|Consulate Review: Manila, Philippines
Review Topic: K1 Visa
|Review Date :
||March 16, 2008
|Embassy Review :
||Our Visa Interview…
I left Columbia, South Carolina for Manila on Sunday, March 8th. My flight left at 6:05am and after passing through Dallas and Tokyo, I arrived in Manila on Sunday the 9th at 11:20pm. I flew American Airlines to Tokyo, and Japan Airlines from Tokyo to Manila. The first time I went to Manila I flew Philippine Airlines, and used Northwest Airlines the second trip. I would say that Philippine Airlines had the best planes and service. They even gave you an eye mask and pair of warm socks. So anyway, Jocelyn was there at the airport waiting for me. She was anxious so went to the airport 5 hours early! That will probably be the last time she is early for anything. I had forgotten just how cute she is. Did you ever notice that your girl looks a whole lot better in person than on the web cam?
So I’ll fast forward my story past my first few days with Jocelyn in the hotel just in case there are children reading.
We finished assembling our paperwork and double checked everything. We went to the Netopi@ internet café in Robinson’s mall (same place I am right now as I write this) and reprinted our DS-156 to correct an error. The night before our interview, Jocelyn wanted me to quiz her so we sat on the bed in the hotel and started to go through a bunch of questions about my background. Now at this point I will warn you about the folly of actually thinking you will get any studying done if you are sitting on the bed in your hotel. Well, I suppose we did learn a few more things about each other, but nothing that would help in the interview.
We met up with fellow VJ’ers Chris & Gretchen and John & Theresa earlier in the week. They both had their interviews on Tuesday the 11th, ours was on Thursday the 13th. They told us they arrived at the embassy at about 5am and there were about 40 people ahead of them. So we decided to get there about 4:30am for our 6:30am appointment. We set the alarm for 3:15am and were out the door at 4:00. We waked about a block and a half from the Cherry Blossoms hotel to a corner where we could find a taxi. The taxi from there to the Embassy was 47 Pesos. I gave him 100.
The Embassy compound a huge place. When you arrive in the dark it is not obvious where you need to be. However, we quickly found the 15 or so other people standing there, along with assorted vendors selling assorted stuff like “ball pens” and snacks. The lighting was not bad, and we felt very safe. The mosquitoes were quite bad. There were several security guards in the area. It was now about 4:30. After sitting on a cement wall for about 25 minutes, an older Filipina lady sat out four plastic chairs for rent. Two were rented very quickly and my beautiful Jocelyn suggested we rent the other two. Like most Filipinas, she doesn’t have enough natural padding to sit on cement for very long. So we paid the handsome sum of 60 Pesos to rent the two chairs. They did feel better than the wall. Now, about 30 seconds after we sat in our rental chairs, the guards motioned that it was time to queue up about 50 meters from where we were. So much for my 60 Pesos.
This first line is under a white tent. The guard looked at Jocelyn’s appointment letter and her ID. He checked my Passport. They then had us sit in order on some covered benches outside. There were five long benches and the guards were careful to make sure you were arranged on the benches in the order that you came through. During the entire visa process, there seemed to be much care in making sure nobody was cutting line. We sat on the benches until 6:00. The guard kept walking around saying “compress” so he could get more people on the benches. Everybody started out putting their huge stack of documentation on the bench beside them but ended up with it in their laps after all the compressing. The guards were generally pleasant. I noticed several girls had their x-rays from St. Lukes, but you absolutely do not need to bring them to the interview.
At 6:00 they led us into the building. It was just starting to get daylight. Just inside the door was the metal detector. They did not make you take your shoes off, but everything else had to go on the belt just like in the airport. If you were a man, it really didn’t matter if you set off the metal detector or not, you were going to get at thorough pat-down (really they should call it a feel-up). The American man in front of me had a disposable cigarette lighter and some cigarettes. They made him throw both the lighter and the cigarettes in the trash. He was so happy to throw them away that I think he would have thrown his pants away if requested.
