Tuesday, March 04, 2014

US Embassy (Manila) Experience

My husband and I already got our US visas 5 years ago when we both applied 6 months after our wedding. It was a renewal for him while a new application for me (actually, I already had a multiple entry visa back in 1987 but I never renewed it when the embassy cancelled such visa types before and converted them to 10-year visas). I blogged about our experience then here.

After we got our visa, we were not able to leave as I got pregnant. We were finally able to go in 2011 when we visited my mom just in time for her 60th birthday. However, at that time, we decided to just go by ourselves and leave our son behind.

Fast forward, 3 years later, we plan on visiting again to witness the ordination of my husband’s cousin to his chosen priesthood vocation. This time around, we plan to bring our son with us so we made an appointment again at the embassy to get him a visa.

Check Your Things!

In 2008, everything was not as organized. Though there were lines, it was still confusing where we should stay or go. This time around, appointments are made online and the lines are clear.

Our appointment was at 7:30AM but we were there at 6:30AM. We parked in front of Emerald Garden and crossed the footbridge which took us to the other side of Roxas Blvd. There was already a line outside and you have to line up depending on your appointment schedule. Though we are only applying for our son, both of us were present.

While scrounging through my bag to check my stuff, I found out that I inadvertently left my Ipod in my bag. I hurriedly went back to the car so I can leave my Ipod and earphones but had to walk around until I found our driver who had the keys to the car. By the time I got back in line, my husband and son already entered the covered area outside the embassy. For this line, they will check if you’re in the appointment list and place a sticker on your passport which they will then scan.

Upon entry of the visitor's center, there's an xray machine for scanning your bags. If in case you’re still able to sneak in any food or any form of electronic device, they will catch it here.

Upon entry of the first waiting area, there’s the first pre-screening of documents. It is here where they will give you your number which you will also memorize by heart in the next two to three hours that you’re inside the building. The waiting area is an open air pavilion where you can buy food and drinks and even have your documents photocopied and your picture taken (in case the picture that you took with you is not compliant with their standards). A monitor will call your number so you can eventually go inside the building where the fingerprint scanning and interview will take place.

When we got inside the building, the line going to the fingerprint scanning booths was pretty short. In a span of 10 minutes, our number was up. The girl whose queue we were assigned was quite nice and is a Fil-Am from the looks (and sound) of it. She mentioned that fingerprints are only taken for 14 years old and above.  She just asked a question which she mentioned that my husband should answer: what is the birthday of my son. Much to my chagrin, he missed it by 3 days which made me instantly correct him. The consul assured that it’s ok as it’s the father who usually doesn't get it right.

The Long Wait

We then started the long wait. At that time, it was around 8:30AM. Our number flashed at around 10:15AM. During that almost 2 hour wait, my son got so restless. I brought a sticker book with us which would hopefully make it easier for him to wait but he soon grew tired of that so he drew on it. Later on, he took to running around the place much to my embarrassment but much to the amusement of the other waiting applicants. He was such a chatterbox and would utter phrases, “I want to travel”, or “I want to go to the US”, or “I want to ride a plane”. Fortunately, he’s also cute so strangers would talk to him and address him as “Pogi” (handsome).

When we were able to line up in front of our consul booth, we could hear the conversation going on with the guy in front of us:

Consul: What do you do for a living?
Applicant: I’m an architect and consultant and I own my own business.
Consul: How much do you earn in a month?
Applicant: Around P40-80K/month
Consul: Why the big gap?
Applicant: It depends if there are any projects.

I can’t hear the rest of the discussion but when the applicant left the booth, he had the expression which said that he was declined.

When our turn came, I handed over my son’s passport with his number. As he was still quite short, we lifted him on the counter so the consul can see him. Our conversation then went like this:

Consul (to our son): Hey, big guy. What’s your name?
My son:
Consul: how old are you?
My son: 5
Consul: And who are these two people (pointing to us) with you?
My son: Mommy and Daddy
Consul: Very good.

He then spoke to us:

Consul: What do you do for a living?
Hubby: I’m an IT consultant while my wife is in banking.
Consul: What is the purpose of your visit?
Hubby: We plan to attend the ordination of my cousin. In fact, I have the letter from the…(we have a letter from the Archdiocese of New Jersey which forms part of our supporting papers)
Consult: (interrupts us) No need. His visa has been approved.

We just stood there for a few seconds as we were surprised at how fast the interview was considering he gave the guy in front of us a hard time. But we just said our thanks and hurried off.

Finally!

While walking back to our car, we kept on praising our son for answering the questions perfectly. Though the questions were quite easy, I was still apprehensive as there are times that he would call us by our first names especially when he wants our attention. I don’t know what the consul would think if he would suddenly do that.

Now comes the hard part of finding a plane ticket which would fit in our budget. I’m torn between ANA/United and Cathay Pacific. The former is a tad more expensive but the flight time is not as long (4 hrs to Narita and 13 hrs to Newark). Cathay. on the other hand, is cheaper but with a longer flight time (2 hrs to Hongkong and 16 hours to Newark). Hopefully we can buy are tickets soon as the fare would tend to increase.

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