The South Riding RV Travels

4

Visas

If you are a British citizen and you want to visit the USA for less than 90 days as a visitor then you do not need a visa. You can enter under a visa waiver scheme. You will however be both photographed and fingerprinted. Whatever you do DON'T exceed this period because it will be ten times harder to get in next time.

Over 90 days then you need a visitor's visa. This is currently valid for ten years and will entitle you to attempt to enter the USA any number of times. It does NOT mean you will be granted permission to enter on the day. The visa is issued by the State Department. Permission to enter at the point of arrival is granted by the Immigration Service which is now part of Homeland Security and NOT connected to the State Department. The Immigration Service will NOT usually grant you permission to remain in the USA more than six months at a time. In fact I don't believe that they are allowed to. I've enquired about extending this period and been advised that they cannot do it at the border entry points and ports.

In England you have to apply to the US embassy for a B2 (holiday) visa. To get the forms (DS-156) you have to go on the internet http://www.usembassy.org.uk/cons_web/visa/visaindex.htm. If you are between the ages of 16 and 65 you will also have to attend at the embassy in person for an interview (U.S. Embassy, 5 Upper Grosvenor Street, London, W1A 2JB). In order to book an appointment, you have to ring a premium rate phone number 09055-444-5460 (calls cost 1.30/min). You will be given a date and time normally about three weeks hence. What they don't tell you is that about 200 people are given the same time as you are. We were given a time of 1100hrs and told not to arrive more than 30 mins before. On arrival we joined a queue around two sides of the building which (in April 2004) was surrounded by concrete blocks, high fences, barbed wire, cameras, dogs, American security personnel with guns etc. We didn't get to the airport type security barrier at the front of the building until after 1230hrs. This entitled us to join another queue inside the building to get a numbered ticket for an appointment. That took another hour plus. Then we waited for our number to be called, along with about 400 others in a room with seating for about 150. There are toilets but no drinks or food.

We were eventually seen about at 1500hrs. The questions were basically about the American authorities being assured that we didn't  want to stay in the US ie did we have good reasons to return to the UK. Family in the UK and none in the US helps. But how do you prove you own a house when you have paid off the mortgage, without paying to get the deeds out of storage? It was quite hard not to comment that it was probably the last place apart from sub-Saharan Africa that we would want to live! The interview lasted only about five minutes but it was reiterated that we would not be allowed to stay for the year we wanted but only for six months.

Costs for the two of us for this process:

Phone call        4 - The first minute and a half is a recorded announcement.

Visa Fee        65 each (must be paid at a bank using the supplied paying in slip BEFORE you go to the embassy)

Photographs    4  There are nonsense specifications (which cannot be met by normal shaped people) and lead you to believe that ordinary passport photos will not do. In fact they are perfectly acceptable. But don't try to use a home printed digital photograph. The pictures are good enough but the printing is not. They will be rejected because they won't scan properly.

Return Postage    10 must be paid at the embassy in cash (no credit cards) for a recorded delivery envelope in which they return your passports

Travel to London    250 for us - including an overnight stay

In contrast on the other side of the square is the Canadian embassy where we found a charming young bilingual receptionist unprotected by all the paraphenalia seen earlier. She didn't really understand our question about what we needed to stay in Canada since we can visit Canada for six months without a visa at all (as British citizens).