Sunday, March 18, 2007

Assaulting the Embassy

The first thing I had to do in Dublin after getting off the train was take a piss. Even this proved problematic, as I was lacking the necessary 30c to gain ingress to the bathroom. Setting the tone for the rest of the day, I took a quick glance around before bounding over the turnstile, unwilling to waste time with petty manners such as getting change for overpriced bathrooms.

I put another €40 of credit onto my phone before being herded on a bus into town – once on the bus, I began to make a number of phonecalls – the first was to the embassy to schedule the appointment I had attempted to earlier – the Thursday slot had since been filled, and I had to settle for one on Friday. Grrrr. It's not even 9.30am and it's already a terrible day. I figure I may as well try and send a fax requesting the emergency meeting, despite being told my circumstances didn't call for any urgency, and rang reliable Mike to inform him I'd be e-mailing him something to fax shortly – just as soon as I found an internet café. Of course, the call took longer than that, because I had to explain why I was still in the country – by the end of that week I'd have grown very tired of telling that story.

After I was done with my phone calls, I realised I had missed my stop – following this realisation, the bus driver informed me that it was the last stop, and asked where I was going. He was remarkably cool about me being distracted by the phone, and advised me on where to get off, so I did... And hadn't a shagging clue where I was! This is where I enjoyed myself the most – wandering around Dublin, without a clue as to where I should be going, more or less following my nose.

The Spire in Dublin is a great Navigational Aid, as it can be seen from far away, and is situated pretty much in the main street.

J1 Visas for Dummies
Stuff needed when applying for a J1 Student Visa:
DS156, 157 and 158 Forms
2”x2” Passport Photographs
€80 Bank Draft or Postal Cheque
Self Addressed & Stamped Envelope
DS2019 Form from host University

It didn't take long to find an internet café – it was a bit of a dive, but served my purposes – I printed off the forms I needed, e-mailed Mike the letter to fax, and ploughed out of there again. Standing in the doorway for a moment, I wondered if I should go left or right – for some reason I chose the latter and eventually found myself at a large Post office – what luck! A friendly postal-worker quickly gave me everything I needed, and I was on my way again, this time looking out for a chemist – which took much longer than it ought to have, oddly enough. My 'system' involved walking until something told me to turn onto a different street – at one time i crossed the road just because I was passing a green pedestrian traffic light, and it seemed a waste not to use it! Shortly thereafter I was in a chemist, explaining to the immigrant worker with poorer-English-than-I-was-in-the-mood-for that I needed the photo to be American-size, not standard-European. The photo shoot was brief, despite my tendency to strain the photographer's patience by taking the same photo again and again, but hey – it does cost €8, you may as well get your money's worth! The first snap was fine by me – I just wanted him to print it as soon as possible, and I took to filling out my forms while I waited.

Here comes petty crime #2 – I stole a pen from the pharmacy. After it dawned on me that I had left my inscription device in the dodgy internet café, I asked to borrow a pen from my photographer friend, with no intentions of ever returning it. I could have blatantly said “I'm stealing your pen, and you will never see it again, you arse-faced rapscallion”, and he'd have nodded in solemn understanding; such was his grasp of the language. The prints eventually came out, and I was quite confounded when I looked at them. The picture was 2”x2”, which was what I want, but in the middle of 6”x6” photo-paper! Knowing the embassy would turn me away with the slightest excuse, I asked him to cut them to size by making a scissors motion with my fingers, all the while hoping it was an obscene gesture in Poland.

My paperwork all gathered, it was time to head out to the embassy and chance my luck. After availing of the taxi-driver's sympathetic ear a little, I again attended to filling my forms, giving very vague answers to the ridiculous questions I was being asked. When asked for a complete list of every country I had been in for the past 10 years, I actually forgot to put down the USA or Canada (along with about 14 others). I sat across the road for the embassy for some minutes answering these inane queries before approaching the security box.

How to Blag Your Way into A Country

Despite only happening six days from the time of writing, I don't quite remember the exact dialogue, but I started by asking the guard if I could talk to the NIV-Chief, unaware of what the acronym even stood for, only using it because the woman on the phone earlier had told me I'd need to talk to him. I briefly explained my story to the nonplussed sounding guard, knowing that he would be a mere stepping stone leading to greater things. He told me to come back on Friday for my appointment, as he couldn't leave me into the building any earlier than that, but I implored him to let me speak to someone. The conversation awkwardly took place through a six-inch, possibly bulletproof glass via an intercom at stomach height – which I had to hunch over and press my ear against to hear anything over the sounds of traffic, and it was at this time that he stepped away from the intercom and picked up the phone and spoke about six words before coming back to me.

