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“Let Me Into Your Country…Please?” April 4, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings, Up and Away.

It’s that time of the year again when the traditional family vacation begins to take shape. Last year, I was able to spend quality time with my parents and brother because they flew in to visit. This time, it appears we’re set to take in the sights somewhere across the Atlantic, meaning that I’ll need to get a visa (or two) in order to make things happen.

For this reason, I found myself at a foreign embassy recently, right smack in the middle of New York.

I find that there’s something positively nerve-wracking about applying for a visa. Putting the paperwork together, getting the procedures down pat, making the time to show up for the interview…it’s a significant undertaking for something as trivial as the desire to “get away from it all”. It goes without saying that it can be stressful, particularly when one comes a third world country and all the more so (rightly or wrongly) if one happens to be Filipino. On top of making sure the documentation is in order comes the need to convince the requisite consular officer that, yes, this is just a short trip with the folks and, no, I don’t intend to go on the lam in your country to join the criminal element or steal jobs away from your loyal citizens.

So there I was nervously waiting in line for my number to be called and my visa application to be processed: a starving Filipino graduate student alone in a foreign land. The longer I waited, though, the more at ease I felt as the applicants before me were dispatched without incident, and several more individuals began filing in to collect their visas. Everyone I observed of the former group were promised the visa they applied for, while those of the latter sort had obtained visas valid from anywhere between thirty to ninety days.

Then my turn came, which began naturally enough with the consular officer asking me the obvious question: “So where will you be going on your trip?”

That’s when I realized I had absolutely no idea.

Of course, I knew what the trip would entail in broad strokes, but I hadn’t taken the time to look up the specifics. After making all the arrangements, my parents told me we were going on a trip and that I should apply for the necessary papers soon; responsible chap that I am I did just that. That doing so also meant reading through the itinerary was the one detail that I just happened to overlook.

It could only happen to me.

Yet the humorous incident was balanced out by the muted unpleasantness due to, well, being a starving Filipino graduate student applying for a visa in a foreign land. For one thing, I was asked to read and sign a document signifying that I have never been engaged in subversive activities, nor intend such in the future. The same document asked that I indicate if over the past two years I’d been to some twenty countries which included Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria…and the Philippines.


Plus there was that one other thing: unlike everyone else that morning who’d collected visas of lengthy validity, the consular officer told me that I’d only be getting a visa for exactly the length of time I specified. No more, no less. I had expected as much, certainly, but a guy can’t keep from hoping.

It’s times like these that bring home the point that, more often than not, the real victims in the broader scheme of world affairs are ordinary, well-meaning people. Between terrorists with an axe to grind or politicians that can’t get their act together to bring a better life to the people they are meant to serve (who thus seek that life overseas by any means necessary), the average guy stands helpless. Don’t get me wrong: at the embassy where I submitted my visa application the staff were exceedingly courteous and professional, and at no point did I feel discriminated against. Still, when asked the usual questions — Where are you going? How long will you stay there? Do you have a flight home? Have you been to any of these listed countries before? — it’s hard not to feel defensive, and not just because one neglected to look through the itinerary his parents sent him a couple of days beforehand.

Then again, all’s well that ends well. In a couple of days I get to go back to the embassy in question to pick up my visa, which on the whole bodes well for the vacation that will be.

And yes, I already know where this trip will be taking me. But I’m still not telling.



1. Sine Visa, Victus Sum « BRAIN DRAIN - April 12, 2007

[…] didn’t mention in my prior post that I will probably need not one but two visas for the upcoming getaway. Such is how things work […]

2. Have Visa(s) Will Travel « BRAIN DRAIN - May 1, 2007

[…] Visa(s) Will Travel It took a month, but I now have both the visas needed for this year’s summer trip. Of course, there was one […]

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[…] to know what’s what. It wouldn’t surprise me if this were indeed the case, however: while applying for the required papers over the summer, the checklist for the Shchengen visa explicitly stated that the required photo must feature […]

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