Friday, January 7, 2011

Are We There Yet? YES Finally - Almost!

Duang and Her Hired Dancers at Erawan Shrine  Giving Thanks for Her Immigrant Visa
I started writing this blog entry yesterday and before I could finish it and post it, we had a significant development - Duang received a call from a Thai employee of the US Consulate informing her that her Immigrant Visa is approved and requested that she pick it up in Bangkok at 3:00 P.M. on 11 January. 

As happy as both of are, I will refrain from declaring victory until she is actually admitted into the USA.  The Visa allows her to purchase a ticket to America and to board the airplane to the USA however admitting her into the United States is up to the interviewing officer at the port of entry.  We expect this will be a mere formality but one never really knows what the future may bring - think of President Bush on the deck of the aircraft carrier with the large sign "Mission Accomplished" before the crap really hit the fan in Iraq.

Are we there yet?  How many times did we ask our parents that and how often did we ask them during what seemed to us to be unbearably long auto trips?  How many times as parents did we tell our children "We are almost there" or "Soon we will be there".

Our quest or rather odyssey to obtain a visa for Duang to go to the United States continues but the successful end is in sight.  On 27 December we flew to Bangkok for Duang's scheduled 7:00 A.M. interview appointment at the American Consulate on December 28th.  We flew from Udonthani to Bangkok in the morning so that Duang could receive her second round of Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus and Mumps,Measles, and Rubella vaccinations at Bumrungrad Hospital prior to her interview.  She had received the two initial vaccinations on 30 November when she had her medical examination in Bangkok.

From the US Consulate website and correspondence, we had been informed that if a visa was granted it would be available 2 to 3 business days after the interview.  Since Duang's interview was on the Tuesday the 28th, I expected that if she was granted an Immigrant Visa, it would be available on either Wednesday 29th or Thursday the 30th.  Allowing for a possible hiccup I allowed 31 December as a possible date for concluding this part of the process.  One of my ambitions was to witness New Year's Eve fireworks in Bangkok so I booked our return flight to Udonthani for January 1.  I figured that we would use any spare time that we might have in Bangkok to do some sightseeing.  Although we have been to Bangkok many times, there were still many places to visit and things to do for us.

I spent about a day and one-half assembling the document package to present at the Consulate.  Duang was required to present original documents that had not been presented previously in the application process.  Updated copies of documents, such as passport, and financial records also had to be presented.  The biggest task for Duang was to present documents and evidence that establishes in the mind of the US official a legitimate relationship between Duang and me.

Besides a review of the documents, the primary purpose of the interview is to convince the U. S. official that Duang and I have a legitimate relationship as wife and husband.  The government suggests that copies of emails, personal photographs, financial support documents, detailed phone records or any other documentation that could establish evidence of a legitimate relationship.  Thankfully the government did not suggest or require any "home" movies!  Interestingly the Consulate does not allow the spouse to accompany the applicant into the interview.

Utilizing my past experience in developing subcontract bid packages and formulating construction claims, I assembled two different packets of documents for Duang to bring to the interview.  The first package was "Originals" and the second package was "New and Updated Documents".  Both packets were preceded with a "Document Transmittal" which listed the appropriate document where the document was located, and indicated what category listed in the government "Packet #4" instructions the submitted document was related to.  In the case where we had submitted an original document to the Dept of Homeland Security, a note was included which indicated and cited verbatim the "Packet #4 instruction" which did not require that duplicate copies to be submitted.

For photographs, I printed contact sheets of several photographs in chronological order which included the date the photograph was taken.  On the transmittal document, the significance of the photograph was explained i.e. "One of the first photos that I took of Duang", "Our Wedding", "My 58th Birthday Party (2007)" ...  There were some original prints of photographs submitted that had the date of the photographed printed by the company.  I tried to concentrate on photos where we appeared together. The whole purpose of the documents was to show the duration of our relationship and the continuing existence of our relationship.

