An absence of the human touch [Archives:2006/965/Opinion]

July 20 2006

This observer is only resorting to such use of the Yemen Times after having exhausted all normal means of trying to process what would seem to be a normal application for a non-immigrant visa to the United States. The background of this unfortunate run-around is as follows:

On April 22, I received an invitation from an American acquaintance, that I'm honored to call one of my lifelong friends – a close friendship that began well over a quarter of a century ago in the International House at Farleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey. My dear American friend was inviting me to his July 22nd wedding celebration. He was also kind enough to provide the airline tickets and accommodation for the trip.

When the Yemen Times learnt of my plans to travel to the U.S, they wanted to obtain some feedback from the Yemeni community there, concerning the upcoming Yemeni elections. Accordingly, I phoned the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a to determine the requirements for a visitor's visa.

To my surprise, citizens are not permitted to talk with anyone in the U.S. Embassy over the telephone. Instead, their 'work number,' channels you from one taped message to another, finally ending with a message saying that any requests for information should be sent by email or fax. Thus, I sent all of the relevant information by email and was kindly given an appointment for June 6th to complete the processing of my application.

However one of the necessary documents wasn't ready on that date, but could be obtained June 7th. I wrote an urgent message to the U.S. Consulate in the early morning of June 6th, requesting the appointment be postponed for a couple of days, pending the necessary document's completion. I received no response.

I sent the message marked 'urgent' and requested a 'received and read' acknowledgment three times. Again, there was no response until after the third message (about a week later), which gave me a later appointment for August 6th.

I then attempted to reach someone whom I might talk to by phone. After the usual run-around of taped messages leading nowhere, I finally managed to get an operator, who insisted that the U.S. Embassy is absolutely unreachable by phone.

So, I again tried email, sending all the relevant documents showing that my friend's wedding was on July 22nd and explaining that I would therefore need an earlier appointment to complete the processing of the visa. To my disbelief, the embassy responded by granting me an even later appointment on August 19th.

Needless to say, this was a truly unexpected charade, from the embassy representing the United States of America. Frankly speaking, it portrayed a lack of interest in finding ways to process a simple visa application, where human or personal touch could be reflected. Of course, I feared sending another email, with the thought in mind that they would probably respond by issuing me an even later appointment.

Thus, I am now stuck with two appointments, both of which miss my dear friend's wedding date. All concerned are somewhat flabbergasted by this bureaucratic run-around, which is unaccommodating to our needs.

My friend was kind enough to extend the invitation anyway, and will hold a reunion of all our mutual friends from university days at a later date in September or October. However, I've become so fearful of trying to pursue the application any further, due to the possibility that they will only send me another appointment for an even later date, or perhaps a later year or century.

In a country like Yemen, the U.S. should be expected to show the most accommodating ways of dealing with the public, which sometimes requires the human touch.