Visa Complications


No big surprise, but it turns out that many countries really don’t like having to jump through so many hoops in order to apply for a U.S. visa. In 2003, a consular officer in Moscow told me that when the Russian duo t.A.T.u. applied for a visa, they were asked to sing for the staff to verify their identities.
Another consular officer recounted a story about a national champion youth martial arts team applying for visas to go to the U.S. to compete in an international tournament. The officer cleared out the room and forced the team to perform in order to demonstrate that they were who they said they were. One child, who had broken his leg in the national competition, couldn’t participate in the demonstration. His visa application was denied, the consular officer told me proudly.

These are just two of many stories that illustrate America’s cold-hearted approach to consular affairs. While I appreciate the need for increased scrutiny in visa applications, I am disgusted by the callousness of this approach and the damage it is surely doing to our public diplomacy efforts.
To illustrate their displeasure, many countries are bumping up their respective visa application fees to match what we charge. Three of four countries on my upcoming trip are asking $131 to apply (Kyrgyzstan is the outlier). This is, I imagine, having the desired effect: it’s putting a dent in my wallet and reminding me how difficult we’ve made it for most foreign nationals, who lack even the financial security that I have as a young professional/student, to visit the U.S.
The honor of “most intimidating visa application,” however, goes to Russia. Russia asks applicants to list all countries visited in the past ten years and the dates of each visit, their last three places of employment, all educational institutions attended, and “specialized skills.” But question 31 is the real whopper:

List all professional, civil and charity organizations which you are (were) a member of, or contribute (contributed) to, or work (worked) with.

Ouch. That question took me about a half hour to answer. And given my past encounters with FSB agents and my work in 2003 for the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest and most routinely harassed human rights organization, I was genuinely surprised to receive the visa. Glass half-full, I suppose — for now.
Here’s a prediction: the next version of Russia’s visa application will inquire about involvement with blogs and new media. More than a few times, I’ve been warned by my friends in Russia that my candor on this blog might get me into hot water if I someday visit. Wish me safe travels, my friends…
— Scott Paul


18 comments on “Visa Complications

  1. Jaana says:

    Hi, I am from Abu Dhabi, Pakistani National. I applied for Business visa lately, as I had some job related training to do in US where we have our office head quarters. I had my company’s (American Engr. Firm) invitation letter from US with me and my bank balance in UAE was good enough too. Not even a minor law violation case against me ever. Still I was not given the visa. The lady at embassy told me that i PERSONALLY do not qualify for the visa. I do not understand what does that mean? I am single but that cant be a reason to reject my application.I was going on business trip and my company was paying for my whole trip, including taking the responsibility of my return trip to AbuDhabi. I was not going for pleasure. If the concern was that since i am single and i may not come back from US then that doesnt make any sense either. I am a professional person. Present economy situation of US is infront of everyone. Its already gone down in to binns. Till now there is no hope that the situation will get better. In such scenario who will take the risk of staying over there by leaving his good well paid and secured job outside the US?
    I am really disappointed. The main cause for my disappointment and anger is that I do not know for what reasons I was disqualified.
    I wanted to write to the Chief of Visa Unit but they have not given any email address for him. which means they do not want any complaints against their services and procedures.


