Monday, July 01, 2013

The pain of dealing with US embassies

One of the most painful parts of bringing Haitians to the United States for medical care is dealing with the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince. Even when we get the visas, which we almost always do, there is something dehumanizing about the process. The wait. The arbitrariness of the process. The assumption that everyone who is applying for a visa is somehow cheating.

The abrupt convergence of the first world with the third world at these embassies brings out the worst in the first world. Is it guilt? Is it fear? Is it the press of people trying to get visas? Is it greed? Is it wanting to be anywhere other than a U.S. embassy in the developing world?

I'm speaking not just from the point of view of helping Haitian patients apply for U.S. visas. We had our own frustrations during our adoption process and our neighbors right now are having their own hair-pulling experiences with the embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. So it's not just Haiti.

Marie's visa odyssey wasn't any different. Her brother helped her complete the 15 page online form. The internet isn't exactly reliable in Haiti--it kept going down and the entered information would be lost--so it took two days to fill out the form. Haitian Hearts paid the $180 fee.

Marie was able to obtain an appointment fairly quickly because she had a medical emergency. The embassy required four letters: one from the accepting surgeon, the accepting medical center, the physician in Haiti who had examined Marie, and the host family.

Marie showed up for her appointment. She was very weak from her extreme congestive heart failure. At her appointment, Marie was denied the visa. She was told that all the necessary documents weren't in place.

We told Marie to wait outside the embassy. Several people made phone calls to the embassy to confirm that the documents had been received. Finally, after several exhausting (for Marie) hours, she was called back in the embassy and her visa was granted.

So all was good in the end, but, oh my, gird your loins for this process.

Above, the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince

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