Saturday, July 7, 2018

Blog: The Beginning

I'm so gonna receive a lot of flak for my title again..well at least that's the feedback I got from my close friends for my previous post of I Didn't Chose Saipan, Saipan Chose Me. Yeah real friends talk crap about each other lol

Anyway you know how famous movies or books are all about producing/publishing sequels after sequels when they reach the end of the storyline, they go back to the core i.e. prequel or the beginning of everything. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, X-Men or even horror movies such as Exorcist, Conjuring & Annabelle are all about prequels just to name a few. Ok, before this turn into a horrible horror story (I do like horror movies btw) what's really my point?

Maybe you can say that I'm about to reached the end of my storyline. I already decided from the very start to only post about my travels and adventures and not about my personal life. Yeah I'm a blogger but I'm a very private about my personal life. Contradicting right?lels As you can observed, I haven't done much travelling lately not because I don't want to but it's the situation that I have no control of. Clue: Working conditions, living abroad, etc. Believe me I'm dying to TRAVEL. This is the longest that I haven't travel that I miss walking inside the airport. I miss the thrill of catching my flight, running inside to get through the departure gate and securing a window seat overlooking the city or an island or just plain clouds because it just never gets old. Ok, this is not good. I might go panic flying again real soon lol.

Since I don't have any travel stories to share for now, let's go back to the very beginning. The reason why I started this blog was because I was going through 'something' that time. That something was..ok I'm not gonna deny it, it was too long ago anyway. I was heartbroken. You know that 'my-whole-world-is-falling-apart-I'm-about-to-go-crazy kinda thing. It sucks I know and it was definitely one of my darker days. I for one wanted to find an outlet, something to distract myself from the void I'm feeling. Obviously, travelling is not the answer because I always travel whether I'm happy or not. And at that time I was already travelling non-stop so travelling alone is not enough to make me feel whole again. It just so happen that I just came from Cebu that time together with my good friend Eva June doing some hard core island hopping when the idea hits me to start a blog out of nowhere. I was like Why not? I was already reading hundreds of blog even before so I'm familiar with how it works.

And that's how I started & publish my first post Malapascua, Kalanggaman & Bantayan Island which is by the way still the most visited out of all my entries. Looking back, I actually had a hard time finishing that post. My mind often wanders somewhere and I wasn't exactly in the right state of mind to do some writing. I had to force myself to sound upbeat and I guess anyone who reads my blog wouldn't even notice that I was going through something. I could have done it so much better to be honest but that's that. So right after I publish it came the support from my friends or so-called friends it doesn't really matter. They liked it! Well there will always be haters but I don't really care. It was the beginning of something else. And it sure did. I don't want to go into details anymore of how far I've come (choz!) because there's still a lot of things that I needed to figure out. What I want you to take away from this is that don't ever let anyone or anything dull your sparkle. It was ok to feel not ok, to feel broken, to feel everything & nothing at the same time. Cry if you must but you need to pick yourself up. I mean you just can't stay crying all day can you? :p Always change for the better, the only way to go from the bottom is UP right? Go light your spark, set fire to the dark, you'll see all the shadows lie behind you. (Ok kanta yan, it's not from me but it made perfect sense lol)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

My U.S. Visa Journey Part 2 (221g administrative processing)

I will try to cover as much as I can about what is 221g administrative processing is all about because as I mentioned before it is one broad & lengthy topic. In fact when I was researching about it, I've read hundreds of blogs, forums, personal stories from various applicants who like me experienced it firsthand. I went as far as the embassy in London, Egypt, Cyprus & India just to name a few. For some reason, India had the most number of 221g cases or maybe people in India were really vocal about their experience & wanted to share it to the world which I was grateful for because surprisingly I learned a lot from them just by reading their forum discussion.

Disclaimer: I'm no visa expert nor an Immigration lawyer. Everything I've written here is based on my personal experience. Below is a list of possible answers to the most common questions regarding 221g. The reader must verify the information based on their specific situation.

1. What is 221(g) administrative processing?
There are three typical outcomes for visa applicants at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas: approval, outright refusal (denied), or refusal under 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). A 221(g) refusal – commonly referred to as “administrative processing” is the time period during which visa applications undergo additional review outside of the "normal" visa processing times. Before issuing a visa, consular officers review different databases to determine if information exists that may impact individual eligibility for a visa. A 'hit' on a particular database generally occurs if the consular officer requires additional documents or information from the applicant, the application requires closer scrutiny by the officer, the applicant requires additional background or security clearances (this list is non-exhaustive).

