Uncle Sam takes no risks with NZ visitor

01:39, Nov 13 2012
A New Zealand passport.

T is for terrorism, G is for genocide, and both are equally important when applying for a United States visa.

When the nice man from Air New Zealand sent an email suggesting "this (visa) process, to be honest, is quite lengthy, and it might pay to do this in a quiet room with a hot or cold beverage and have your patience levels ready", I thought he was joking. How bad could an online form be?

But it wasn't a standard pay-your-money, get-the-stamp, visitors' visa I needed - rather an "I" class media visa.

I thought the pages and pages of questions were a result of my occupation. Perhaps Uncle Sam didn't trust the scratchings I might make in my notebook.

But, no, later I realised anything other than a standard visitors' visa came with the same online interrogation and a face-to-face interview in Auckland.

In filling in the online form, I could understand why they wanted to know if I had a criminal record or communicable diseases, but when it came to the security and background questions . . .


"Do you seek to engage in espionage, sabotage, export control violations or any other illegal activity while in the United States?" asks a question.

Um, no, I think our schedule will be too busy for that.

"Have you ever, or do you intend to, provide financial assistance or other support to terrorists or terrorist organisations?"

On a journalist's wage! That's hardly enough money for me, let alone a direct debit to al Qaeda.

I'm not "a member or representative of a terrorist organisation", either.

The man at the consulate must be finding my answers pretty dull by now, since it's another "no" to questions asking whether I have ever ordered, incited or committed genocide or torture. I haven't been involved in political killings or recruiting child soldiers, either.

Enforcing population control on women, or making a woman undergo an abortion against her wish, both received negative responses.

And just for the record, it was yet another "no" when asked if I was going to the US "to engage in prostitution or unlawful commercialised vice".

Hours later, questions answered, it was time to upload a photo. Don't bother grabbing that extra copy of your new passport photo. The Americans like their photos square, so it's off to the photo store. News that you need a photo for an American visa is not greeted with great joy. The staff know how exacting the requirements are.

By about now it's time to reach for the paracetamol. Thoughts of a darkened room and a hot or cold drink are very appealing.

Finally, the paperwork is done - the "accepted" signal flashes up. Relief.

Paying for the visa online is child's play after the questionnaire. An interview time is arranged at the US consulate in Auckland, as the quest for the visa continues.

With the paperwork checked and rechecked, I leave Timaru on the late-afternoon flight for an overnight stay - the only way to be at the consulate as instructed by 7.45am.

About 20 people are waiting for 8am appointments. It's a mini United Nations.

We queue. Our passports checked, its through the X-ray scanner and time to queue again. I arrive at the front of the queue, hand over my passport and my fingerprints are taken electronically. I take a seat and wait for my interview. My name is called and my fingers go back on the fingerprint pad to check I'm the same person I was five minutes ago.

I hand over more documents, including a letter from the boss stating how long I have worked for The Herald and what I do.

The man with the American accent (the first I've met in the building) asks how long I have worked at The Herald. I reply.

He asks what I do there. "Could this be a trick question?" I wonder, considering I can see the Herald letterhead on the paper in front of him.

"Have a good trip," he says. The interview is over, less than 60 seconds after it began.

Then come the words I've been waiting for: "Your passport and visa will be sent to you". Visa granted.

Rhonda Markby travelled to West Hollywood as the guest of West Hollywood Marketing and Visitors Bureau and Air New Zealand.

The Timaru Herald