Photo from buffalo.edu
This is a true story about a Greek citizen getting a U.S. visa for his vacation in America. First stop, the American Embassy in Athens.
Getting a visa to the United States
According to the U.S. Embassy website, this is how a Greek citizen can apply for a non-immigrant visa (tourist visa or visa for a visiting businessman).
STEP 1: Pay the Visa Application Fee (Gives account number and addresses of Piraeus Bank locations where 80 euros must be paid; fee increased to $131 on January 1, 2008 — euro equivalent fluctuates depending on exchange rate)
STEP 2: Do you need an Appointment? (No, for people aged 14-16 or 60-80 or those with a previous unexpired visa; yes, for everyone else)
STEP 3: Schedule Your Appointment (Online scheduling system)
STEP 4: Complete and Print the Application Forms (Online forms and instructions offered in both English and Greek)
STEP 5: Gather the Required Supporting Documentation (A reminder to have application, bank receipt and passport)
STEP 6: Have Your Photo Taken (Specs of 50 x 50 mm, full face, jaw shut, taken with a white background)
STEP 7: Come to your Interview
Each step has instructions in both English and Greek, and there is a dedicated hotline ready to receive questions in English and Greek should you need information before going to the American Embassy in Athens or Thessaloniki (there is no American Embassy in Crete or any other city/island).
It’s all very clear and straightforward, there are no mysteries or ambiguities. It states a waiting time of up to 3 hours, but you’ll later learn why that only applies to certain people. If you follow the instructions, it’s usually much less.
Follow the instructions, they’re clear dammit!
My friend Kosta pays his fee to get the receipt, has his photo taken, prints and fills out the application in English, makes an appointment, takes a pen and shows up on time. Inside the embassy, he waits his turn and has a chance to observe his fellow Greeks in action.
The first window is where all documents are submitted — this is where the chaos starts. Some have shown up with no photos, some with no applications, some with no bank receipts and some with nothing but their passports. Judging from the box of preprinted applications and pens on a large table, this is a common occurrence and embassy officials have surrendered to helping those who don’t follow directions, instead of turning people away like a Greek public sector office would. The embassy official at the first window also serves as a photographer for those who didn’t bring photos as they were told, but she’s frustrated because no one has small change, and she’s having trouble with her subjects.
“Please sir, stop smiling. This is not a portrait, this is your visa. You need to close your mouth and look serious,” she says. He smiles again, this time wider with all of his teeth showing and head tilted. Kosta starts laughing and slaps his forehead.
“Oxi, oxi, sir! Sas parakalo, koita,” she says, as she points at her face and looks straight ahead with lips closed. The man repeats the same toothy smile and head tilt. The woman gives up and asks him to sit down to keep the line moving. He mumbles something in Greek about Americans and has a seat.
She waits on the next person, and this man has his passport, photos and application, but no receipt from the bank. “Did you pay your money, sir?” she asks.
“Yes, yes, here you go,” he says as he slaps 80 euros on the counter. “I’m sorry sir, but you need to pay this to Piraeus Bank and get a receipt as stated on the website, then bring it back here,” she tells him.
“Why you can’t take my money?” he asks. “Sir, I’m sorry, but we are not a bank, we are an embassy. Paying your money at the bank is the first step in getting a visa, even BEFORE you make an appointment, so you need to go to Piraeus Bank just down the street, get the receipt and come back,” she says. She gives him a slip of paper with the account number and addresses. He swears a bit in Greek about the embassy, takes his passport and goes to the bank.
At the second window, a different embassy official is trying to finish taking the fingerprint of a gentleman’s right index finger. She holds up her right finger as an example, motions to the machine and tells him to place his right index finger on the pad. He places his left index finger on the pad. “Oxi, oxi. Sir, deksi xeri,” she says, hoping that speaking Greek will clear the apparent misunderstanding, while holding up her right finger. He again places his left finger on the pad.
“Oxi, oxi. Kyrie, to deksi xeri, sas parakalo!” she says. He again places his left finger on the pad.
“Kyrie, to deksi xeri, sas parakalo!” she says again. He places his left finger on the pad. The Venetian blind behind the glass window comes down with a quick swish, and the gentleman looks around for a minute, as if puzzled by the window’s sudden closure. He sits down. Some people come over and explain to him what happened and why. “Ack, ti ekana,” he says.
Now it’s Kosta’s turn. He’s at the window, the embassy official checks his documents and photos, then asks him to sit down. In a few minutes, a woman takes his fingerprint at the second window, asks him to sit down, then calls his name to enter a security door where he’s interviewed at a window for a few minutes, approved, given a protocol number so he can pick up his passport the next afternoon, and he leaves. From the time his name was first called, the process took less than 15 minutes. His U.S. visa is good for 10 years.
The irony is if a Greek or a foreigner goes to a public sector office in Greece, there is no clarity, no instructions, no forms in foreign languages, no assistance and no courtesy, except in rare cases. People are simply turned away — even if the documents are spot on. Sometimes incorrect information is given due to incompetence, or you’re treated poorly just for sport.
But the U.S. visa process was crystal clear and in Greek AND assistance was provided at every turn, so why was it so difficult for people to navigate to the point they complained?!? Is it conditioning — clouding what is clear, creating drama and difficulty where none exists, thinking a system is hard when it’s easy, complaining just because? Was it truly difficult or was it “Greeked?”
Kalo Taxidi my friends!
Are you a Greek citizen looking for a visa?
Greece entered the U.S. waiver program on April 5, 2010, as explained in, “Greece enters visa waiver program in 2010.” Therefore, the majority of Greek passport holders no longer need to go to the U.S. Embassy to apply.
Visa interview questions
Questions vary according to the person and interviewer. They usually revolve around the answers you gave on your visa application. Be honest.
Reasons for denial
People are usually denied a visa because there is something inconsistent in their present or past, or there is evidence of a potential risk. For example, insufficient ties to the homeland that guarantee returning, such as a job or family, past violation of a visa, being a third country resident, recent marriage to a U.S. citizen.
A previous denial is not necessarily grounds for a repeat denial.