Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Pesky Details

When you are trying to do some good in the developing world, you must negotiate a huge bureaucratic gulf.

We are in the process of bringing a baby to St. Louis for heart surgery. We have to e-mail letters from the host family, the hospital, and the doctor in Haiti who examined the child—that would be John—to the U.S. consulate. They require extensive documentation to issue the visa.

The U.S. government’s two main concerns in issuing non-immigrant visas to Haitians for medical reasons are: 1) that no public monies go to pay for care, and 2) that the person will return to Haiti.

Fortunately, we now have someone in Port-au-Prince who can help us with this process, a woman I’ll call G.

In order to obtain a precious U.S. visa, G ensures the patient has a current passport. She then helps the parent fill out the on line visa application for the child. G calls the consulate and makes an appointment with an official. On the day of the appointment, she goes to the appointment with the parent and the child, bringing the application, all of the letters the consulate requires, and $100 to pay the fee.

The consulate official conducts the interview and then decides whether to grant the visa. If they decide in favor of granting the visa, it will be ready the next day. Physically, a visa is a large computer-printed stamp in the patient’s passport and includes the patient’s picture.

The U.S. consulate doesn’t make it exactly easy to get a visa, but they have almost always granted them for our patients. Sometimes if the parent is applying for one so that she can accompany the child, they aren’t as agreeable. When children are traveling to the United States without a parent, a bunch of papers have to be completed for the Haitian social service agency called IBESR or Bien et Sociale. This is a big hassle and I’m not even sure of the process.

After the visa is obtained and all the other paperwork has been completed, we buy a ticket for the patient to come to the great, white north for their life-saving surgery.

That’s the good part.

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