Friday, November 6, 2015

Final Step: US Immigration VISA

The final step of our adoption process in Georgia was to obtain an immigration VISA for Simon, done through a process called a "VISA interview." This process involves taking documents and photos to the Embassy, being "interviewed" and receiving (within 24-48 hours) the VISA. Every other step in Georgia involved communication through other parties, so it was quite different to be able to communicate directly with authorities for this step.

Late on Friday 10/30 (after the VISA office at the embassy was closed), Marina told me to go to the US Embassy website and "fill out a form to apply for the VISA." However, when I went to the website, the only forms available were for other types of immigration VISAs. I spent close to an hour clicking through the website, looking again and again to make sure I hadn't missed something. I finally found an email contact for questions, so sent off an email. For good measure, I also filled out one of the forms for another type of immigrant visa and noted in the comments section the correct type of VISA.

So on Monday, I was quite eager to hear from the Embassy office and checked email frequently. Finally around 3pm, I received several emails from the Embassy. The first was an automatic reply to my request and the second was a generic document containing instructions for the interview (where to go, what to bring, what not to bring, etc.). I was quite confused and kept reading through this 4-page document trying to figure out the when when I received a third email containing a single sentence: "P.S. You have been scheduled for the interview in the Consular Section on Wednesday, November 04, 2015 at 12:00pm." Such relief. Not only did I now know when, where and how, but also that the appointment was within a time frame that would allow us to leave as scheduled on 11/9. Knowing all this really helped me relax and look forward to the rest of our time in Tbilisi (after I sorted through paperwork to make sure I had all the correct documents).

On Wednesday, while at breakfast, I was surprised by Marina. I hadn't expected to see her and she told us not to rush that she would wait, so we finished breakfast and joined her. She wanted to see my pile of documents, but wasn't really clear on why. She then shuffled through them as we sat watching and waiting, and getting nervous because it was time to leave. Misha finally spoke up saying we needed to leave and Marina quickly put the papers in two piles and told me I didn't need some because they were duplicate copies. We thanked her and headed out.

The US Embassy in Tbilisi is on a fairly generic road, mostly notable for the McDonalds across the street. We parked outside the next door bicycle repair shop and headed into the security office. I presented my appointment letter and we gave our passports, but the security guard wouldn't let my parents go in because they weren't named on the appointment letter. The guard was also concerned that Ben wasn't with me, so I showed the power of attorney Ben had signed for me and explained that Ben had to return to work. The guards then proceeded to check our belongings. I gave them my folder of paperwork and the 1-gallon zip-lock bag I'd packed per the instructions. It contained a diaper, wipes, diaper cream, Simon's water bottle and a box of raisins. The guard went through the bag and asked me if I really needed each item. I told the guard that I'd been told to be prepared to for the interview to take 1-3 hours and that each item was permitted according to the instructions I'd received, so yes, I needed all the items. They flatly refused to let the diaper cream in, so I conceded; one diaper change without the cream wouldn't aggravate Simon's rash too much. They then said the water bottle could only go in if Simon or I would drink from it. Since it contained tap water, I tried to get Simon to drink, but he refused to cooperate, so I took a small sip, cringing as I remembered how Ben got sick drinking the tap water. Finally the guard turned his attention to the box of raisins. There was nothing I could say to convince the guard to allow the raisins in--not that it was noon and almost lunch time, not that a hungry 2-year old gets cranky, nothing. So I gave up. The guards then had me walk through the metal detector, but simply handed my belongings around, bypassing the x-ray machine.

Carrying Simon, we walked out the back door of the security office and down a walkway toward a large building with a small door. We passed another guard on the way, but the area was otherwise deserted and silent. We entered the door to find a room with rows of chairs facing a bank of bank teller-style windows. Simon and I were the only ones there except for the guard at the door. I sat down and waited and soon, Simon's name was called on an overhead microphone. We went to the window and were greeted with "Do you speak English?" Dumbfoundedly, I nodded and the woman looked relieved. She then opened a folder, which I saw contained certified copies of the documents we'd pre-submitted and those that had been sent by the court. Going through a checklist, she asked for documents and I handed them over. The only glitch came when she asked for copies of our passports, which had not been on the list of things to bring. I showed he my passport and explained that Ben was back in the US and had his passport with him. She left the window and walked to the back and talked to a lady. When she returned she said they needed copies before they could process the VISA, but that I could email the copies later that day. Luckily, I had electronic copies of our passports on my computer, so told he I would be able to do this. She then told me to go down to another window to pay the fee for the VISA.

When I got to the payment window, it was dark and closed and I turned around and around in confusion. Just as I was about to walk back to the first window, a light came on and a few moment later a lady opened the window and I was able to pay the fee. This lady told me to sit and wait. Simon was getting rather restless at this point and I noticed in the back of the room behind the rows of chairs a children's bookshelf. The bookshelf had one book (Make Way for Ducklings) and a plastic bin with one small action figure (which lacked any real "actions") and a single lego. Luckily, Simon was in a playful mood, so he made do, singing to himself while moving the action figure along the bookshelf pushing the lego. But this only lasted until he spotted the bathroom and said "pee pee." So we headed to the bathroom, me hoping that our name wouldn't be called while we attended to business. But Simon didn't actually want to use the bathroom, he just wanted to play in the sink and wash hands, so I hurried him through a hand wash and ushered him out of the bathroom just in time to hear our name called.

We went to another window where a man greeted us. At this window I was told to raise my right hand and swear to tell the truth. I was then asked questions about the adoption process, especially whether I'd been offered money or had to pay any money other than what I'd been told by our adoption agency. Bewildered by the question, I replied "no" and the man said I could come back the next day after noon to pick up the VISA. Simon called "bye bye" to the empty room as we left and joined Grandma, Grandpa and Misha at the car.

The next day (Thursday), we returned to the Embassy. Simon fell asleep in the car, so I elected to go in by myself and come back for him if he was needed. This time, I didn't try to take anything into the Embassy. There was a line outside the security building, so I got in line, but noticed all the others were Georgian young adults well dressed, so I asked the outside guard if I was in the right line. He asked for my passport, then quickly ushered me out of the line and into the security building. The guard inside took my passport, but my name wasn't on the list of appointments, so she started to send me away. I explained that I'd been told to come back, and she finally called to the VISA building and was told to let me in. Once again the room was empty, but as I walked to a seat, a women at one of the windows beckoned to me and told me it would be a bit of a wait because there was a problem with the VISA printer. So I sat. Given my experience in Georgia, I expected a delay due to technology to be somewhat lengthy and I worried that Simon would wake up and be scared to find me gone. But the wait was surprisingly (and blessedly) short. I was handed an envelope and instructed not to open it and then was shown Simon's VISA in his passport--a wonderful sight! I signed a paper to state I'd picked up the VISA and was on my way.

Simon was still asleep, but my parents had had a bit of an adventure while they waited and I was greeted with, "Your daddy almost got arrested and detained." While waiting, Dad had decided to take some pictures--of the street, of the general area of the Embassy and of Simon sleeping in the car. A man from the bicycle repair shop had seen him and came over and made him delete pictures of the general Embassy area.

That evening we went to the restaurant on top of the funicular to celebrate. This was the same restaurant Ben and I went to to celebrate court day, but this time, Simon got to go too. It was a delicious dinner, with nice Georgian wine, which I enjoyed as I relaxed realizing that we were now able to bring Simon home. Simon celebrated with a dinner of french fries (with a few bites of other things) and a scoop of chocolate ice cream.

Night view from funicular
Celebratory chocolate ice cream
Simon was very proud of both his passport and VISA and
loved looking at and showing others his pictures!




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