Friday, May 25, 2012

Snobbishness and all that green grass

The United States of America has been a big draw for many around the world. Many Indians are guilty of being desperate to leave India to just go "abroad" - anywhere but here. Sure we've got problems in India we face daily, frustrations that are now routine, and annoyances that are deeply ingrained in our lives that we don't even notice them anymore (except when by some miracle, things work out smoothly).

We think that the grass is greener on the other side, and once we move there, all our problems will be solved. But what country doesn't have its own set of issues? It might not be the same ones you face here, but there will be new ones. I have no problems with migration, don't get me wrong. If I found good opportunities elsewhere, I'll be packed up in a week. I take issue with those for whom being abroad is the ultimate goal in their life, even if it means giving up their dream jobs to become a janitor in a foreign land. There's nothing wrong with being one of course, but I doubt that it is there on anyone's list as someone they want to be.

My husband and I have friends and relatives in the US who have had a chance for better opportunities there - more than they would have had here. Despite these happy tales, we have never been interested in going to the US. For one thing, it is just too far from home. Secondly, the belief (as suggested by top-ranking government officials) that it is ok to waste resources because that is the "American way of life" is depressing. Also, there are signs of discontent everywhere you look - depression, mass killings of random people, hate crimes, serious bullying and hazing, to name a few. Of course this doesn't take away from the fact that it is still the most preferred destination to live for most - it just means that it also has its own set of real problems.

Given its popularity, it is very understandable that the US embassy would try to restrict immigration to its lands. But given the economy, I assumed tourists from anywhere would be welcome. After constant pestering by friends and relatives, we decided to brave the 20 hour journey to the East coast. The visa process is a long one - pay fee at specific bank, book appointment online, fill form, submit form at office on the other side of town before visa interview, go for interview, and stand in queue for 2 to 3 hours.

Our visa got rejected and the visa fee (the highest among all visa fees) is not refundable. Reason given as stated in a pre-drafted response sheet was that we are potential immigrants. Hmm...my husband has already visited his sister and returned once before 5 years ago. I had a tourist visa 10 years ago but didn't travel since something came up. If we really wanted to immigrate, we would have done that already I think.

Old couples with their children and grandkids settled in the US had lined up despite finding it difficult to stand - most of them were refused visas. "Your kids went away from you, so now you can't go and see them." We were later told by travel insiders that the US embassy has a certain quota that they need to refuse entry to. It might be very random how they decide who gets in and who doesn't. Some of the reasons could've been: no kids since people who already have kids and move there find healthcare expensive, but those who go there and give birth have their kids looked after at the government's expense; random to meet the quote; and the best is ego (this is what one of the embassy guys told someone who used to work as an agent) - if you had a US visa but didn't travel on it, you wasted the embassy's time, so we won't bother giving it to you again.

You just lost out on a big chunk of money I was going to spend on you, America. It will go elsewhere. But I guess you are making more money by not refunding the visa fees of the hundreds you refuse entry to on a daily basis. Well played, well played.

National Geographic POD