Sophia's Peace Work

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Visa Application Blues

I went with an Iraqi friend to his interview for a visa at the U.S. Embassy today. He was attempting to get a training visa so that he could go to the U.S. He is the supervisor of a Modern Dance and Theater troupe called Marduk in Iraq.

Marduk is the only modern dance group in Iraq and after the war they cleaned out the bombed, burned and looted Rasheed Theater and put on an original performace of an interpretation of Shakespeares play "Othello." They have also performed in Korea and Jordan. I saw a video of their Rasheed Theater performance and their performance in Korea. They may not meet international standards but for a country that has lived through war, sanctions and occupation, they are amazingly good. A friend took the video back to the U.S. and showed it to some influential people she news in the Dance/Theater world. They were also impressed and invited my Iraqi friend to come in advance of the group to receive training and organize the tour of the group in the U.S. Letters were exchanged and my friend was encouraged to file a visa application even through the $100 fee was a bit steep for him.

Unfortunately after just a five minute discussion with the consulate official at the embassy, his application was rejected out of hand. My friend stood back from the window dazed ... he thought, we all thought, he had a strong application. I went up to the window to ask why he had been rejected. The woman handed me a very obtuse document full of legalese. Basically he had been rejected because he couldn't prove to the official that he wasn't trying to go to the U.S. to stay there illegally. So short was the interview (she didn't even look at any of his supporting letters and invitations), that the whole situation felt like she was just filling a quota of rejections. My friend is a young, Iraqi male ... who have the hardest time getting visa's to the U.S. We speculated that she is told to reject most people like him unless they have a compeling story ... but she hardly took the time to determine if his story was compeling or not.

My friend is very disappointed but I was outraged. The strange thing is that he has even traveled to Australia last year on a three month training visa ... and he came back before the visa ran out. If he didn't stay there, why would he stay in America?

And now I am angry with myself. I should have argued with the woman to atleast give him an interview that was worth his $100 before she rejected him out of hand.

An consular officer had once told me that the $100 fee hardly paid for any of the processing that a visa application must go through ... after today, I find that hard to believe.

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