Next stop, the waiting room where you will spend the rest of your time. This room was pretty large and full of blue plastic chairs with metal arms and legs. No padding of course, but the spacing was not bad and they were generally comfortable enough I suppose. The floor was the typical white vinyl tile. The walls were light brown paneling and the ceiling was a standard height drop-ceiling, white with recessed florescent lights. Of course it was air conditioned and quite clean. There are restrooms there and they are nice enough. There is also a drinking fountain. In a corner, to the left as you come in the room there is a small area for kids to play. There are no toys there, so bring your own if you have kids. On the wall to the right of the children’s ares were large framed photos of George Bush, Dick Chaney and Condoleezza Rice. Bush looked very young and quite goofy, Chaney looked like he was up to something and the picture of Condy was quite bleached, perhaps in accordance with Philippine tastes. On the wall to the left of the Pre-screen windows there was a large warning in English and Tagalog that basically said you would be denied a visa if you falsified documents. On another wall there was a poster of somebody in jail that said something like “This is the only place you will be going if you are use false information to obtain a visa”. The guards lined you up in the chairs in the order you came in, but it quickly became apparent that it really didn’t matter where you sat.
In this large room there really seemed to be three separate waiting areas. There ware large signs over the two other areas that said “Department of Homeland Security” and “Seafarers”. I have no idea what was happening in those areas but all the seats were eventually filled up.
We hadn’t been sitting very long when the guard began taking people to the “Immigrant Visa Ticket Booth” about 6 at a time. This was a small booth built into the corner. It looked like an after-thought and not originally part of what otherwise was a room built very specifically for the intended use. The booth was about six feet by six feet, paneling half way up and Plexiglas the rest of the way. There were two Filipinas working the booth with one line feeding both women. The woman on the right looked grumpy so we were glad to get the younger woman on the left. At this booth they asked for two copies of the DS-156, one copy of the DS-156K and two copies of the DS-157. As many posters have said before, there were plenty of girls who didn’t paste their 2x2 pictures to the DS-156. They were sent to the wall between the Kids Corner and the Cashier. Directly under the pictures of Bush, Dick and Rice, there was a large bottle of glue for sticking your picture to the form. The final form you gave to the Filipina in the ticket booth was your original appointment letter. She then printed two identical tickets from a small printer. One ticket she stapled to your paperwork and the other she gave you. This is the number that will be used to call you to the interviews. Ours was 7009. The numbers definitely did not go in strict order because while there were only about 15 people in front of us, the first person called had number 6001. Every few minutes the woman in the ticket booth on the right would take the forms they had accumulated over to the prescreen windows (windows 14-26, excluding window 16 which was for finger scanning only), to be passed out among the various pre-screen windows. This method of routing partly explains why you won’t get called in order.
The pre-screen windows are arranged in sort of a peninsula that sticks out into the waiting area. Rooms 14, 15 & 16 are on the left, 17-20 directly face the chairs and 21-26 are on the right. We watched the pre-screenings happening at windows 17-20. You stand at these windows. There are short walls sticking out about 18 inches between each windows so that you have a slight bit of privacy from the people to your right or left, but you are otherwise exposed and can be heard. The pre-screeners are all Filipino. They are raised slightly above you and are sitting down. They are behind a glass or plastic window and wear a headset mic and talk to you through two speakers mounted on your side of the glass. There is a small slot for passing your documents through. Most of the windows also had a finger scanner but they didn’t appear to use them at that point. At 7:30 they began posting numbers on the display board. The display board is black with red lights displaying the ticket number on the left and the window you will go to on the right. The board is about three feet square and displays eight numbers at a time in two columns, with the newest numbers displaying at the top left scrolling so that the oldest number dropped off at the bottom right. Each time a new number was posted a bell rang that sounded similar to a standard door bell. If the person didn’t show up at the window in a few minutes there was a Filipina walking around with a remote head-mounted mic who announced your number over the PA. It was amazing how many people she had to call because they were not paying attention.