Documents were assembled in the same order as they were listed in the transmittals.  It may seem a bit of overkill but I had operated with one premise throughout the past six months.  The premise was "Follow instructions completely, make everything clear and concise, and finally - Don't give anyone an excuse to delay or reject the application.  Perhaps my concern was unjustified but then again it is difficult to argue with "success" even "success - almost".

Duang appeared at the Consulate at the appointed 7:00 A.M.  She paid the required $404 USD fee in Thai baht.  She was then interviewed by an American female official.  As was typical in this process the American official was anonymous.  I know that security is an issue these days but it is a sad commentary on the situation or mentality that in dealing with MY government's officials we deal with an anonymous person - once we finally get to deal with an American.  Besides "security" concerns that they have, I have "accountability" concerns but as I am often lead to believe - my concerns do not matter.

After 4 hours Duang returned to the hotel.  She had a yellow piece of paper which started off "This office regrets to inform you that it is unable to issue a visa to you because you have been found ineligible to receive a visa ... ". What?  I read further as to why she was denied a visa - there were five boxes that could be checked off as reasons such as "Evidence of your relationship ... ", "Police Certificate from Thai Authorities ", "Medical Exam Results", "I-864 or I-134 Affidavit ... " , and "Consent letter ... "  There was a sixth box that was checked "Other"

In the remarks box associated with "Other" the following was written  " We just need to complete a routine check of Mrs's Hale's police certificate from Brunei. We will call you at (my cell phone) when the visa is ready to be picked up in the next week or so ..."  Well that made me feel a great deal better especially since the Consulate had kept Duang's Thai Passport and had here sign the application form in their presence.  Duang further explained that the cell phone number was indeed my cell number.  To further placate us, we got a call from a 54 year old Thai woman who has been an official in the Red Cross for 15 years.  We had met her at the hospital a month ago when she and Duang were having their physicals prior to their interviews at the US Consulate.  The Thai woman wanted to visit her Thai daughter who is a doctor in the USA but was unable to get a Tourist Visa.  To visit her daughter, her daughter was sponsoring her mother to immigrate to America.  The woman was granted a visa to immigrate to the USA and was checking up after Duang's interview to check on how Duang was progressing.  The woman explained to Duang that she had to wait about a week for a routine check to go back to Bangkok to pick up her passport with the visa.  This was very reassuring to us to learn.  I can not explain why Duang's notification was a form letter rejection to start with but then implied as acceptance pending a "routine check".  I was surprised to read that the Brunei Police document had to be checked since it had been submitted with our application to the Consulate 12 weeks prior to Duang's scheduled appointment for an interview.

Erawan Shrine Troupe Dance and Chant as Duang Gives Thanks
As part of our extended stay in Bangkok, I wanted to revisit the Erawan Shrine to photograph the dancers.  With the reassurance from Duang's new friend regarding the visa approval, we walked over to the Erawan Shrine.  Duang paid 360 Baht ($10.90 USD) to have the dancers perform and chant while she was giving thanks at the shrine for getting her visa.

As it turned out the U S Consulate called Duang her cell phone and not mine.

Duang yesterday after receiving the great news complimented me on my good work in applying for the visa.  She spoke about other people here in Thailand who have used an attorney to obtain an Immigration Visa for their wife.  I told her that I would find it unconscionable to have to pay a Thai lawyer to deal with the US government - MY government.  I added that as a US citizen I expect that I should be able to handle affairs and dealings with MY government on my own and not have to deal with a US lawyer to obtain service or better service.  In some regards I guess that I still remain idealistic and naive. But ...  Most people see things the way that they are and don't ask "Why?" I dream of things the way that they should be and ask "What the @#$% - Why not?" I make no apologies to Robert F. Kennedy or more correctly to George Bernard Shaw for hijacking the sense of his saying and "making it my own".

One step remains for us - submitting the visa and packet to the Immigration Officer at our selected Port of Entry to the USA.

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