Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website,

Monday 13 September 2010

On Visas

Getting a visa surely has to be one of the most pointless, bureaucracy-ridden activities ever devised. First, you have to fill in the diabolic DS-160 form online - a straightforward if time-consuming activity needlessly derailed by random connection timeout problems (which they claim to have fixed, but haven't). Having survived this, a trip to the embassy is in order. That's in London, 132 miles away from me or 2 train-hours.

Fine. But of course no-one can come into the embassy with you, nor can you take in any electronic devices whatsoever (including keyrings with LEDs). Which is slightly baffling considering that you can take laptops, mp3 players, phones, and all the LEDs you can carry onto planes. So you're stuck in a room for 2-4 hours with no form of entertainment other than reading. There's a snack bar, but when I was there it closed for lunch and didn't re-open (yes, that's right, a snack bar that closes for lunch). And at short random intervals a voice announces the number of the next person to proceed to the much-vaunted "interview", making reading rather difficult. Soon you begin to miss the simple pleasures of a flashing LED.

Pretty quickly, however, you approach the first desk. There you hand in forms and have fingerprints taken. This takes about 2 minutes... but there's more. You go back and wait. And wait. And wait some more. Fortunately, they've given you a nice blue form to fill in to pass the time. On this you must write your name and address and that's it. Even though by this stage you've given them your name and address a dozen times. Three hours later, you have a 5-minute chat with someone that goes like this :
"So you like science, eh ?"
"Yes actually, I think it's rather fun."
"That's nice. Will you be doing science in America ?"
"Gosh ! How did you know that ? That's extraordinary !"
"Ah well, can't tell you, state secret. But don't worry. Everything's fine. You'll get your visa soon. Be a good boy and run along now !"
Worryingly this little vignette may in fact be longer than the real "interview"....

The words "anti-climactic" spring to mind... as do, "What the hell am I doing in London ?". During those 3 hours, they'd better have done a background check so thorough as to be able to create a perfect clone of myself and everyone I've ever met. If they don't know what my entire family ate for breakfast on the night of April 12th, 1986 I shall want to know why. Though I'd settle for knowing why the thing requires a high-security London embassy.

In short, it takes about 7 hours to complete a maximum of 5 minutes of actually doing anything. There'll be some kind of prize for anyone who can think of an activity with a higher wait/activity ratio.

UPDATE : I got my visa, it arrived by overnight delivery 2 days later. And while that's good, I'm left wondering as to why I had to pay £14 for this when they could have just handed it to me on the day.

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