Open Sesame

Dear President Obama,

I thought I should give you an interim report on the progress I am making towards securing a visa to visit your fine country.

As an American citizen yourself, and therefore not needing a visa, you may not be aware that all applications now have to be submitted online.

After Google had steered me towards what I suspect were scam websites (there is a warning about them on the front page of the legitimate website when I finally reached it) a friend intervened and emailed the genuine address. He also volunteered to help, which turned out to be a real blessing.

On the first day, it took one hour to complete an exhaustive and exhausting questionnaire (more on that in a moment). Then came time to upload the photo. Now early on in the process you are asked to select a security question so that in the event there is a halt – whether scheduled or otherwise – the application can resume. The question I selected was the one about the name of the street I lived on when I was eight.

It took us two hours to take, crop and upload a photo that met the technical specifications of the State Department software. By that time, of course, the application had been halted so we needed to re-enter. Unfortunately the website had no memory of the childhood address, access was denied and the application had to be abandoned. So all we had to show for three hours work was a photograph.

We took the next day off to cool down and resumed on day three. One more hour on the questionnaire, followed by half an hour to upload the photo, then another half an hour waiting for confirmation that the application had been successfully lodged.

On day four I set out to schedule an appointment for an interview at the consulate. All such appointments have to be made – you guessed it – online. In order to make one, the applicant has to go onto a different website and open an account. I would have failed completely here but for the fact that there was a phone number given and a very helpful lady there took pity, created the account and emailed the password. As instructed, I printed out one of the pages and took it to a nearby convenience store to pay the requisite fee. However I could not make an appointment yet, as the convenience store computer needed to talk to the State Department one.

On day five came confirmation that payment had gone through and I managed to make an appointment for interview. Luckily that will be in a month’s time by when I should have calmed down.

A word about those questions, Mr President. Does anyone ever answer in the affirmative to drug addiction, prostitution, money laundering, human trafficking, espionage, terrorism, genocide, torture, murder, child soldiers, crushing religious freedom, forced abortion and human organ sale? I thought not.

All being well, if I pass the interview you should be seeing me some time in July. But if anything goes wrong, frankly I don’t think I’ll bother to try again. My family members hold passports which are granted a visa waiver. Might I respectfully suggest the same for Hong Kong passport holders?

Mike Rowse