Ah, the American Passport experience!

Trip Start Jul 04, 2010
Trip End Jul 23, 2010

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U.S. Consulate

Flag of Kenya  ,
Thursday, July 15, 2010

Monday was our day to visit the U.S. Consulate, and then see what might be left of the day. Lots of security, of course, as with any U.S. Embassy and government facility around the world.  U.S. Citizens with passports move to the front of every line (we do pay for these facilities and they are there for us!)

We moved quickly, actually, to one of the interview windows where the consular officers interview the Kenyans seeking immigrant and non-immigrant (visitor) visas – a huge line inside and out.  One of our friends around the table with the Bahati Church leadership said, "it will be easier to get into Heaven than into the United States!"  (I thought they might prefer heaven, but maybe not too soon!)  I did have to wait a bit, as the place was, as we were told, understaffed.  While waiting, I heard two conversations from/with applicants for visas which were quite interesting and revealing. The interviews are not conducted in any kind of confidential space, only a counter with a window and the interviewing officer behind it, and all the communication through a microphone, so that I had no trouble overhearing the interview.   I could see that the interviewing officer had his computer screen up and everything could be checked instantly about what the applicant had said, done, etc.  The first one was a woman seeking a visitor's visa.  She was told that she had been in America before, and had violated the terms of her student visa, not studying!  And also she was told that she had an immigrant visa application in process, and was certain to be denied a visa.  Case and conversation closed, and she could continue to talk and plead her case, said the officer, but the interview was officially over!  The other conversation and interview was with a young family of four, whose papers and information was in order – short interview; visa granted, pick it up next Wednesday after processing!

My interview was also very interesting:  The officer explained that he could not go into any detail about the reasons for denial of the visas, but repeated that the criteria for acceptance are:

1)      Stability of employment and adequate income demonstrated, bank account with continuity (nothing of significant recent addition!)

2)      Family situation, sufficient to assure returning to Kenya

3)      No significant changes in circumstance of recent note

4)      No apparent reason for wanting to stay in America (family circumstances here or there)

Letters of invitation do matter some, but they should be attachments to an e-mail from the inviting party to an address for the U.S. Consulate in Kenya (I’ll add the e-mail info in an e-mail when we return to Nairobi – this is being written from the Masai Mara Game Reserve, and I didn’t bring that folder over here with me!)  Apparently letters of invitation we have sent to our Kenya invitees do NOT carry much weight, as apparently the feeling is that these can be purchased on the street in Kenya as forged documents!!  And the letters should arrive shortly before the scheduled interview.

Also those who have been denied a visa will be interviewed by a different officer than they saw the first time around, but the denial flags the application, and unless there is really an  almost compelling reason for reconsidering, the presumption in a majority of cases is that the application will be denied again!  Only a very small percentage of re-applications are approved.

My own feeling, after the conversation, is that Jane Gitubia’s application was denied because of a worsening of her financial situation – no longer living in the house belonging to PCEA Bahati Martyrs Congregation, salary reduced, husband without permanent employment!  Ouch!  We will try to have conversations with others who have been denied the visa and seek to discern reasons for the denials!  The other thing we must have our Kenyan partners do is a much more thorough preparation, sharing of experience, perhaps even rehearsal for the interviews, which are very short, given the press of the crowds waiting to see the interviewing officers.

I do understand also that the mandate of the Consular Department is to protect the United States, from allowing anyone to enter who might become a problem for the U.S., not so much for any kind of terror (that screening undoubtedly takes place at another level!) but more to prevent any additional “economic burden” for the country – someone who might come and overstay the visitor visa (though I had in hand a three-page list of all the persons invited by the Presbytery – none of whom had overstayed their time or failed to return, even young people for the Triennium (national youth meetings) or pastors-in-residence who stayed for eight-week periods!  Of no interest, just past history, to the Interviewing Officer.  We, too, have to look to the future rather than to past history, interesting as it might be!

We were actually through early!  As I said, the U.S. Passport had us jumping ahead of every line!  It took less than an hour from the time we were dropped off at the front security gate.  So we had time we had not anticipated, and were off to the Giraffe Center!  Picture, I hope, of a couple of us feeding the giraffes.  Especially Daisy, the Tall Blond (there’s a children’s story by that name, I understand!)  There is a lot of information about the giraffes and other Kenyan wild-life and a great effort to teach and preach and practice conservation!

Did I mention that I lifted up the Warthog in my sermon, as perhaps the type we ought to emulate as “prayer warriors?”  The warthog, despite his small size, is rated a fierce and fearless, willing to take on any creature.  Thought we ought to be that way in our prayers, tackling seriously any problem or issue and unrelenting, persistent in prayer!!

In addition, we did manage to spend a little gift money at the gift shop there at the Giraffe Center, too!

Then we were off to lunch (Michael’s recommendation!) at The Verandah – great meal, and also a few shops for some more gifts.  Afterward to the    Bead Shop (a women’s cooperative, empowerment project, where women are employed both the pottery factory adjacent to the shop, making beads and selling in the store.  Apparently this operation is known and ships/sells around the world!

Finally back home, where we caught up with Pat Nordman and swapped stories of our various separate week-end adventures.
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Laurie McKnight on

Pole sana! Give my love to dada Jane.

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