The Great Visa Event

You always hear horror stories every now and then with anyone having to deal with federal governments, especially for permits and visas and such. For everyone following my summer’s rambles, you’ve realized that I quickly became one of these stories. At this point, I’ve decided to make a timeline of this ordeal for anyone else that may be searching the internet wondering where their visa and passport are if they end up in a weird situation like I did with an approved visa that just wouldn’t come home!

Without further ado, I give you – The Great Visa Event:

June 30: Completed the application online and paid the visa fee. After recovering from the pain of the standard cost of a visa ($527 in total), I did not choose to pay the additional $170 to have it fast-tracked to me.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.19.50 pm

July 3: Completed biometrics in town and received my required receipt. Overnighted the application and all associated documents to the New York City British Consulate. (Didn’t arrive until July 5 due to the federal holiday and honestly probably wasn’t even looked at until Monday, July 7. The overnighting made me feel like I had some control though.) [3 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.22.49 pm

July 8: Received confirmation that my application had been opened and that I should expect a decision in approximately 10 business days. [8 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.25.55 pm

July 17: Visa was approved and I was notified via email in only 7 business days! [17 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.27.15 pm

July 24: Received email stating that I had not sent my application with a completed pre-paid return shipping label and appropriate packaging. (I did, but I’m not going to pick a fight over this. It may have just gotten lost.) Was told to follow specific instructions to give them a PDF of a pre-paid label via email to UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk. I followed instructions and emailed the PDF to the consulate the same day. [24 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.28.43 pm

July 31: Used UKVI’s contact form to ask why my tracking information still said pre-shipment. Was told to wait a few days and re-contact them with details. [31 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.30.20 pm

August 7: Messaged UKVI through their contact form again and was told that my visa had been approved and they would alert me when it was mailed out. Of which I was already aware.  Tracking status through USPS still showed pre-shipment. [38 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.32.36 pm

August 8: Bought a second shipping label and emailed it to the consulate at UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk again as requested, assuming the first was lost in a spam box.  Sent a message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk as suggested by others that had gone through the approved-application-gone-missing process and asked why my papers were still not in the mail. No response from either, and tracking status still showed as pre-shipment. [39 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.34.27 pm

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.37.50 pm

August 12: Sent a repeat email of the PDF of the shipping label to UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk and repeated my message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk asking where my documents had gone. Found another contact form through the UKVI website to lodge a complaint about missing documents after waiting 10 days. Sent them a message with my email and phone number to contact me. (Never did get a response from them, come to think of it.) [43 days from start]

August 13: Sent the PDF of the shipping label to UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk yet again and repeated my message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk again. Called the pay-line for the UKVI and got to speak to a human who told me that there have been delays in shipping out processed visas. (That would have been nice to know.) He sent me all the information he had on shipping instructions for New York and said he’d escalate my case. I was told to call back Friday if I had received no word. [44 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.53.12 pm

August 14: Notified by email that my package would be in the mail in one business day. Email from USPS tracking that stated the package was leaving NYC by the afternoon and later that it had been dropped off at the New York City post office. [45 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.54.48 pm

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.56.08 pm

August 17: USPS tracking showed the package had arrived and left Boise, ID and was expected to be delivered by August 18th. [48 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.58.19 pm

 

August 18: Visa is here 7 weeks from the start of the application! They returned it with my current and expired passport, as well as my original final transcript and the extra passport photos I had sent along. The visa is basically a pretty fancy sticker placed on an empty page in the back of your passport. (Perfectly placed ink line on my left eye there, haha.) Being there for a year for courses allows me to be there one month before and four months after, so it’s valid from September 2014 to the end of January 2016. [49 days from start]

IMG_0005

 

Needless to say, I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS. A beastly, massive-sized weight of stress has been taken off me and I can now enjoy my last two weeks (two weeks!!) in peace with my friends and family. Let’s do this. I’ve got it. 🙂

 

[Edit]: Gianni from acrossthehogsback (Another brave soul crossing the pond for a higher education. Go check her out, she’s awesome!) had a great question that I kind of over-answered, but realized that I never mentioned before. After dealing with the vagaries of federal government requests, I can only hope it’ll help someone else looking at the required documents for their student visa. This is all from an American perspective though, so your mileage may vary.

Gianni asked, “Regarding transcripts, was it actually necessary for you to send them or did you just do it preemptively? And did you send newly ordered, official, sealed transcripts?”

