Consular High Jinx

22 06 2007

Well today was the day.  Hence my late, late, late entry for the blog.

We woke relatively early today to ensure we were all breakfasted, and had time to find an ATM to withdraw some Canadian cash before finding a bus and heading into Vancouver to the American Consulate.

What fun!  Our first Canadian Adventure!

The bus ride itself was a barrel of laughs, and would hands down be the most enjoyable bus ride I’ve had.  Due entirely to the driver who very obviously loves his job and who went out of his way to welcome anyone with an accent (us, and several other U.K. passengers) and to make the trip enjoyable.
He regaled us with many stories of the area, pointed out interesting buildings, cracked jokes, and asked us “How do you find Vancouver?”  To which I replied, “Well I just drove across the border, and there it was!”.  *boom boom*

We didn’t get his name, but he’s a hard act to follow.  Something proven by the last bus driver for the day, who was recalcitrant and quite useless, so many different passengers had to request for the rear doors to be opened at numerous bus stops, simply because he wasn’t paying attention.

It wasn’t until we got off the bus that it crossed my mind (evil be gone!) that I should have, arms wide open, changed “OPEN… SESAME!”…  That comment was attributed mainly to his being of Middle Eastern descent complete with appropriate headgear.

*** Disclaimer…  I apologise to anyone who may have been offended by that comment, it was not intended to be racist.  But the driver did look very much like one of the characters in Ali Babar. 🙂  Hence the reference.  But I’ll move on, before I get mired in an explanation.

Moving on…  I made it to the American Consulate with plenty of time to spare, submitted myself to the security search, climbed the stairs to the Cashier area, put my paperwork in the specified page order required by the Consulate staff, paid my USD$100, got a number and sat and waited for my number to be called.

The wait wasn’t so bad, as I’d met someone on the bus who was also going to the Consulate, and she just happened to be upstairs at the same time so we entertained each other with excerpts and impersonations from Little Britain.  We certainly entertained ourselves, if noone else.

My number was finally called (after waiting approximately 20 minutes), and I had the privilege of moving out into another queue to go via elevator to another floor, submit myself to security checks again, and then take yet another seat in another waiting area where I waited to have my number called again.  Fortunately again, the same person; Jill, was there too, so we again entertained each other.

A further 15 minutes passed until my number was called again, and I got to go to the window and have my fingerprints taken, before being asked to take a seat AGAIN, and to wait for my number (same one, they’re thrifty when they’re making you wait and taking your money) to be called again.  A further 10 minutes passed…

Finally, I was called to the window.  The short version of what happened next is this, the officer told me I wasn’t visiting America, as I’d been there for nearly a year already, and that I was in a “sticky situation”.  I have to admit, I got a little edgy at hearing this, but that was also laced with a little elation at the thought that I may actually be forced to go home to Australia.  Not the best outcome, but certainly not one that would make me too unhappy, after all that’s where all my friends and family are.
Instead of getting worked up, I took a deep breath, remained calm, and explained that my application was to remain in America for the duration of my partners Visa (a further 12 months), and that I had no intention of breaching my Visa restrictions.  Fortunately I also had supporting documentation from our Immigration Lawyers, signed declarations from the both of us, and other miscellaneous paperwork.

It took a little while during which I was told to “wait, while I go and speak to someone about this…”, then questioned as to Mark’s surname, pronunciation, origin of the name etc.  I’m not to sure whether this was innocent curiosity or a clever way of ascertaining if we really are a couple.  Fortunately, or not, we are, and it’ll be 9 years this coming December.  I know how to pronounce and spell his surname, I even know his middle name, birthday, and the origin of the name.  I also know a whole lot of other more intimate information, which wasn’t required, but should I have been pushed for further proof, well…  It certainly would have been funny to have shared it, if only to see the look on the officers face.  *laugh*

Outcome…  I got a Visa renewal.  I also got the schpeal, that the Visa does not give me the right to be in the U.S.A. that is up to the discretion of the Immigration officer at the border.  The Visa lasts for 12 months, the Immigration (I-94) card that I’ll get on re-arrival to America, could be less time.  Usually 6 months.

Quick explanation…  A Visa is considered to be an Invitation.  Envision a country as an exclusive Invitation only party.  Without the invitation, you can’t enter.  You arrive at the party, and there’s a bouncer (Immigration official) at the entrance, they still reserve the right to refuse your entry.  Wrong shoes…  Wrong attitude.  Ultimately, you still may not get in.   It’s tricky, but that’s the easiest explanation.
I have an invitation now, I just have to get past the Bouncer.

That part of the process done, I was given another piece of paper, and sent off to the Cashier to pay MORE money and then requested to return to the same window.  Of course there was noone in the cashier’s booth, so I had to wait another 5 minutes.  Once that was sorted I went straight back to the original window to give a copy of the receipt to the consulate officer, who then told me my Passport with new Visa would be available next Tuesday for collection.

Phew!  We’re only in Canada so I can update my Visa.  Mission Accomplished!  Yay!

All that done, we had a wander (translated as epic hike) all over Vancouver, caught a 3D Dinosaur movie at the local IMAX cinema (very cool!), took the SkyTrain (Train above ground level with a bit of a view) all around Vancouver and the local areas, got another bus (Open Sesame…), stumbled back into the Hotel, and here I am, typing to you now.

Mark’s just booked us on a Whale Sightseeing Tour for next Wednesday, and we’ve loosely planned some activities at a few tourist type places over the next few days.  There’ll be photos, I’ll upload them when I get back…

That’s it.  I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted, so I’m going to go rest for a while.