Friday, 20 December 2013

Diary -- The US Consulate

The mad rush begins at 4 am. While visa applicants to the US can now make an online booking and arrive at the scheduled time, back in 2000 when this reporter approached the consulate for the first time, everyone had to be present by 4 am to get an entry inside the fortress.

Clad in the best formal attire possible, hundreds of US Visa aspirants queue up on a desolate pavement outside the United States Consulate on Anna Salai even as the private security guards posted at the consulate continue to doze.

“It could take all day long, be prepared for a long haul,” warn seniors who have been there, done that.

By around 6 am, the security guards wake up from their slumber and begin their day by hurling abuses at the aspirants on the pretext of maintaining order.  Nervous applicants obey each and every command of the security officer as if he could chase one away if he chose to.

About an hour or so later, you are let inside the fortress by grumpy looking Indians working at the consulate who boss over you as if they were all members of the first family. The documents are screened and the applicants are given a token number for the interview with a consular office.

This is the most testing time of the entire process and could take several hours during which time all one has to do is sit and stare at a computer monitor for their token number to be listed. “If you do not go when you’re token number is listed, you will not be called again,” warn consulate staff. Other applicants warn that taking even a leak during this period could lead to a ‘hit and miss’ situation.

When the moment arrives, the consular official sitting on the other side of a glass wall speaks into a mike. She, usually it’s a she, looks at you as if you were a thief applying for bail and asks if all the documents presented are genuine.

Then she asks if you will settle down in the United States. As tutored, you say ‘No’.  She asks about your degree and the company you are going to work for. If you answered right, she just nods.

And they let you off. Three hours later, some of the applicants get their visa stamped but all of them, almost all, do get harassed. At the end of it, you wonder if you had applied for a refugee status by mistake.

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