So Mtuseni had his “interview” for a US visitor visa yesterday. Rejected again. Yesterday was not a day to get on my bad side.
We did everything right this time. His application listed all of his school, church and social activities to demonstrate those vague “strong local ties” that prove he would return to South Africa. Because he can be shy and gets flustered under pressure, his college counselor coached him on interview strategies. He had letters of support attesting to his responsibility, character, and commitment to school and family. I actually allowed myself to feel optimistic Wednesday when I wished him luck before he went to sleep — set to enter the Consulate fortress the next morning.
Like last year, Mtuseni watched a parade of white people ahead of him be granted visas and told to “Have a nice trip.” But when he stepped up to the window — similar to a US Department of Motor Vehicles setup, in all aspects — he was quickly rejected. Even though his reference letters had been faxed to the Consulate earlier this week by my Senator’s staff, Mtuseni had copies and I had told him to be proactive in making sure the clerk read them. He said “they didn’t even want to.”
Last year, the interviewer said that if I had met Mtuseni in person, he’d have a better chance of getting a visa. That happened in January, and I noted it in my letter. This time… the interviewer told him that once he had more money, his application would be approved. (Does every person visiting the US have money? I think not.) What will they tell him next year if he reapplies, that he needs to be white? Yesterday he changed his Mxit status line to “no matter what, they don’t want me there.”
I understand that, on paper, Mtuseni looks like a “flight risk” — someone who would enter the US and vanish into the underground economy, perhaps doing jobs that Americans find too distasteful for our refined sensibilities while we thumb the TV remote and wolf down 3,000-calorie snacks. Mtuseni lives in a settlement camp in a one-room shack with no electricity or water. But his life is not a dead end of poverty, not with me by his side every day. He is going to college in South Africa. He loves his family. He is proud of his country, even defending aspects of it that I find counterproductive. I know this kid; he would spend ten days soaking up knowledge and experience in the US, then go back to SA full of ideas and motivation to make some changes that can help the country’s youth.
This is why we wrote the reference letters. From me. From his school. From my alma mater Emerson College, where he was going to visit and talk to peers about US and SA media. From John Kerry, one of the country’s most powerful senators. Applicants are allowed to bring in supporting documentation that proves their local ties, school being one of them. Yet the clerk refused to look at them. Didn’t even pretend to look at them. The die was already cast for Mtuseni: a young black male applicant living in a settlement camp. Rejected. No need to look at his character references.
I understand that many people apply for visas, and there are certain restrictions. But when the consulate staff will not even glance at letters supporting his application, it sends a clear message to Mtuseni: “Your kind is not welcome in the United States.” Maybe it’s an effective strategy for the State Department. Maybe potential “risky” applicants will become so frustrated and so disillusioned that they’ll stop applying, and tell their risky friends to do the same.
Both my senator’s and congressman’s staff told me that the overseas visa clerks are notoriously rude. The visa rejection bothers me, yes. But what angers me is the fact that the interviewer did not “consider all available information,” as quoted in a legalese-steeped letter from the Consulate forwarded to me by Sen. Kerry’s office. As a taxpayer… and someone who has now shelled out $440 for three failed visa applications… I pay that interviewer’s salary. I work hard and make many sacrifices to help Mtuseni rise above his situation. The bored civil servant at the window can at least muster the effort to review support letters, and offer this hard-working kid a little respect — both as a fellow human being and as a representative of the United States of America. It might have taken another two or three minutes, tops. Even if the result was the same.
I guess it’s easier to see a poor black kid, plop a big REJECTED stamp on his application, and yell “Next.”
My only solace is that Mtuseni will one day have a much better job than that.
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