Wednesday, January 9, 2008

F-1 Visa Renewal Process

Let me give you a quick description of what F-1 Visa is and why it is a pain in my rear end right now. F-1 visa is basically a student's permit for entry into the United States. People visiting the US get different types of visas depending on what brings them/takes them to the USA. Depending on what nationality you are from, F1 visas are granted for different durations but they need not be renewed as long as the student does not leave the US and maintains his/her student status. Maintaining a student status involves full time enrollment at a US educational institution, ensuring that the form I-20 and the passport is valid and current. If any of these (among many others that I am sure I am not listing) expire, a student may find herself/himself "out of status." Being out of status may compromise a student's re-entry into the United States at a later time.

For more information regarding US Student Visas, visit:

http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1268.html
http://www.worldstudent.com/uk/studyabroad/usa/3d.shtml

(I assume these links expire after sometime, if you really need more information, just google it!)

Now that we got that out of the way. Let me take you through my tumultuous visa renewal application process which brought me from Baltimore, MD (USA) to Ciudad Juarez, CHH (Mexico). I hope that this will educate you international students in science departments so you will be better prepared when your time comes. I dont think there is any way I could have avoided what I went through as it was bound to come sometime.

I am really tired. It is 10:30pm local time, which means it is 12:30am US Eastern Standard time. I usually go to be at 9:00pm. So, I am going to post an email I send out earlier today with some edits. Here it is:

Alright, I dont know how to begin this but I know how to end it. WTF?!!?? I am stuck in Mexico for what they say could take 4-6 weeks!

I am sitting here in Ciudad Juarez's Hoteles Colonial in Mexico knowing well that I am not a legal citizen of any country right now. Or am I? I dont think my Maryland state drivers license will do me any good in this part of North America. On my way here, I happened to be in the same row with a guy who frequents Juarez and he told me horror stories ranging from how they got robbed by Mexicans to how they got robbed by Mexican police. In my mind, I was thinking, damn, Kenya is not that bad, but I know you wont believe me given whats going on there currently.

Anyway, my flight to El Paso was nothing unusual but I did notice that the "country of Texas" is as desolate as Sahara desert and only filled with a few shrubs here and there which looked funny from some 30,000 feet up. I arrived to dusty and windy El Paso at 1:20pm local time. I didnt want to pay US $50-60 to have a taxi take me across the border as I think that is ridiculous. So, I boarded a taxi from the airport to Cordova international bridge after I found out that you dont have to pay anything to cross by foot there and that my hotel was only some 2-3 miles away. I had the map of the area memorized well (and a hard copy in my pocket, just in case) and given the fact that I never got lost navigating on foot, I thought this was going to be easy. Well, that was until turned left on some road instead of turning right. I realized some 5 minutes later that I was headed nowhere and had to wait for some guys who was following me on foot too. I said "Holla!" and he replied in something I couldnt understand. I quickly realized that there was a myriad of words and sentences I didnt know between saying "Holla" and "mucho gracious." So I resolved to English, although I think Swahili would have been fine too as this guy spoke no English. I was only ~2miles away from the border! Well, I managed to say "hoteles colonial?" that didnt work "avenue de las americas?" and he said "Si!." Long story short, this guy, Alejandro, walked me to the hotel vicinity through some park/woods and wouldnt take a $200 pesos tip from me ... I figured I would have spent at least US $50 on a cab. So I said, "mucho gracious" and by that time, I had used up all my Spanish vocabulary. Hey, dont laugh at me, I speak six other languages!

Got to the hotel, got checked in, then went to Banamex bank to pay for my visa application fee (US consulate in Mexico accepts payments from Banamex bank, ONLY!). No one spoke English there, no surprise and I didnt really think I needed anyone who spoke English till they told me "only ATM" which I understood to be no credit cards. Yea, well, he meant cash only! $1,450 pesos! So I go to the ATM machine which was outside, every single button was in spanish ... after about 5 minutes trying to figure out what the heck was going on, I went back inside and said loudly (hopefully it wasnt annoying to anyone) "Anyone speak English here?" Well, there was a Jeremiah from Boise, ID, thank goodness. Some five minutes later, we find out that the ATM had no cash in it and neither was the one across the street!! I was running out of time at this point and had to act quick ... this is where running came in. With my limited vision, I saw HSBC from a distance (this was my former bank while at Syracuse). I ran there, got some $1500 pesos and everything after that was smooth!

