Yesterday was the day of destiny. For the purposes of demonstrating why a visa costs so much, let me take you through all the steps involved in getting our set of matching J1 and J2 visas.
1) M’s university asks us for some personal information, which we supply.
2) University posts us completed DS2019s with a selection of important numbers associated with M’s status, application number, programme, etc. etc.
3) M spends about 50 hours over the next two months trying to complete his DS160 as the website crashes every 5 minutes. Eventually he does it.
4) M books us a visa appointment at the Embassy and pays the fees over the phone. We can’t get an appointment the day we want, so have to stay two nights in London.
5) M registers with SEVIS and pays another fee. I have no understanding of what this is beyond a mystical list that you have to pay to be on so that the Embassy can see that you’re on it.
6) M realises that despite repeatedly assuring me to the contrary, I too need to fill in a DS160. This is but one of many misunderstandings on our part that I don’t have the patience or recollection to chronicle. It’s odd how hard it all is to make sense of.
7) I get my visa photograph taken in a shop in London at a cost of £12, scraping my hair back, angling my head and adopting a mirthless expression to achieve the worst picture I think I have ever had taken. The Embassy, though, will turn out to be very pleased with the result.
8) We print out our appointment letters and fee receipt pages and assemble our passports, marriage certificate and DS2019s for a nervous trip to the Embassy.
9) We leave laptop, camera, ipod, memory stick and mobile phones at Left Luggage at King’s Cross station, since electronic items can’t be taken to Grosvenor Square.
10) We approach the Embassy NO MORE THAN 30 MINUTES before our appointment time. Outside in the street, two people in high visibility vests check our paperwork. We put our belts and watches in our (small) bags and get through security, demonstrating the non-explosive nature of our water by sipping it.
11) Inside, we are assigned the number N428.
12) After half an hour or so sitting in a large waiting room with computer screens showing everyone’s numbers being called to different windows, we are summoned to window 11, to see a cross member of staff who asks if M is aware of his rights under this visa. (He isn’t, but he pretends to be.) She takes our fingerprints, scolds me for failing to sign the right form, and gets M to retake his photo in the embassy photo booth, which costs only £4. His background was wrong and he was smiling in the last one, though she didn’t mention the smile, just the tiles. She takes everything else away from us and doesn’t look at the marriage certificate.
13) After another hour or so, we see a man at window 21, who addresses us as ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’, rechecks our finger prints, asks us about our current work, our previous visits to Chicago, and, mainly, the mystery of M’s Syrian visa, which was issued but which he never took up. Why? Why didn’t he? But it’s all OK and he tells us our visas are approved. Yay!
14) We pay £27 at a desk in the reception area to have our visas posted back to us before 10am at some point in the next week. (They can’t guarantee a day, so otherwise one would simply have to spend the entire week never leaving the house.)
Afterwards, in the post-adrenalin comedown, we are so tired that I almost faint.