  2. Mohammad Arif says:

    I Mohammad Arif, Indian national,presently based in Abu Dhabi(UAE) since last 16 years.I am an engineer by profession and have my own manufacturing industry on a government land in Industrial City of Abu Dhabi(ICAD) Abu Dhabi(UAE).
    I am staying with my family(my wife and two children) in Abu Dhabi.My sister in law (wife’s sister) is a US citizen based in York Town Virginia.
    I had applied for a non immigrant tourist visa to visit United States with family so as to spend my children’s vacation with my sister in law and her family.This is the first time i am applying for a US visa.
    I and my family were called for an interview in US embassy Abu Dhabi.All my documents were checked without any questioning,my wife and kids were given a 3 month visit visa and i was given a NIV(Non immigrant Visa) number and was told that my case requires further administrative processing.
    I was asked to check the status of my case on their web page.
    I send my family to US convincing them that I will be joining them for the last 15 days of their vacation(their return ticket is on 25th August) . They were very nervous while I left them at Abu Dhabi airport.
    I was absolutely sure of my case and was hoping to get the approval with in days.But on 10th July when i saw the updated status on the web page my NIV number was not there and I was being denied a visit visa.
    I am a common law abiding Indian national with not a single minor case against me through out my life span anywhere, being denied a visit visa without any explanation and reasons.
    My Muslim and Non -Muslim friends say i am being denied US entry because of my name , religon and being over18 years of age(I am 46) where as my wife and children were given visa for her gender and my kids age.
    Is it possible my wife and kids being given visas and myself being denied because of this?
    I am dumbstruck,i need to travel by 10th of August to join my family.Pl help.I will be more than happy to answer any queries from your side.
    Thanking you.
    Mohammad Arif.
    Phone:00971 50 6152235


  3. charliebear says:

    To DC resident:
    I hear you, buddy. Funny, my partner and I travel all the time as a couple—we just got back from Portugal—and in 8 years we’ve had absolutely no trouble or hassle from Customs or TSA–they’ve always been friendly and polite, etc—and I have a beard! Maybe its just the luck of the draw—I keep waiting for our luck to run out—we’ll see this fall going to Paris——I agree its a shame people are treated as guilty until proven innocent—this needs to change!


  4. DC resident says:

    As I gay man who travels extensively oversees for work and pleasure, I can add an additional perspective. The HSD staff don’t just harass and intimidate non-US citizens. My partner and I repeatedly have been rudely treated by too many DHS staff, who don’t even bother to conceal their contempt for gay citizens. Customs forms direct, “Each individual arriving into the United States must complete the CBP Declaration Form 6059B. If you are traveling with other immediate family members, complete one form per family unit.” But as there doesn’t appear to be a universal understanding of the current definition of family, we’ve been bullied almost a dozen times in different airports by different personal. When we have filled out two forms, we’ve had agents demand to know why we were trying to “hide” the fact that we were traveling together. When we have filled out one form, we’ve also gotten exactly the opposite response and had other agents belittle our relationship, making caustic statements like, “You might be ‘married’ in Canada, but you’re not here!!” One even tore up the form and demanded that we return to the line and fill out separate forms. (Ironically, moments later at the same airport, another agent asked why we had filled out separate forms when we were sharing a suitcase.) It is strange for me that I have come to dread returning home, because it is likely (now matter what we do) that I am going to have a bad experience going through the immigration and customs process. I shudder to think how these experiences – one of the first experiences that foreigners have with Americans when visiting the US – impact people’s views of our country. The welcoming image of the State of Liberty has been replaced with the thuggish sneer of many DHS staff.


  5. masqn says:

    yeah, i just got my travel visa for the US. ALl of those questions are
    asked of all males over 16. In addition to which I was fingerprinted
    and questioned at length over my desire to travel and blog about
    the election


  6. David P says:

    Just returned from a 7-day Alaska cruise in/out Vancouver BC. Crowd was probably 60-70% British, due weak dollar to Sterling largely, and at least one-half vowed never to return to USA again at having suffered horrendous treatment by US Immigration/”Homeland Security” buffoons in Vancouver while trying to board the Alaska-bound liner. The old adage applies re “giving a little man a little power” – parable for the nation perhaps…


  7. Kunle says:

    As a US citizen of Nigerian background ,I can certainly confirm the callousness of consular officials, my 78 yr old father was denied a visa, because my mother passed away six months before he applied,and had not travelled to the US since 1976.My father in law denied because he had never been to the US, although he has travelled without incident to at least 20 other countries, and my mother-in-law’s visa renewal denied because she had travelled to the US three times in three years.She never overtsayed.
    My sister is a doctor and had to diagnose a couple of symptoms before she was issued a visa.
    My appeal to my congressman was simply ignored.I have an income of over 250k a year and pay my taxes, but my father cannot visit me because my mother is dead.Go figure…
    Talk about second class citizenship.


