Friday, June 7, 2013

Everything is on "Filipino Time."

As of today, we've finalized visas and dual-citizenship for all of the family. It's definitely been a struggle to get to this point.

Living in a Filipino household, I've gotten (somewhat) accustomed to the "eventually" attitude required when planning things. For example, if you have a party planned for noon, you should probably tell everyone it starts at 11AM so that they'll be there on time, and you should also plan on the party lasting until 9 or so that night (unless you have no reservations about shooing people out the door).

Sometimes, though, I forget. I make the assumption that things will be quick and easy and efficient.

Most of the time, I'm wrong.

What should have been two (MAYBE three) visits to the SF Philippine Consular General turned into (by our last count) fourteen visits -- fifteen if you include the final trip to pick up the last document for travel. (If you try to keep track of my visit count below, I didn't include trips independent of my visa experience -- i.e. for family dual-citizenship and my mom's visitor's visa -- in this narrative).

The first hurdle (and the only one I'm chronicling) was getting my immigrant visa taken care of... Before my first visit, I had checked their website online for the list of documents required. After compiling the listed documents, I called the SF Philippine Consular General to double check everything. I was told by three different people who called me back (because sometimes I get paranoid about really important things and yes, I did call three separate times to leave a message) that I had everything I needed. Even my paranoia couldn't help me, apparently.

When I got there, I waited in line and was told that I was missing seven ---SEVEN--- documents. I pointed out that I had gone on the website to use their checklist and the person told me that I had used the wrong website address. Then I pointed out that I had called ahead of time to double check and everyone had told me I had everything I needed. The visa officer said that I should have just checked the website, then proceeded to give me the same website address I had used before making the trip to SF.

After returning home, I spent the next week or so compiling the additional documents. When I returned, I was dismayed to find the Consular was not open. This would happen to me three more times throughout my application process, as nobody answers the phone at the SF Philippine Consular General and Philippine holidays are sometimes obscure (apparently "counting votes" is a national holiday) and NEVER listed on the website. Unfortunately, those days were also days Jing also went with me, which meant that her time was wasted as well.

On my next "successful" (RE: I was able to enter the building) visit, I was informed that I had all of the documents, but some of them needed to be notarized... another wasted trip and another long train ride out of SF.

On the next trip, Jing and I rode the train to SF. I had everything needed, dropped it off expecting it to be ready later that day (like the sign on the visa window implied), and was told that I would be contacted within about a week to let me know if my application was ready to be submitted.

A week passed, and I was called and told that my application had everything and I needed to come in and pay for my application. "Great!" I thought, assuming one would receive his or her visa after paying the application fee. After all, they've had my application for a week, right?

Alas, it was not to be. I had to make another trip to SF simply to pay the fee because the application had not yet been processed. Apparently, they "vet" the application before they ask you to pay.... which is admittedly nicer than paying for an application regardless of whether it is approved or not, but still means ANOTHER trip and I had to make at least one more trip just to pick the visa up after it's approved!

All in all, a very frustrating experience (and stressful one, too). I'm not sure why the SF Philippine Consular General has such rampant misinformation and inefficient policies. Some of it, I believe, is inherent to pretty much any government agency...

As a side note, though (and purely speculation on my part), I noticed that when I went by myself, I was greeted with more hostility than on the days Jing went with me. When she was there to throw out some Tagalog, things went so much smoother. In fact, the agents usually spoke with her the whole time instead of me. I'm filing that observation away for later...

I dislike the fact that my first post on a new blog is such a negative, but I wanted to write down my experience so that others who may be looking to immigrate to the Philippines know what to expect. Eventually, I'll post the ACTUAL list of what is required to gain your non-quota immigrant visa.

It's done, though. My visa is acquired and tickets have been booked. I'm visiting family and friends in West Virginia for the summer, as I won't be returning to the States for at least two years (very intimidating).

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