(eTN) – With the United States of America establishing a national tourism identity, “Brand USA,” travel to the US for tourism purposes becomes a top export earner for the country. This is specifically true for states like Hawaii, Florida, and Nevada.
Some countries now enjoy a visa waiver status and citizens from those country can enter the United States without visa.
For most countries however you need to apply for a US tourist visa- and the application fee is US$160.00 –not just pocket change for citizens of many countries. The bad news is, a visa denied costs the same as a visa issued – US$160.00.
Many countries now process visas electronically or on arrival – but not the United States of America.
With thousands of applicants on a daily basis at most US consulates, this becomes a quick money maker, but it is also a big turn-off for those legitimate tourists that not only feel the United States government just extorted US$160.00 from them. In addition many also had been required to take time off from work, and travel long distances to visit a US consulate for the required personal visa interview. Many have to do this only to be denied and out the money and time. If we US citizens would have the same experience applying for a trip to another country, I think we would go someplace else.
This happened to eTN writer Dimitro Makarov from Luhansk, in the Eastern Ukraine. Dimitri has been working with eTN for some time and speaks fluent Ukrainian, Russian, and very good English. He is a young guy working for the Ukrainian government as a senior attorney in the Department of Natural Resources in Luhansk.
Dimitro had traveled to Russia and Turkey just recently, but like most Ukrainians, he is not a frequent international traveler. This trip to the United States was the trip of his lifetime, and it took 3 years of saving money to make this happen.
As a citizen of the Ukraine he needed to get a B1/B2 visa.
Here is his story:
In February 2013, I got an invitation from the eTN Publisher to visit Hawaii for one week. I was very excited and immediately collected information on how to apply for a US visa. As an attorney, I am familiar with how to prepare documents and respond to questions. I just got a big promotion and raise in salary, so I thought the visa application would be just a side task.
I was in for a surprise.
What was required was to have an international Ukrainian passport, which I had. I also had to collect information on my financial situation and get references from work to prove my income, my bank account information, and credit cards. Many Ukrainians don’t use credit cards, so I applied for one and because of my excellent credit received a Visa credit card within days.
All of this was in place, so I was very optimistic and actively prepared for my trip. I asked for my vacation time, freed up extra money, and received a written invitation from the eTurboNews Publisher. It included eTN’s confirmation to cover expenses like accommodation, flights, and food while in Hawaii. I looked up information on how to extend and also visit San Francisco and the Grand Canyon and perhaps Las Vegas on my first trip to the “land of the free.”
The scheme of applying is simple, and you can find all information on the US embassy website. I created my profile and scheduled my appointment for my interview with American consulate officials.
I paid the US$160.00 non-refundable visa fee, which is the largest amount any consulate charges for a tourist visa.
The only place to apply for a US visa in the Ukraine is at the US embassy in Kiev. For me Kiev is far away- 12-15 hours by train.
I arranged with my job to take 3 days of unpaid vacation. I bought my train ticket and got on the overnight train to make it to my US visa interview.
By the way, many other countries have numerous consulates in the Ukraine, but not the US.
When I arrived in Kiev I was welcomed by a heavy rainstorm. I took the subway from the main train station, walked through a park, and there it was – the walls and fortress of the Embassy of the United States of America. It looked more like a military base. There was a checkpoint, and at 9:00 a.m. I joined a long line of fellow applicants, while standing outside in the pouring rain.
I tried to shelter myself from the nasty weather, and immediately a security guard started yelling at me and ordered me to get back to the end of the line. I was not allowed to bring my bag and cell phone, and had to leave it at an outside checkroom and pay another US$3 for this service.
Luckily I brought a folder where I was able to put all my documents.
I noticed the security guards kept yelling at newcomers like officers of a concentration camp. I always thought people in the US were nice?
I finally made it inside and had to take a ticket with a number. A Ukrainian officer working for the consulate glanced through my paperwork and accepted it. I joined 300 other applicants and took a seat in the large waiting room.
Seeing posters from San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York on the wall got me real excited.
I had to give my fingerprints, and it took 30-40 minutes before I was called to a window. There was bullet-proof glass and a little hole for documents.
The American Consular officer called me for my interview and started talking to me in Russian, and I responded in English – we continued in English.
I had put a lot of effort into collecting all the required documents, but this officer did not ask me to see any of this. He did not want to know about the eTN invitation, my financial situation, my work – I actually started explaining this without him asking me.
He then asked me if I was married. I responded I was single. I could sense there was something that struck him negatively when I responded. A positive conversation turned into a negative one, because being single was evidently not a satisfying answer. I heard so much about the US not discriminating against race, sexual orientation, origin, and marriage status – but this obviously not a rule at US Consulates.
The entire interview took about a minute or two, and I had my passport back. When I asked him why he denied my visa, he said he believed what I said, but he had strong rules, and he felt I didn’t have enough reason to come back to the Ukraine (without being married).
He suggested to try again in 6 months, and show him a European Schengen visa and proof of other international visits.
I thought to myself if this on Brand USA promotional policy to send potential international money spending visitors first somewhere else?
This was 2 minutes of work for which the US Consulate invested in determine my application I worked so hard on. In addition the 3 days of unpaid leave, a round-trip train ticket for a 15-hour trip to Kiev, 2 nights of no sleep, plus a US$160.00 of my hard earned money did not come across as a fair trade for a denied visa based on marriage status.
I was disappointed and thought it was not right for the officer not to even look at all the documents I had on me. How can this process be called fair? To make it worse, an appeal does not even exist, and another application means another US$160 plus more travel costs and time off without pay.
I looked at the denial letter, and it mentioned Section 214(b) of the INA rule. Section 214(b) of the INA is the most common basis for denying a non-immigrant visa. It stipulates that every applicant “shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he or she establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for a visa … that he or she is entitled to a non-immigrant status under section 101(a)(15).” Section 101(a)(15) states that a nonimmigrant is “an alien having a residence in a foreign country which he or she has no intention of abandoning and who is visiting the United States temporarily.”
Unfortunately, third-party assurances cannot be used to overcome the statutory presumption of immigrant intent. The burden of proof in that regard lies solely with the applicant.
I found out the rejection rate in Kiev is about 50%.
Well I felt discriminated against, and further, I felt I was robbed out of US$160.00.
The close to a happy ending of this woeful story is I attended the Polish Outbound Travel Market for eTN in Warsaw in March and helped eTN during ITB in Berlin.
Getting the European visa was a lot easier and cheaper, and I did not have to travel for 3 days for a 2-minute interview.
Of course, I like to visit the US sometime, but it’s a big world out there, and for now, I would rather spend my hard-earned money at other destinations where I feel welcomed.
Do you have your own experience in being denied or granted a visa to the US? Please send your story to [email protected] .