Our number came up at 7:15 for window 14. The pre-screener was a man and was friendly enough. He asked for the following forms:
• Jocelyn’s Birth Certificate
• I-134 Affidavit of Support
• My 2007 Income Tax return
He also wanted to see pictures of us together, but just had Jocelyn hold up the album and flip through the pictures. He did not keep any pictures. He only asked her two questions:
• When and where did you meet? Answer: we met online
• Have you traveled abroad? Answer: no
He asked me only one question:
• When did you arrive here in the Philippines? Answer: March 10th. (Actually I arrived March 9th but only realized I gave the wrong answer later)
He then told us to go to 16 for finger scanning. That was the end of the pre-screening. It was very simple and fast.
Jocelyn stood in line at window 16 to have her fingers scanned. There were 5 or 6 people ahead of her. I stood to the side and leaned on a rail. This line moved fairly quickly. There was a Filipina sitting outside the window in a tall chair who helped with the finger scanning, and an American woman inside the window who was capturing the finger scans on a pc. The program they were using to capture the finger scans displayed the passport photo we had submitted with the DS-156.
Finger scanning complete, we sat back down to wait for our second interview. The consular interviews didn’t start until 8:00. I noticed an American man and Filipina go into room 30, but almost immediately the man came out and sat in a chair outside the room. I continued watching and noticed that the Filipina completed the entire interview without the man. It seemed odd that he was kicked out. Perhaps he was not the sponsor but rather just somebody else who came to support her? I wish now that I had asked them. The same lady that was walking around with the headset mic was closing the door to the interview room as people went in, so you could not see or hear what was happening. Another Filipina that we know was there for her interview, and she went before us. She did not get her visa because she had worked out of the country and would need to come back when she had a police clearance from that country.
We were called to room 29 at 8:35. The consul was female and of course American. She was probably about 45 years old, with short blonde hair. She smiled and was very friendly. There were four chairs in the room and the consular sat behind a big glass window. There was a slot for documents but she never asked for any papers at all. We were surprised at this. She was looking at our file on the computer and had some papers in front of her. I could see where the pre-screener had written that I arrived on March 10th. She swore us in and then asked Jocelyn the following questions:
• Where did you meet? Answer: Yahoo
• Where on Yahoo? Answer: Yahoo games. She then said that is the first time she has heard that answer in the year she has been there.
• What game were you playing? Answer: Pool
• Who won? Answer: How could I beat him?
• Then what happened? Answer: We started chatting and calling every day. To this she said everybody says that is all the guys do is work and chat after work. She was laughing at this.
• What does he do? Answer: He works for an insurance company, BlueCross BlueShield. To this she said “oh, he probably has my claim”.
• What has he told you about South Carolina? Answer: He told me it is nice there. To this she said “yes, it is very nice there”.
• What are his hobbies? Answer: Well he likes to collect music and downloads a lot from iTunes.
The questions she asked me were:
• How long have you been in your job? Answer: Since December 3rd.
• Where were you before that? Answer: CheckFree, a company mostly known for online banking, but I am in IT, so it is the same type of work I am doing now.
That is all she asked. The then said, “well you are approved. I would love to sit and chat more with you but we aren’t allowed to do that.” I asked for a visa pickup and she said they are not doing any right now because they have a short week next week due to Holy week. They are going to be closed Thursday and Friday of next week. She then asked if we had an emergency that required visa pickup. I told her that we had airline tickets already and I really wanted her to fly back with me. She reminded us that they always advise that you don’t make travel plans but then said we should call the Embassy on Monday (our interview was on Thursday) and find out the status. She said that since we were there in town we could probably get our visa by Wednesday, even with Delbros delivery. She told us to go to window 34 next to arrange for the visa delivery. At window 34 I again tried to request visa pickup but was told the same thing: no pickups allowed right now. The Filipino at this window gave back our original interview letter and told us to go to the Delbros window to pay for the visa delivery. The Delbros booth looked like it was kind of built like an afterthought like the Immigrant Visa Ticket Booth. It is located between the exit and the kids area. There were two people here who took our money and delivery address. We gave them our hotel and room number for the deliver and paid 250 Pesos.
So we were finished and left through the same door we came in, at about 9am.
So that’s it. It wall all very easy and actually a pleasant process. Of course we were very disappointed that we could not get a visa pickup.