Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Thinly Disguised

Before I returned to England the second time, I was reminded very strongly of an email my brother had sent from his mission in Africa:
The border was a nightmare, it took us forever to get into Zambia, and the officials at the station ripped us off because we were Americans. The AP, said that one time, he was taken into a back room, and they wouldn't let him leave until he gave them a bribe. It's funny because there was a big poster on the wall that said 'ZAMBIA IMMIGRATION: we don't tolerate corruption.'  Yeah right.
I experienced my own border nightmares the first time I attempted to come to England.  You can read all about them here.  In summary, I had to wait a month and a half, only to hear that my passport was going to be rejected due to an error I had made while filling out the forms.  So I canceled my application and lost $130.  I had done everything possible to try to fix the mistake, but the agency makes it impossible to talk to anyone at the consulate.  They hire a third-party company to deal with concerns, but I received only an automated (and very unhelpful) message from them.    I had called and emailed, and finally, out of desperation, sent my angel mother-in-law to LA to speak with someone face-to-face, which was also impossible we discovered.  Because I desperately needed my passport returned, Paula asked the guard if someone could look at my passport application to determine if it would be accepted or rejected.  The woman at the consulate office said over and over that no one had time to glance over the application - it would have taken 30 seconds!  By the time I decided to cancel my application, I was so thankful to have my passport back in my hands before my flight that I barely thought of the money I had lost in the whole confusing, frustrating process.  

I learned an important lesson.  When I applied for a new visa over the Christmas holiday, I decided to pay the extra money to expedite automatically.  I did not want to risk another two month procedure!  I spent around $250 to purchase the visa and expedite it and, to what should have been my delight, I had my passport and visa back in my hands less than forty-eight hours after I had dropped the envelope off at the post office! I wasn't delighted; I was disgusted.  I hadn't imagined that my ability to receive and retrieve my entry visa would be so similar to that of my brother's AP attempting to enter Zambia. 

I am grateful to have a visa this time; the other evening I purchased tickets to both Ireland and France.  I feel comfortable in my ability to leave and enter the country freely.  I can't blame the economics of the border agency.  They cater first to those who are willing to pay most for the product: market economics at its best.  

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