Wednesday, January 9, 2008

From 4-6 weeks to ...

... less than one day! All it took was a phone call from a friend to the US Consulate.

Back in the year 2000, I basically scored a running scholarship to Syracuse University. The details of how that happened and how everything fell into place then are not necessary here, albeit I have to admit, it is pretty damn interesting. Just ask someone who knows it. Lets leave that for some other time. Anyway, when I got to Syracuse, I did not compete for the XC and track team as much my freshman year, but when the time rolled around, I did so but performed decently given the training that I had then. By the time the second year came, I was starting to kick some tail.

Then, one spring night after the end of Outdoor track season in 2001-02 season, I received a call on my 315-442-xxxx apartment number. The caller said "Hi, may I speak to John Bitok please" (back then everyone called me John, be warned though, dont call me by that name) and after I told him I was the one on the phone, he proceeded to say "This is Joe Smith [names changed] from the US Department of Justice ...." I did not know how to swear much in English then, but I think such occasions are the only ones anyone is allowed to use the F-word really loud. I was terrified to say the least. Why would anyone from any institution or company or anything that started with US call me at my apartment number?

Turns out, Joe was an avid biker and wanted to put together a strong triathlon team to compete in some race that was coming up then. He wanted to know whether I was interested in being in his team. The idea was, I would do the last leg of the relay, that is, run a 5K. That happened to fit perfectly with my summer training and I agreed to be part of the team. Well, we won that race and then some more afterwards and became really good friends. Then one time, soon after I graduated from Syracuse University, I was looking for a permit to work as part of my Optional Practical Training (OPT). The permit application process goes through the Department of Homeland Security - the same agency that is holding me up in Mexico - and takes upto four months to process. I was late in applying for this since I had not planned on doing an OPT, but my friend told me that he could make some calls to expedite my process. I should probably clarify at this juncture that you have exactly one year of OPT and the countdown begins as soon as you graduate. Since I started authorization application processes late, I was bound to lose valuable work-time waiting for my permit.

Well, it took four days and I had my permit.
Joe, bailed me out! He is a good man. Awesome guy, and that doesn't even do justice in describing what type of person he is. I am greatly indebted to him.

Anyway, when this F-1 visa renewal saga came up, I thought I had nowhere to go and nothing to do. And I didnt, until I thought of my friend Joe. So, I send him an email explaining my situation and asked him to call me here in Mexico. Yes, there are not many people that I can be that open and frank to, then ask them to spend $1.50/min to call me so I can tell them whats going on with me ... Interesting huh? Well, he responded within an hour and called me not too long after that. After explaining to him what the deal was, allowing him to ask questions and finally giving him a telephone number I had, he promised to call the US Consulate here at Ciudad Juarez and see what was up. Shortly afterwards, he sent me a short email stating what had transpired and told me that he couldn't call as he had some work related thing. The email indicated a promising turn of events ...

An hour
later, the US Consulate called me and asked that I show up tomorrow, Thursday Jan, 10, 2008 at 2:00pm. Then the following email followed:

"Please come to the consulate at 3:00 PM tomorrow [Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008]. I will have an update on your case. I have been in touch with [Mr. Smith] regarding your situation, too. Please call me or email me if you have questions. My local phone number is ..."

Notice the discrepancy between the two times? In short, a process that would have taken 4-6 weeks has only taken about a day. Even though it is not guaranteed that my visa will be renewed (as F-1 is largely a discretionary visa), I know that I can ask for my documents back and think of my next move. I dont really have many options if my visa is not renewed, but you know what they say, east or west, home is best!

Lesson of the day: Why poke a beehive when you can have someone else do it?

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