|Image from here|
Applying for a US visa is not like appearing before a court of law; you’re not entitled to a fair hearing or a mouthpiece. But it’s simple; you go in and you listen and follow directions. A customer service notice on the wall of the waiting area says, among other things, “We promise to treat each application as unique.” But whoever wrote that knows, just like I do, that it’s asking way too much of the interviewers. The official visa denial letter says, and I paraphrase, “We treat each visa applicant, non-immigrant or otherwise, as though they were seeking immigrant visas.” That already tells me that my application is not an individual, “unique” one.
I don’t know how it is with other nationals, but as a Nigerian applying for a US visa, you are guilty – of scheming to get into the US and not return – until proven innocent. Apparently, this place is so terrible, with no electricity or social infrastructure or security, and all that poverty, that it’s inconceivable that any Nigerian would have their feet touch US soil and return here of their own volition; not carried and dumped back unceremoniously, kicking and foaming at the mouth. It’s a well-known, scientifically proven fact; every Nigerian wants to live in the US (or any other country in The Abroad). America is God’s own country, no, and everyone knows we’re an extremely religious people.
As I listen and follow directions, patiently awaiting my turn, it never crosses my mind that I will not get the visa, so I don’t consider how I’d arrange my facial features if I get a no. I just know it cannot happen. My ‘interview’ lasts approximately 56 seconds. What do you do? Editor. Where will you be going? Houston. Who will you be staying with? Friend of the family, Mr. X2. How long? About a week. Dates? So-so to so-so. Where have you travelled to outside of Nigeria? UK, France on vacation. Are you married? No. Purpose? Vacation.
He rifles through a sheaf of papers beside him and I hear: “I’m sorry, but at this time your application is being denied…”
What? Just like that! But I have all these other documents to help my case! Don’t you want to see…?
“…here is a letter explaining the reason you are being denied a visa. Off you go now.”
I don’t handle rejection well. For a moment, I consider my options. I could bang my fists against the glass partitioning, screaming bad words at the official, savouring the shocked expression that appears on his face, until five security men carry me away in a blaze of bright lights and glory. I could look the man in his albino eyes and slowly, deliberately, thrust my middle finger as close to his pink face as the partitioning would allow. I could pack my documents together and mumble ‘okay’ while avoiding his eyes, and walk away quietly. I choose option three. Pathetic.
As I leave the hall, I’m caught between anger and embarrassment. Surely there’s a box that these people tick off somewhere that alerts them to potential illegal immigrants like me. How else could he know in less than a minute? Single, check. Works at some place nobody knows of, check. Something ‘not right’ about applicant’s face, check. But I can’t blame him; there is no way he can see that I have no desire to leave my relatively comfortable existence here to ‘hustle’ in the US, scaling fences and dodging Homeland Security, working in some hole for below minimum wage. He cannot possibly know that I would not live in the US if he got on one knee, immigrant visa in hand, and begged me to.
In the room just outside the hall, I stop to put my documents in my envelope, and the security man asks how it went. My throat is tight, but I manage to answer, “Not good.” He expresses his sympathies. As I step out into the sunlight, I admit that I am not angry. I’m embarrassed, and not just for myself. While I had sat waiting for my turn to interview, I had passed the time quite contentedly watching the immigrant visa applicants at this one cubicle. The interviews are not conducted in closed spaces, so anyone who sits close enough and cares to listen can hear the details of any. I listened to the American behind the glass interview one man who had tried desperately to sound American enough to impress, and another who had faked documents. Even though the embassy official had kept his face impassive while uncovering these shenanigans, I couldn’t help the shame I felt imagining what must have been going on in his head.
There was this one woman who had met her husband online, friend.com or so. He’d come home and they’d gotten married and he’d gone back to the US, or so she said. The official had felt the need to keep reminding her that she had sworn to tell the truth each time he raised the wedding pictures to her face and asked if they hadn’t been altered in some way. Unfortunately for her, he decided something smelled really bad (you think?), especially when he checked and found that Mr. Husband had himself gotten into the US by marrying and promptly divorcing some woman. She was hearing this news for the first time, poor woman. Point is, the skepticism in the official’s eyes was echoed in my thoughts as I listened and watched. These embassy people must see countless attempts by Nigerians every day to get into the land of the free and the brave by any means necessary, most of them without any intention of coming back. How are they just supposed to wipe our collective slate clean with every new face and treat each case on an individual basis?
How to fix this? Well, how about taking down that rubbish sign that claims that each applicant would be treated as “unique”, or at least replacing it with this truth: “We promise to treat each applicant with the dignity that everyone, including potential illegal immigrants, deserves.”