I had not eaten for the whole day and wasnt thinking about this because I had other things occupying my mind. How and where I ended up eating is not pertinent here. But I have to say the burrito was good and salsa here it HOT! Also, Mexicans are awesome people. I guess kindness is a universal language.

That was Monday Jan. 7, 2008

Tuesday morning, I get up at 5:00am as I had been told that there was a shuttle from the hotel to the consulate at 6:00am and Jeremiah had warned me that the lines were long. Long is a relative term, but when you have over 1,000 people lining up, then long just means looooooooong! We got there a little after 6:00am (the consulate is a little over mile away) and alas! there were people who camped there and the line was already loooooong (realize I only used 6 o's this time?). I then proceed to the security guard who sends me to the back of the line since my appointment was at 8:00am and not 7:30am. Well, I didnt think it was a big deal. Six hours later, I was at the gate. The guy looks at my application and says "F1?" (thats a student visa) and I followed that with a "Yes." He then says "Wrong line" with his limited English. I felt like punching someone/something so hard, but they dont advice that here and he wasnt the one who had told me earlier to go to that line which was meant for immigrant visas (as opposed to non-immigrant visas of which my student visa, F1 falls in).

The process at building D was not that bad, only a few dozens of us were there and they were understanding of my showing up 2hrs late. My process was quick since it is a renewal and I got to my interview within 45mins. One thing that I realized was, they held on to my passport and application papers, but everyone still had theirs ... I have no idea what that meant and I dont want to speculate. But I'll say one of the things that they gave me said "Come back on Jan 9, at 2:00pm. This was a good sign and in my mind I was thinking "got it!." When they asked me what my thesis work in Biochemistry pertained, I said "we are designing a new class of anti-microbials." Well, "biochemistry", "chemistry", "molecular biology", "anti-microbials", "anti-biotics" and many others are apparently on the terror list! The odds were against me since I had all those in many letters that I got from my school and such ... So they gave me an additional form to fill which included, most importantly, a brief technical description of what I do. So I wrote and then drew some small molecules. I was as succinct as I could get. After this, they said they needed a copy of my resume, some references and a list of publications. I got those, thanks to quick actions of my advisor, Dr. Caren Meyers (YOU ARE AWESOME!) and got handed a paper that said (in brief) "This office is unable to conclude processing of your non-immigrant visa application ..." and continued " ... your case has been suspended under Section 221(g) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act, pending ...[an] administrative process ... this will take approximately 4-6 weeks .... Please do not call the consulate, [we will call you]!"

Well, the guy said he is expediting my precessing and it should take 1-2 weeks, but also said it could be ready by Friday. Even then, my visa renewal is not guaranteed! He was really nice and gave me a phone number to call and see the status of my application.

Tuesday is not over yet ... and my old visa was stamped "CANCELLED WITHOUT PREJUDICE, JAN 08 2007," Morons! Or maybe Mexico is still in 2007?

In short, I cant come back to the US, I cant go to Kenya (I have no docs as they have been "send" to Washington DC) and I am illegally in Mexico.

Thank you for reading this far! Peace out, I gotta continue writing my thesis proposal (my meeting is on Feb 5, 2008 ... who amongst you is an expert in teleconferencing?)

3 comments:

Madhura Joshi said...

Hey,
I am in an exactly similar situation, but in Canada. How long did it take for the admin. proc?
Its already 27 days past for me. I am still waiting.
Madhura

Gary said...

Hello Madhura why can't you leave for India from Canada? My visa is expired..what am I supposed to do? could you please let me know if I should go to Canada or India for renewal?

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