This is the 221(g) green form that the consul officer gave me after my interview

Administrative processing may involve a request by the consular officer for a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) from the Department as to whether the applicant poses a risk to the United States. Before issuing the SAO, the Department may in turn consult with other government agencies, such as law enforcement and intelligence agencies. There are various types of SAOs, such as:

  • Visas Pegasus is a namecheck program for Officials of Commonwealth of Independent States: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and potentially Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Georgia. The Visas Pegasus hold can be waived when certain diplomatic individuals are entering the U.S. to attend pre-ministerial, ministerial, pre-summit, summit, and White House meetings.
  • Visas Horse is issued immediately after an A (diplomat or foreign government official), C-3 (FGO transit visa), or G (international organization or NATO) visa is issued.
  • Visas Bear is issued immediately after a foreign government official, representative to international organization, or their families are issued a visa.
  • Visas Eagle is a namecheck for nationals of Cuba, China, Iran, Vietnam, and Russia who are seeking a K non-immigrant visa, an immigrant visa, or refugee status. It is a pre-issuance check to make sure there is a biographic data match with the original application (e.g., no typos).
  • Visas Hawk is a namecheck (U.S. criminal history) required for all immigrant visa applicants and derivatives. It checks names, aliases, and dates of birth for individuals not otherwise in the CLASS (Consular Lookout And Support System, which is interconnected with the Consular Consolidated Database) database. Unmarried applicants under 16 years are not supposed to be held due to the results of this check, without evidence supporting the date of birth being incorrect.
  • Visas Mantis is a special check for individuals who will have access to specialized technology while in the U.S. or are knowledgeable or learning in a sensitive or critical field. This primarily impacts F-1 and J-1 nonimmigrants, especially from Cuba, China, Iran, and Russia, but can potentially impact anyone.
  • Visas Merlin is the background check process for all refugees and asylees.
  • Visas Viper is used to report known or suspected terrorists for inclusion in the relevant terrorist watch lists. Not all posts retain information on why they nominate individuals to these lists, which can be the basis for future false hits that are exceedingly difficult to remove.
  • Visas Condor is additional screening and background checks based on country of birth, citizenship, or residency in the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” (T-7) list: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria; or from the “List of 26”: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, Yemen. This is a mandatory stop list and allegedly takes 2 to 4 days but often take 3 to 6 weeks and if there is a hit who knows how long.
  • Visas Donkey is the responsive SAO when there is a namecheck “HIT” or “IDENT”. A “HIT” is a near-match of which 98% are resolved in 120 days, or an “IDENT” which is an exact match and typically resolved within 30 days.

The term “administrative processing” may also be used in various other contexts, such as

(1) when the consular post has decided to perform an investigation to verify information or to check for fraud, on issues such as the legitimacy of a marriage, an applicant’s education or work experience, the authenticity of a marriage or birth certificate, etc;

(2) after the interview if the consular officer’s decision is chosen for review by a supervisor at the consulate; or

(3) after an applicant has withdrawn his or her visa application.

2. What happens during the visa interview if I get a 221g?
Hmmm as per what I read in numerous visa forums, the consular officer already knows whether to approve o deny an applicant even before he was interviewed since the documents/info you submitted online were already been scrutinized. But that does not necessarily mean that your interview with the consul doesn't count, if there are loopholes in the information you submitted and are inconsistent with your answer that's when the consul can decide to deny. It's the same case with 221g though. When the consul handed me a list of questionnaire in the middle of th interview, that was already his cue that a 221g is forthcoming. Although I do think he did me a little favor there since some applicants were handed a questionnaire via email and we all know that takes a lot of time. The consul wasn't that intimidating after all but I wish I knew that beforehand.

3. What are the chances that my visa is approved after being issued a 221g security check?
The possibility is quite high actually. Almost all the applicants who were issued a 221g form were eventually issued a visa.

4. How long does administrative processing last?

According to the Department of State (DOS), most administrative processing cases are resolved within 60 days after the visa interview. It is important to note that the time period for administrative processing is outside "normal" visa processing time. The administrative processing period will also vary based on individual circumstances of each case, it might vary anywhere between 3 weeks to 3 months. Mine actually took almost 60 days to resolved and my case did not have any update (you can check your visa status here) until I reached the 45 days mark.
Tip: It's actually a good sign once the date of your visa status has been updated. It won't be long that it will change to "ISSUED" so hang in there :)

5. What should I do after I am placed in administrative processing?
Quite frankly NOTHING. I know it's frustrating but all you have to do is wait. It's specifically noted in the U.S. embassy website that "Before making inquiries about status of administrative processing, applicants or their representatives will need to wait at least 60 days from the date of interview or submission of supplemental documents, whichever is later."

But knowing myself I just can't sit still doing nothing. I just can't lol Which is why I've researched about 221g more than I ever did like my life depends on it and read more than I could until my head hurts from all the information. I think I took comfort from other 221g applicants who eventually received their visa within 60 days. Some received it only after 2 weeks but some remain pending for months, or even years. Every case is unique and each one is treated differently. Just imagine there are a hundred or so visa applicants each day and I don't think it will help if you contact the embassy every single day. As cliche as it may sounds, patience is really a virtue in this waiting period. 