  8. sam says:

    Applying for a visa (residency permit) in Austria right now is a nightmare. Maybe instead of blaim America first we should just blaim bureaucracies?


  9. Tom0063 says:

    You left out the most important part:
    The Russian question:
    “List all professional, civil and charity organizations which you are (were) a member of, or contribute (contributed) to, or work (worked) with.”
    Is the exact same question which Russian men (men only) have been required to answer to get a US visa.


  10. Doug Stewart says:

    As a Canadian, I used to consider myself an “honorary” American. I have traveled extensivelly throughout the country, on business and pleasure. Up until GWB was elected(?), I loved the country and was mildly jealous of Americans, just for the greatness of the American experience. I must have crossed the Canadian/American border at least 200 times. I always found the American guards more fearsome than the Canadian guards, (ours did not carry guns until very recently) but they were always professional and efficient. It’s sad to see what has happened in the last 8 years. Also unpredicted, unbelievable and unnecessary. The last couple of times I crossed the border were much worse than my previous trips, though I have no personal horror story to recount. Suffice to say that I have just lost interest in American travel. I read about American politics every day, watch American entertainment occasionally, but I’m just not motivated to cross that border any more. Can the good ol’ USA really sink into fascism? It seems to be going that way. McCain or Hilary won’t stop the slide. Can Obama? Can he?


  11. Tribunus Plebis says:

    Scott Paul is absolutely correct to believe that our omnipotent (but not omni-competent) Homeland Security bureaucracy is harassing some of the world’s best and brightest when they apply to come to the U.S. I’ve been told of an Arab nonviolent activist with a spotless record, who had just obtained his M.A. from a distinguished American university, and who held a valid U.S. visa — but was refused entry on a routine trip into the U.S. The trip was for the purpose of visiting universities to which he had applied to pursue his Ph.D. After disembarking from his flight, airport-based DHS personnel took him into custody, interrogated him for an hour about his political beliefs and ransacked his luggage, then canceled his visa and put him on the next plane back to the foreign city he had flown in from — refusing to give him any reason for doing so. Subsequent inquiries through the State Department met the same stonewall. Precisely the kind of Middle Eastern civil society leader whom the U.S. wants to favor and encourage was treated with extreme rudeness, and none of his American colleagues have been given the decency of a substantive explanation. Not only was justice not done, there wasn’t even simple human courtesy. This part of our government seems to be turning into what Americans instinctively oppose wherever they encounter it around the world: an unreasoning, unlistening and monolithic institution based not on knowledge and understanding but on fear and whim.


  12. Fabio says:

    “The honor of “most intimidating visa application,” however, goes to Russia. Russia asks applicants to list all countries visited in the past ten years and the dates of each visit, their last three places of employment, all educational institutions attended, and “specialized skills.””
    Read the U.S. application forms. They ask these things too.


  13. Mitch P. says:

    Your points are well taken Steve, but let’s be real about this. Russia’s visa restrictions have nothing to do with U.S. visa restrictions. For starters, the Russians make it difficult for everybody, not just Americans, to get visas. This has become a big issue in Russia-Indian relations. The reality is it hurts them more than anybody because people are disinclined to visit Russia and spend their money or even invest their money there as a result.


  14. Sturt says:

    It may – or may not- surprise you to know that to get a US visa, male applicants between 16 and 70 are required “to list all countries visited in the past ten years and the dates of each visit, their last three places of employment, all educational institutions attended, “specialized skills.” and military experience – just like Russia.


  15. Scott Paul says:

    My understanding is that “importance” has nothing to do with it. The FSB tracks all sorts of folks, Russians and foreigners alike, most of whom are apolitical. I’d be surprised if the Russian government considers me a threat, but based on my past affiliations, I’m almost positive that I’m on their radar screen.


  16. c715128 says:

    are you really that important that you think the russian government considers you a threat?


  17. mr.ed says:

    Artists from all kinds of places are having visa problems, causing problems for their prospective venues. My personal experience is with a large, nationally known museum with an international music series. There are times when it would be too late to hire another group to replace the ones scheduled because their visas were delayed until literally the last minute, as the musicians are due at the airport to come here.


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