A Sticker in your Passport

My visa, issued by the embassy in Yerevan
My visa, issued by the embassy in Yerevan

The visa process was something of a harrowing experience when it came to getting to study in America. Okay, so maybe “harrowing” is too strong a word, but I was applying from Armenia, from where many have ended up in the States one way or another for a while now. The “one way”-s can unfortunately be a problem. I was part of the “another” crowd, though – going through the proper channels – so, really, I did not have any issues.

It was just a little overwhelming getting all the paperwork done. For starters, the visa application was all online. I have trouble trusting such systems, and would much rather speak to a real-live person when it comes to dealing with official issues.

Anyway, to apply for a student visa, I needed an additional document called an “I-20” from the college where I was going to study (which they had FedEx-ed over), and a print-out of a student payment fee called “SEVIS,” also done online.

If that payment weren’t enough, there was a separate visa application fee, on top of which was a still additional fee, based on one’s citizenship. I left the embassy with a lighter wallet. Admittedly – since much of it was done beforehand and online, and as paper doesn’t weigh that much – my wallet technically weighed just about the same. But you know what I mean; I would have preferred to hang on to those few hundred dollars.  I did manage to leave the embassy with everything in order for my student visa, though, which was more than I could say for some of the other people who were there that day applying for regular visas.

The interview process took place out in the open, where everyone else who was present could follow any other applicant’s case. I felt a little bit embarrassed at times, to be perfectly honest. And the security measures were a bit scary too. Just to enter the embassy, I was scanned by some machine, as were my belongings. Phones were kept separately. Before the interview, all ten of my fingerprints were taken by a little box that gave an eerie green glow…

All of this is simply superficially disconcerting, though. The truth is, if you are vigilant about getting your documents in order, making your payments, and responding truthfully to the officer conducting the interview, there should be no hassles whatsoever. Sure, it takes a little while, but that’s understandable bureaucracy. And I imagine everyone from the visa counselor to the customs officer at the airport where you finally end up in the States is more than happy to welcome another international student to America.