1 Apr 2008
A personal account on how my request for a tourist visa was turned down.
Cameroonian based pharmacists routinely organize annual group tours to different parts of the world. This year, pharmacists, led by Laborex Cameroun (a pharmaceutical wholesale company) planned to visit the United States of America. Those pharmacists that indicated their interest in the trip including some of their spouses numbered over sixty. I was one of them.
We went online and booked appointments for interview at the consular section of the US embassy in Yaounde.
While waiting for the day that our respective interviews were due, there was an uprising in Cameroon sparked by a transporters’ strike to protest rising fuel cost. The week-long violent crisis sent shockwaves within the diplomatic community. The consular section of the US embassy suspended services to the public for at least 2 weeks partly for security reasons and also in order to deploy staff to handle some of their citizens who were being advised to leave the restive country.
By the time the situation calmed down, there was a backlog of people waiting for their interview at the US embassy. An improvised program was arranged and our tour organizer was informed to divide us into 2 groups for interview on the 12th and 13th of March 2008. I was in the first group. I arrived at the sprawling US embassy complex at 9 a.m to notice that a large crowd had assembled there. The waiting room in the consular office has seats for 42 persons. At the peak of the crowding, I counted about 110 people inside the hall (majority of who were standing). It was obvious to me that that the consular staff were under enormous pressure. As the interview progressed, I could notice some people wearing long faces after their visa requests were turned down. These consular offices are interesting places. It is a place to listen to colorful stories and observe characteristic reactions. Sometimes the hall is dead silent as applicants ponder over their fateful encounter with the domineering and smart consular officers. At one time I had to laugh alone when I likened those sitting there to some people waiting for a judge to pronounce a heavy sentence on them. When my own turn for interview came, I was invited to appear in front of a lady possibly in her fifties. She posed questions about my family, my age, my previous trip with Laborex and requested for my work documents. At the end she politely told me that she was sorry that I was ineligible for a US tourist visa. She handed me a document that she said will explain why my request was rejected. Like others that did not succeed before me, I put my tail between my legs and walked out. When I was outside the embassy complex, I stopped to read the reasons for the verdict passed on me. It happened to be a standard generic response that is given to most of the people that are refused such a visa. The printed document was signed and dated with a pen. It read thus;
Embassy of the United States of America
Date: March 12, 2008
We regret to inform you that you have been found ineligible for a nonimmigrant visa under section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under U.S. immigration law, all applicants for nonimmigrant visas are presumed to be intending immigrants. In order to be approved for a visa, applicants must satisfy the interviewing officer that they are entitled to the type of visa for which they are applying and that they will depart the United States at the end of their authorized temporary stay. This means that before a visa can be issued, applicants must demonstrate strong social, economic and/or familial ties outside the United States.
Unfortunately, because you either did not demonstrate strong ties outside the United States today or were not able to demonstrate that your intended activities in the U.S. would be consistent with the visa status, you are ineligible for a nonimmigrant visa.
Today’s decision cannot be appealed. However, you may reapply. If you have additional evidence to demonstrate compelling reasons to depart the United States that you did not present today, you may wish to bring that with you. Otherwise, you should consider reapplying after there has been a significant change in your current situation.
If you decide to reapply, you must submit a new application form and photo and pay the visa application fee again. There can be no guarantee that you will receive a different decision. Only a new interview can determine that.
Nonimmigrant Visa Section
Embassy of the United States
There were about seven or eight others in my group whose requests were equally turned down. I discovered that some of them were worried and anxious about the decision and were thus putting pressure on the tour organizer to appeal the decision.
For me, I had put the idea of traveling behind me considering that the rejection document clearly said that “today’s decision cannot be appealed”. The following day I informed the tour organizer about the cancellation of my trip through the following note.
13th March 2008
Cancellation of Trip to the United States of America
I wish to formally inform you that due to the refusal of the US embassy to grant me a visa, I will not be accompanying the Laborex group visiting that country in April.
You should kindly take steps to;
- Cancel my Air France ticket to France and back.
- Discontinue any arrangement to get an air ticket for me for the U.S
- Cancel the insurance that covers my travel.
- Take any further measures that will minimize losses.
I appreciate the difficulties that this decision will impose on the organizational plan put in place by Laborex but there is nothing I can do to remedy the situation.
I have attached,
- A copy of the refusal note from the US embassy
- The original copy of my electronic air ticket
- The original copy of my insurance
I wish all of you that will be traveling to France and the U.S a very safe journey and a fruitful trip
Njei Moses Timah.
All members of the second set of our group that came to the embassy the following day were given visas. We were told that the consular section of the embassy was less populated on that day.
Following the pressure mounted on the tour organizer by some of my rejected colleagues, he wrote the US embassy to solicit that they accept that we reapply.
A reply came from the embassy accepting that 10 of us should report again for another interview at 8 am on the 19th of March exactly one week after our first failed attempt. We filled another set of forms and paid another $131 application fee upon arrival at the embassy. On this day, there were less people and almost all of us were seated.
When my own turn came for the interview, I was sent again to the same lady that rejected me the first day. She asked me whether I have ever been refused a visa request from the US embassy? I answered in the affirmative. “When?” She asked. “Last week.” came my answer. Apparently surprised, she asked me “why the hell are you back”? I was also surprised by her tone but I quickly reasoned that maybe she was unaware that we were invited by the embassy. I held my calm and explained to her that I was told by the tour organizer to come back here following a correspondence to him from the US embassy. I handed her a copy of the email from the embassy that requested us to come. She looked at it and said in a more friendly tone that she was unaware of the invitation. She went inside possibly to do some findings before coming to continue the interview.
She asked me whether I understood that this was a fresh interview and that there was no guarantee that the outcome must necessarily be different from that of the first interview? I said I was conscious of that. She then proceeded to ask me questions that were not very different from those she posed during the first interview. At the end of the session she told me that she was “very very sorry” that I was ineligible for the tourist visa. She told me that there was nothing personal against me but that they take into consideration several factors before arriving at a decision. I was given again the same prepared document that explains the reason for rejecting me. I told her thanks and gathered my documents, put my tail once more between my legs and walked out. Out of the ten of us that appeared the second time, two of us, me and another female colleague were refused visas.
It is easy when you view the situation from your own angle alone, to get mad at consular staff at Western embassies for refusing to give you a visa but if you also view it from their own angle you will just feel indifferent to their decisions.
Resource-rich but poorly managed African countries have turned all their citizens (in the eyes of most Westerners) into potential refugees. That is why it is impossible for some of us who have vowed never to migrate from Africa to convince any consular officer in Western embassies of our resolve during visa interviews. As long as there is bad governance, corruption and instability on this continent, we, the citizens must accept undignified treatment sometimes and always be prepared to move with our heads bowed and our tails between our legs.
For me, I hold no grudge towards any embassy that refuses to give me a visa. My bitterness is directed towards those that have, through bad governance made it possible for us in most of Africa to be collectively stigmatized.
Njei Moses Timah