Wednesday, May 26, 2004

An F1 Visa... Part One

Today's post was supposed to be about politics, but there's a more pressing concern. I'm going begin my Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I'm not a US citizen, which means that my time these days is largely occupied with getting a Visa. What a nightmare!

To begin with, my passport was issued in 1997, when I was 13. It's valid for another 3 years, but the photo it contains looks nothing like me (I'm 21 now). So my government decrees that I have to get a new passport. In my naivete and knowing the Indian bureaucracy, I presume that this will be more difficult than getting the actual visa. I was pleasantly surprised, though. I spent about an hour at the passport office, and received the new passport at home 3 days later and 150 km away.

This is where the fun starts. To begin with, Indian students, unlike people from many other countries must have an interview at the US embassy / Consulate. During summer, the peak season, the interviews must be booked online two months in advance. Before I got my new passport, I booked an interview for June 21st. Once I had it, I hoped to change the passport number, and retain the old interview. A reasonable hope, considering the website has a cancel/modify section. I must have been nuts!

To begin with, the only thing that you can change is the appointment time. Still, I figure I can come up with a workaround. I booked a new interview appointment with my new passport, and couldn't find a slot before July 26th. This is where genius kicks in... I log in with both ids to modify the appointment. I selected July 27th for the first, wait a second or two for the database to reflect the change, and then switch to the other id to look for free dates in June. Not a chance. Panic sets in... I've given up my June 14th appointment, and have not been able to move the new one. July 26th is just too late.

I later found out that the website holds on to freed dates for a while before releasing them. I can't imagine why they would want to do this, unless people were booking dates in bulk and "selling" convenient appointments for a fee. Actually, that's a very Indian thing to do, so I'm not surprised. No consolation for me, though; it appeared that I wouldn't get an appointment before the end of July. As I had to leave at the beginning of August, this is Not a Good Thing.

I stayed logged onto the website for almost 24 hours (blessing the free campus Internet connection), hoping that someone would cancel an appointment, and that I could get their slot before it was gone. Set the page to auto-refresh every minute. No luck. I watched that screen for nearly three hours before magically, a slot appeared. Unfortunately, someone beat me to it. It happened 4 times that day before I gave up. Disappointment doesn't begin to describe what I was feeling! And irritation with the incompetent programmers who can't set up proper database locks. And no, don't explain why they were right. Perhaps they were (I'll admit now) but then I was in no mood to be charitable.

What happened next? Stay tuned for tomorrow's post with the next episode of this riveting human drama.

1 comment:

Jeff Erickson said...

Best of luck getting your visa!