I have been waiting for quite some time now to blog about this, but I didn’t want to jinx myself by saying something before I had my passport back in my safe hands.
Some of you might have read before (over here) about how much of a pain it was to get my tickets booked to go to India. Obviously I did not know at that time, what the “real” definition of travel-pain was. Happy to have gotten a good deal on my tickets to Bangalore from Chicago for $1100 on British Airways via London, I whiled away some time before I started working on putting together my papers for the U.K. transit visa.
So the British consulate has this esteemed opinion, that if you are an American citizen or permanent resident, or a person on a valid American visa, you can be considered safe to roam the waiting areas of Heathrow airport. However if you are one of those sorry souls, who lurk in between those two statuses, and are on your way from becoming a visa holder to a permanent resident, then somehow you are automatically not considered allowable on airport premises unless you hold this farce that is called a transit visa.
I started with googling (wow, that’s not a word yet?) the local British consulate, to see what I needed to do. After linking me to another site and another and another, I got to the site where I could start filling out my 8 page application. That used to be the first step, before getting an appointment with the UK consulate in Chicago. So, I started filling it up on weekday morning while at work. Then, it started asking me questions I had no answer for. So, I gave up, saved it and went back to work. Once my husband got me the answers to those questions, I went back to finish it. Of course, I didn’t finish it because, then they started asking me for my entire history, my families’ history, geography etc etc. So I gave up again and decided this was not something I could finish during lunch. So, I finally waited until the end of the day before I could complete answering all the questions they had for me and I clicked ‘Next’. So, it asked me to get an appointment, and gave me the option of picking a place that was much closer to home, not to get my visa, but to get my biometrics taken. Not knowing what to do, I picked the option. The next screen asked me if I wanted to mail my documents or take them over to the Chicago British consulate. Again, because that’s what we used to do, I chose the second option, and then that’s it, it gave me the links to download the application, the appointment letter for the biometrics and then said I should mail my documents to the British consulate general in Chicago. I was totally confused. So, I looked up the phone number for the British consulate in Chicago and called them. The message for those who are looking for information on visas was “go to the website”. After scanning the website from top to bottom, I found that the only number one could call to get any information was a 1-900 number that apparently went to the UK, and was charged at $3 a minute. My dear friend Fa, who was also in the same predicament as me, and who could no longer take this uncertainty, decided to make a trip to the British consulate where she was stopped by security who she confused into putting her on the phone with another guy inside the consulate. She was then told, that we needed to get our biometrics taken if the website asked us to, and drop off the application and the original passport, EAD, advance parole, photograph and itinerary at the drop-box outside the consulate. They would then process it in about 5 to 10 working days and send us an email once it was ready. We could then come back to pick it up. All originals! What were they thinking? No option now, because it was too late to cancel tickets and re-route. So we had to go through the torture.
I telecommuted one day and got my fingerprints taken. I wasted another half day driving to Chicago and dropping off my papers (they only accept them between 9 and 10 in the morning). After about 6 days, I got an email that said my visa was approved and my papers were ready to picked up any weekday between 3 and 4 p.m. Last Friday, my husband wasted 2 and half hours on I-90 trying to get into Chicago, while the clock ticked past 4 and took a U-turn back home. Yesterday, I wasted half a day taking a train to Chicago and picking up my papers. In all, I’ve lost about a day’s worth of billing at work, 86$ for the visa, and another 50 something on travel expenses etc. That money would have spared me the pain and torture of the process had I spent it on a more comfortable ticket on some other airline.
I’ve absolutely been “penny wise pound foolish” like the British say!