Furthermore, the day before the interview, we spent the whole afternoon practicing about 100 potential questions we found on a website about immigration interviews. In short, we were very very prepared.

(PICTURE: Our notebook.)

We arrived at the consulate two hours before our scheduled time on the morning of the interview. When we arrived, there were already about forty people waiting by the entrance of the consulate. Huyen thought this was a lot of people but I was surprised it wasn't more. After parking our motorbike across the street, we walked over to the consulate. As soon as we got on the sidewalk, a guard waved us to come towards him. He was standing at a side entrance and told us that we had to go through there. We both got really excited thinking that we had gotten the red carpet treatment and got to go through a special entrance. Well it turns out we had to join a huge line inside a waiting area. Once we were at the front of this line, we went back outside to join the short line we had passed earlier that morning.

Eventually it was our turn to go into the consulate. We had to check all of our belongings and then get a ticket from a window. The ticket had a number on it -- like at the butcher's section of a grocery store -- indicating when it was our turn. I would estimate that there were three hundred people at the consulate that morning. It took us about an hour to have our number called. We then went to a glass window where the person told us to take everything out of our notebook and to pass it under the glass. If this sounds familiar, it's because I already wrote about this nonsensical process a few months ago. We did as we were told and passed about three hundred pages of stuff under the window. The girl quickly through the stuff into a brown folder and instructed us to pay the visa fee ($404) and to wait for our number to be called again.

While waiting for the actual interview, we got to observe dozens of people have their interviews. It was such a strange process. A few of the more notable things I saw were:
1. A family of seven people having their interview at the same time. A relative of theirs in America is sponsoring all of them which is a pretty hefty endeavor considering what it takes to sponsor just one person.
2. A white guy from Ohio was trying to get a visa for his Vietnamese son. The guy's wife wasn't there and weirdly the kid did not look the least bit mixed. My guess was that the kid was from his wife's first marriage but who knows. The funny part was that the kid ran away during the interview, eventually causing the man to run away to find him.
3. A Vietnamese-American, pregnant southern girl was trying to get her Vietnamese husband/boyfriend into the states. After the interview didn't result in a green light, the girl all of a sudden became extra pregnant, practically going into labor in front of the window. Eventually I think he passed his interview but watching this girl act more pregnant was quite enjoyable.
4. A girl who came with a giant suitcase full of evidence. Her interview lasted about 25 minutes.
5. There were three other white American guys at the consulate trying to get their wives into the states. I was the only one whose wife though was probably within twenty years of his age. There was this one guy who I felt quite bad for as I'm pretty sure he couldn't speak Vietnamese and his wife couldn't speak English. The guy was also clearly in not so great health. Their interview lasted about twenty minutes and resulted in a passing grade. It was after this guy that Huyen and I got the call...

Huyen and I got up to the window and I asked the officer if I could participate in the interview. His answer was, "Hey why not? The more the merrier." Immediately I liked this guy. He then asked us some very basic questions including where we would live in America. Huyen answered that we would live with my parents and proceeded to show him a letter my parents had written stating this. The guy looked at the letter and jokingly said, "Do you think it would be cool to call your parents right now and wake them up to ask them about this?" I told him that I thought my parents would love to be included in the interview. The guy then asked to see some pictures. Huyen took out three piles of pictures and was about to pass them under the window when he said, "Yeah, that's good. Those three are enough." Huyen and I both sort of laughed and I said, "Really? Can't we show you more? She worked really hard preparing them." The guy laughed and then said, "Okay, congratulations!" And that was it. Huyen and I immediately gave each other a big hug and collected all of our stuff. In total, our interview lasted about three minutes. I would say this was fifteen minutes shorter than the next shortest interview that day.

So why was our interview so short? I've got a few theories:
1. I had applied from within Vietnam whereas everyone else I think had someone apply for them from America.
2. We had been sitting in view of the officer who interviewed us. I'm pretty sure he had seen us clowning around with each other for two + hours.
3. Huyen speaks English and did all of the answering.
4. The guy wanted to go to lunch since it was nearly noon by that point and we were at the end of the line.

Overall the whole process took us about five months from start to finish (not including getting legally married in Vietnam first which was another 2-3 months). The process was a pain in the butt but heck, HUYEN CAN NOW COME TO AMERICA!!!!!!

Just a couple more things:
1. Thank you mom and dad for cosponsoring Huyen. We couldn't have done this without you.
2. As I wrote the other day, Huyen will have to fly back to HCMC to pick up her visa and to get her second round of vaccinations.
3. Thank you Steve for all the help along the way. We were the only people who did this without a lawyer. We owe you a big dinner for the help!
4. Although we're now legally allowed to come to America, we're still a few months away from that. We've still got to finish out our jobs, pack up our stuff, travel the country and backpack our way to New Jersey. It's gonna be a fun few months before the big arrival!