This past month plus, I’ve been learning a lot about just how difficult it is for a young mixed-race woman from South Africa to get a visitor’s visa to the United States.
A year ago, I had a great idea. I’d use my miles on Delta to bring a young friend from Cape Town to the U.S. She’d see the world, enhance her understanding of life, and go home better educated and ready to tackle a career in public relations (which is her major at university). She comes from a mixed-race family (known as “colored” in South Africa) that struggles financially so this would be completely beyond her means if it wasn’t for the fact that I bought her a plane ticket and some friends in Masssachusetts agreed to help out financially while she is in the U.S.
She got all her paperwork together. We got letters of financial support, bank statements, etc. We got her a plane ticket. We turned in an application and she was called in for an interview at the Cape Town Consulate. And then she was denied. In fact, the official didn’t even ask her a single question. She was told she had “insufficient ties” to South Africa, meaning, “We think you’re going to try to immigrate to the U.S. so we won’t give you a visitor’s visa.”
We were all knocked off our socks, given the fact that my friend is going to university, has a boyfriend, and is part of a large extended family in Cape Town, and literally knows a handful of people in the U.S. Why in the world would she overstay her visa? Why in the world would she try to immigrate? And maybe she could have conveyed her ties to South Africa if the official had asked her any questions or offered her a proper interview or looked at any of the supporting documentation we put together. (When my friend tried to show the supporting documentation, the official refused to look at it). Outraged, we started calling our congressional representatives, trying to figure out what had happened and what we could do next.
Not a lot, it turns out. The process can be arbitrary. A lot of people get denied. According to politicians we spoke to, the U.S. has been denying so many student visas lately that other governments have turned the tables and started denying student visas to American students. Quid pro quo, I guess.
We can try again and hope for better luck next time. Maybe this time, the official won’t assume my friend is a flight risk and give her a visa. Maybe this time, the same thing will happen. We’re trying again, fingers crossed.
I do understand the problem. I understand it from both sides. According to my congressman’s office, there are 12 million people who have overstayed their visitor’s visas in the U.S. That’s a lot of people we’ve absorbed. The constiuent services representative who helped me said that in the week before my friend’s visa was denied, she had three people come in to her office, all who had overstayed their visas and all who now demanded that she help them become citizens.
A couple years ago, I was contacted by a South African who was fighting extradition from the U.S. She asked me to write a letter on her behalf. She had overstayed her visa, though she had her reasons. Certain members of her family belong to a rabidly white supremicist group known as the White Wolves. She had fled South Africa after family members had viciously attacked her on a public highway, disembowled her, and left her for dead. All this, because she adopted some black children in post-apartheid South Africa. Married to an American citizen now, she was hoping for amnesty in the U.S. She went through a trial and was denied amnesty. A year ago, her daughter told me she was now living in the Dominican Republic.
I can see why she wanted amnesty. I can also see why the U.S. is suspicious of amnesty cases. I can see why they are suspicious of my friend in Cape Town, who really does just want to come for a visit. I hope this time she’s approved. I’d really like to show her the United States of America, in all its tarnished glory.