Well to even complicate things, I received a SECOND 221g green form after 2 weeks. I thought that my case was already resolved since the 2go courier already texted me that my passport was already scheduled for delivery but lo and behold there was no visa stamped but yet another 221g green form attached on my passport. Bes bakit pati ang visa paasa na rin? If this isn't hopeless, then I don't know what is. The only thing that keeps me going (and not lean on the wall & slowly glide down crying lol) was that this sort of situation already happened to some applicants before (yup reading helps). It just means that my case will take time to resolved and it certainly did. Also, the embassy don't want to retain an applicant's passport for a longer period of time since it is a valid ID and applicants will probably use it for travelling purposes among others. But honestly I was panicking already. My agency was also wondering what happened to me since out of all the workers they hired bound to Saipan I'm the only one who got stuck in 221g administrative processing. 

So after 3 weeks of waiting in vain, I finally decided to email the embassy customer service. Not that it helps since all I got was a standard reply but it's better than doing nothing. It's still wasn't enough though since at that point I'm starting to question whether Saipan is really for me, whether I made the right decision or all of my effort will just go to waste. Doubts started creeping in. Days of sleepless nights. Researching in vain. Luggages half-pack & undone. I was living in limbo. I'm not sure where did I get the strength to hold onto & not give up. Perhaps it was through faith or maybe just my innate stubbornness that I really wanted Saipan more than anything. I did still keep my job at that time but I already hand in my resignation around August. Yes I still don't have my visa and was on my 30 days of administrative processing. Call it a bold & crazy move. I don't highly recommend anyone doing what I did. I just took a huge risk because for some reason I was having this strange manifestation that I'm gonna receive my visa within 60 days. Believe it or not, it sure did. Someone from the embassy called me that I should submit my passport back so that they can issue my visa. Finally! It was really a test of patience, of character and of faith. I guess if it's really meant for you, it will be.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

My U.S. Visa Journey

"Mahirap ba mag-apply ng U.S. Visa?" "Bakit biglaan naman yung alis mo?" "Kwento ka naman paano ka nag-apply ng working visa" These are just one of the many questions that were thrown at me by my family, close friends & friends of friends that made me decide to share my story. I know I should have done this sooner but I got carried away with my new life here in Saipan and I was deliberating whether to publish this or not because this is by far the hardest & most personal aspect of my life that I'm sharing so here it is..

How did it all started? Simple. ONLINE application. I think one of the most important thing I've ever learn while living in Manila is that everything are done through online. I never knew that when I first came in Manila. You know the wide-eyed, naive, innocent girl from the province who's trying to make it in the real world. Who would have thought I can make it here right? I remember when I was applying for a job, I personally hand in my resume to various companies or commonly known as walk-in application. I didn't mind it at first since it’s a good way for me to get familiar with the city but it's actually tiring & exhausting in the long run. Not to mention that I only received a few calls from interested companies. One of my good friend suggested why don't I create an account online in jobstreet/jobsdb after I complain so much about the difficulty of finding a job. I reluctantly agreed although I did not expect much from it because in my mind companies should prefer what's on their table as opposed to soft copies. But I was wrong because after I made my account public, phone calls started coming in. And so when I decided to try my luck in working abroad, I still use the same route which is online application. I know what will be your next question. What site did I use? To be honest, I tried a lot of websites such as, jobsglobal & company websites (direct hiring) just to name a few. None of them are very responsive until I tried I won't discuss it in detail about how their sites works but just to give you an overview, it works just like any other job online search sites. What makes it unique is that all the agencies listed in the site are POEA accredited which means you're applying for a legit job & not being scammed.

I've already made a brief overview of what went down to my application in my previous post I didn't choose Saipan, Saipan chose me but basically there are 3 stages. Once you accept the job offer the agency will process your work permit which is the 1st stage. The processing of my work permit took around 4 months, relatively longer compared to other countries in the Middle East. After it is approved you have to go through medical check-up (2nd stage) & the 3rd and last step is the U.S. visa application. Out of the 3 stages, applying for a U.S. visa is the most that I'm worried about. I've heard/read a lot of rejection stories that's enough to scare me off. It doesn't also help that the US embassy is the most intimidating & strictest out of all the embassies. My agency even reassure me that I have nothing to worry about since I'm not applying for a tourist visa, it's an employment/ worker's visa (which has already been processed by the employer) so I will be fine. Well that's what they thought.