“Somebody will come down and have a chat with you.”
Urk! A 'chat'? The strong sense of foreboding in his voice didn't put me at ease.

Sure enough, somebody came to the intercom and started talking to me, so I explained the story about the RMU International Office screwing me up. He looked at me in an almost disbelieving manner when I told him what they advised me, so I elaborated;
“Bear in mind that this is the same woman who admitted to me that she failed to register me with the Department of State.”
His jaw dropped. I continued.
“Now I'm not sure what that means exactly, but I'm sure...”
“It means you were living illegally in the States.”

To his credit, he seemed genuinely interested, and entirely sympathetic towards me, and he alluded to this when he said “I'd like to help you, but you should try going through the official channels first – send a fax to the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief...”
“I have sent a fax”
His eyebrow arched up.
“Half hour ago maybe?” I crossed my fingers hoping Mike had pulled through.
He calls up to the office – they had it! Cheers, Mike!
“When's your flight?”
“That sounds like an emergency to me! Only thing is, I'd like to help you, but we have a lot of paperwork requirements”
“I have paperwork”
He looks at me quizzically.
“Show me.”
I clumsily slap one form after another up against the glass as he hums and haws and remarks that the particular form is in order.
“Your forms are fine, but we'll also need a photograph”
“I have photographs”
“They have to be a special size”
“I have special size photographs”
“Show me”
I hold up my photographs and he sets up the next hurdle.
“All this is fine, but I'm afraid you're going to have to go to the bank again and get...”
“A bank draft? I got one – just in case.”
I had done everything just in case – and I'm quite glad I did, too.
“... I think that's everything... Yeah... Yeah, that's everything... Hang on a sec, will ya?”
He gets on the phone, and I'm starting to think I might actually have a 50-50 chance, but I become increasingly nervous when his conversation with the people upstairs goes past the two-minute mark. When he comes back to me, he takes my mobile phone number, tells me to not wander far, and he'll see what he can do.

As stated earlier, I don't know my way around Dublin, and the Embassy is far from any shops, or anything fun to do. So I paced. Ten minutes later I get a call, and I'm told to come back to the Embassy in 45 minutes and they'll process my Visa. Success!

Processing the Visa should have been a lot simpler than it was, but because of a problem on my record, a superior had to be sent for. He demanded to know why I didn't show up for school. I told him I didn't know what he was talking about. He said that he knew I entered the States in late August, and again in November, but didn't show up to school until the 24th of January, and wanted to know why I didn't show up at all. This is where I explain the story about the incompetent woman, and he can't believe that this woman has failed in one of her simplest duties.

When he said “This is going to make things complicated”, I didn't realise how much he meant, but more on that later. After asking me some more questions, trying to catch me out, seeing my student ID, and RMU debit card, he has me list all my classes, and all my grades from last semester. When I tell him “All 'A's”, he says “You have to be specific here – you do know I can bring up your transcript, right?” My cheery “Great! Does that count as proof that I was there?” takes the heat off his previous question, and the interrogative questions cease.

The rest of the process goes quite smoothly, until it's time to give my fingerprints. Seems the fingerprinting database was down that day – not only in Dublin, but in every American Embassy across the world. Knowing that other people are going through what I'm going through cushions the blow somewhat. We're advised if we wait around it may come back online. I choose to wait around. Since the MP3 player and mobile phone I had were confiscated at security as they posed a security hazard, I only have my imagination to entertain me... I took a nap instead. After three hours of sitting around, they throw in the towel and tell us to come in the following morning, or leave a self-addressed envelope and they'll send it as soon as it comes. I choose the latter, and call it a day. In fact, I believe I called it a bastard of a day.

The next job, of course, is to reschedule my flight. After talking, holding, and talking for 10 minutes, some Continental-Airlines jackass says “I'm going to put you on hold, Mr O'Sullivan, and cuts me off. I ring back, and am talking, holding and talking for 26 minutes, and finally sorting out my rescheduling, when I hear the tone alerting me that my credit is low. I ask the woman if she can ring me back – she can't. My phone cuts out, and again the Vodafone lady taunts me “You do not have enough credit to continue this call...”

Screaming “Son of a bitch” in a crowded Dublin street yields surprisingly few odd-looks, I've learnt. With no choice other than to top up my phone and try again, I top up my phone and try again. 20 minutes later, I'm $406.93 poorer, but I have a flight off the island.

Surely this story has a happy ending?

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