Monday, April 18, 2011

Visa to America....or not

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written a blog post, and so much has happened in those two weeks. Just read my last blog post, which I usually do before writing a new one, and I see my last sentence was something about “Serdar will have his visa and we will be planning our trip to America.” Unfortunately, that is so not the case, and I feel like I have been dealing with that fact nonstop since I last wrote a blog. But here is the story:
Serdar and I got on the overnight train and headed up to Kyiv for his visa interview at 10:30am the next morning. We arrived at the consulate early and joined the crowds lined up outside the building, waiting for their visa interviews. There was a huge group of young people going to America on the “Work and Travel” program, which basically is pay your way to America, work shitty resort jobs—house cleaning, etc—and live with other Ukrainians. There was another separate line for students going to America to study, and our line, a mixture of all kinds of people, many wanting to visit relatives in the States. Though an applicant has to go to the interview alone and therefore I couldn’t be with Serdar during his interview, I hung out with him in line, and after he went in the building, with the other husbands, friends, etc. We waited about an hour, and then, one by one, they all started coming out, all shaking their head no, some of the women crying. No one in our line, including Serdar, got a visa. I found out later that only 3% of the people who apply from Ukraine get tourist visas. I guess there is such a big fear on the part of the U.S. government that the person will stay illegally in the U.S.
I had just assumed that Serdar could give them my letter explaining he would be travelling with me, a Peace Corps Volunteer, and that he would be given a visa. And I was so wrong. He never even got a chance to give them the letter, they clearly had rejected his application even before he showed up, on the usual grounds of “not enough ties in Ukraine,” despite his entire family living here and being in first year of medical university. Some of the other people in line seemed to have even stronger ties—spouses and young children living in Ukraine—but still they were denied. I wish I had understood more about the visa process before we attempted this—somehow I would have gotten it in the application that he would be travelling with a Peace Corps Volunteer, because I still believe it would have made the difference.
I have since been trying various ways to appeal the rejection, including writing my congressman, who did agree to send a letter of support, and talking with the director of the Peace Corps in Ukraine. So far, nothing has changed, and I am about to give up and readjust my sights to traveling by myself to America this summer. Serdar, I think, has already let go of it as time has gone by. We were both tremendously disappointed, as was his parents and grandparents. I felt I let all of them down so much, because I was so confident that Serdar would be getting a visa because he was traveling with me, though they, of course, understood that I had no control over the process and also saw that I was as sad as they were.
I now wonder whether Serdar will ever be able to go to America, unless he goes under some kind of study program. It was such an eye opening experience for me to the privilege of being an American in this world where we just assume we can travel almost anywhere without the problem of being denied a visa.

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