It was July of 2017 when I schedule an appointment/interview for my visa application. Head to their website to know all the steps (Note: It's a lengthy one). When the day of my interview finally arrives,
everything went very smooth until the last step which is the dreaded interview with the consul. You can actually overhear the interview process of the other applicants since it is done through a window counter just a few steps away from you while you are waiting on the line. I don't want to scare you but a lot of applicants were rejected during that day. One particular window caught my attention when a very 'stern-looking-you-better-answer-my-questions-correctly' consul keeps on rejecting one applicant after another. I was like "Lord, I don't want to be interviewed by him". But as luck would have it I was assigned in his window. The girl behind my back actually said "yes!" (it means she's safe & will be assigned to a less intimidating consul) Ang galing! That wasn't very encouraging lol. So while walking towards his window, bes I actually wanted to turn back & run away but eventually calm myself that it will be fine. I'm not applying for a tourist visa so he might be a little lenient on me but I was wrong (again!). 

Consul: Good morning! How are you today?Me: Good morning! I -I'm good (in a very low voice because honestly I'm really really really nervous)
Consul: That’s good. (Looks at his computer) You're going to work in Saipan, one of the island in Pacific Ocean known for its beautiful beaches.. (it goes something like that)
Me: Ahm yes (bes sa haba ng sinabi nia 'yes' lang nasagot ko lol I was still thinking to myself 'he just deny an applicant before me')
Consul: (Types something in his computer & there was a long silence before he speaks in a very serious voice & looks me straight in the eye) So…you're born in Cotabato City..(it wasn't even a question, he said it as a matter-of-fact)
Me: Ye-es (If there's a way to prolong the 'yes', I would have lol)
Consul: (Types something in his computer again) And what will be your job in Saipan?
Me: Internal Auditor
He actually made a face as if he's not convinced & I was bracing myself to explain my job details but surprisingly he did not made any further comments. He just breathe a heavy sigh & said "Wait a moment" closes his window & turn away from his desk to get something. At this point I'm now starting to painc & there are a thousand thoughts going to my mind 'Shit he hates me already.' 'Did I do something wrong?' 'This doesn't feel right' 'I am really in big trouble' After a while, the consul return to his desk & hands me a questionnaire "Fill this up & return to me after you finished" Dumbfounded & confused, I simply muttered "Ok"

I know, I'm thinking the same thing as you guys "What in the world is this questionnaire?" I was actually hoping some other applicants were given the same thing but I think I was the only one sheepishly completing those 3-page questionnaire. And in case you're wondering it consist of personal questions like list all the countries you've travelled for the past 10 years, name of your siblings, declaration of all your social media, name of your residence, work experience, etc. Some of it were already included in DS-160 form so I skip some questions & leave it blank (oo pasaway din ako but I have my reason) Once finished, I return to his window.

Consul: Oh it's you again.
(I handed him my questionnaire & he scan it quickly. He stops when he saw that I did not fill up my work experience)
Consul: Is this your first time to work?
Consul: Why didn't you fill this up (pointing on the part of work experience & I can see that he's about to lose his patience)
Me: Because it states here 'fill this up only if it's not specified in your DS-160 form'
Consul: Miss why don't you go back there & complete this? (And now he sounds mad, ayan magjustify pa ako)
Me: Oh ok..sorry

I quickly return to the table & filled everything completely. I mean everything. I was like one more mistake he will definitely deny my visa. Imagine what I felt when he approved another applicant bound to Saipan for work right away as I was just a few steps away from his window. Their interview didn't event last for more than 5 miutes, it was that quick. I think the consul knows that I overhear the interview because when I return to his window (yet again) defeated & crestfallen, his voice was softer & calmer.

(I think by this time no introduction was needed anymore & handed him the questionnaire)
Consul: (Scanning the papers one last time) Ok..much better
Me: I just smiled & breathe a sigh of relief
Consul: (Types something on his computer) How long did you live in Cotabato?
Me: (It took me a moment to answer him) Around 22 years
Consul: And how old are you now?
Me: 28
Consul: (He also breathe a sigh of relief) Ok not that long.
Types something in his computer again before he speaks
Consul: Unfortunately I can't issue you your visa right now since your case needs to go for additional administrative processing. (He writes something on a green form & handed it to me) This will be your case number so you can track your application.
Me: How long will I need to wait for the result?
Consul: I can't also give you a definite timeline for that since administrative processing usually takes a while to be completed
Me: So I'm just gonna wait for your call?
Consul: Just read the form (Obviously wanted to dismissed me already)
Me: Ok..thank you

It would be safe to assume that I have more questions when I leave the embassy than turning up completely oblivious of what's going to happen. First of all what the heck is 221g or administrative processing? It is of common knowledge that an applicant will know at the end of his/her interview whether he/she is approved or denied. I think I've fallen into the fine line between not approved but also not denied. So the first thing I did was to reaserch about 221g the moment I got home. It only takes one click to know that my instinct was right, I am in trouble.

Well 221g administrative processing is one lengthy topic that I wanted to discuss so I will be making it in a separate post :)