Excellent question! I preemptively sent in more than the minimum required documents to avoid any delays (ha!) for my application. In my package to the UK Consulate I sent:

  • A completed application form with my biometrics receipt attached (duh, a requirement).
  • I didn’t need the Appendix 8 form for my major, so nothing there.
  • My current passport as well as the expired passport
  • 4 passport photographs (The post office only prints them in packs of 8, so I figured some spares wouldn’t hurt.)
  • My proof of student loan letter from the university, proving I had the £820 a month minimum necessary for my time there (Crazy that living in London will make that £1020 a month!) I thought about adding bank statements for my savings account, but never did. Couldn’t hurt you if you have it.
  • A printout of my CAS information webpage that the school sent me.
  • Didn’t need to do the NQF assessment for mine, nor the ATAS clearance.
  • I hadn’t paid any money to the university because I’m doing loans, but I did put money down on my flat, so I sent them copies of my email receipts. Apparently that will look good.

For the “documents used to obtain your CAS” I sent:

  • An official final transcript from the university I graduated from (I went to 3 before graduating with my BA, long story)
  • Added in copies of the info from the other schools (Reeeeally didn’t want to pay them more money for official transcripts when ISU had all the info on my final transcript with them.)
  • A photocopy of my fancy degree paper.

Basically, as a US citizen we’re super low risk and they really don’t need much, but if you want to send them everything they have on the list including the things that don’t count for Low Risk Countries, it’s fine.

Oh, and for the love of all that is holy, DON’T FORGET THE RETURN ENVELOPE. 😉 And remember to put the consulate address as the sender!

 

 

— Kate

Study Abroad

Got another form letter back from the New York embassy yesterday:

UKVI email 4

Not a peep from the VAC about it being posted via SMS, email, or junk mail (I assume physical post?) Don’t have a receipt from the VAC with any number to track either. From what I’ve found, they can take up to 10-15 business days to send it out, so it might be sitting around in New York until August 15th for all I know. Ugh, whatever. As long as it gets here before the start of September. Surely to god it doesn’t take a month to send an already approved visa and passport back?

Anyway, may as well focus on something brighter and more useful, so I thought I’d tell you all about my family and our history of hosting exchange students. We have had exchange students nearly every year since I was 15 – almost a decade now. I have been honored to learn from students from Germany, South Korea, Finland, Switzerland, Thailand, and Mexico while they lived with us for nearly a year. Living with internationals can sometimes be rough at first as you both get a crash-course in cultural differences, but by the end you have a new member of the family. I cannot help but believe that this unique experience has led me in the direction to where I am going now.

I cannot recommend hosting an exchange student enough. You learn so much about their worldview as well as your own (and oh are teenagers brutally honest), and it’s the closest thing to broadening your mind with travel if you cannot afford to travel yourself. You will be wiser on current events around the world and start to see the US from a foreign perspective. You get to try delicious food they cook and occasional sweets when family back home sends care packages. (Germany has excellent chocolate, and Finland’s cloudberries are amazing!) You will learn that language alone can greatly dictate a worldview and get an idea for a culture by the language they speak. (You will also learn the useful skill of defining abstract concepts in English to students that don’t understand the words.) You realize that other people in the world are different – not weird, not wrong, not right – just different.

If you’ve ever considered hosting an exchange student, let me recommend the programs we went through – Youth For Understanding (YFU)  and Education First (EF). Hosting a student is not nearly so expensive as many people think. At the bare minimum you are only required to provide a separate bed, suitable study area and three meals per day. However, they quickly become another member of the family and you’ll end up treating them just the same. People do the programs for many reasons – to just enjoy the experience, to expand the minds of their own family, to pay it forward, to stave off empty nest syndrome, or even for the chance of a scholarship to be exchange students too! And an important point – you aren’t just given a kid with no warning. You get a list of potential students to pick from with all kinds of important criteria you can sort through like age, religion, home country, gender and hobbies.

So consider an exchange student for a year. You’ll come out a changed and better person for it. 🙂

— Kate

Take chances when you’re young.

It’s now been a little over a month since I sent out all my paperwork and passport to the UKVI for my visa and while I’ve been accepted, I’ve yet to get said visa back. Somewhere along the way, my pre-paid return envelope has been lost and so a week after accepting me, they told me they needed another one. Urg. So I sent them one via email as requested on July 24th. They did warn me:

Problem with Application email

And so I wait with no word. The shipping info on USPS doesn’t show a thing, but it’s also USPS so I’m not really surprised that it has no tracking available. Priority mail should only take 3 days once shipped, and it’s now been 8 (business, not weekend) days. After scouring the interwebs, I only found a general email as a contact to their office, so I sent them a message and got a fairly prompt reply:

UKVI email 5

So I’ve sent them an email this afternoon to see what’s up. I can hope that USPS just goofed and didn’t get the tracking in, but I fear my passport is still sitting in a drawer somewhere in New York when I’m supposed to be outta here in less than a month. No bueno. No bueno indeed.

 

— Kate