Proud to Be an American

We spent 3 hours at the American Consulate in HCMC yesterday for Ti’s and Thien’s (15 yo son) K-1 Visa interview.

The line at the American Consulate in HCMC, SaiGon, Vietnam

Arriving just after 7 a.m., the line was already to the end of the block, about 80m long. We got dutifully in line and before long a couple of staff members were working themselves down the line, making sure people had their identification and respective appointment letters.

After about 30 minutes, people started to be allowed into the building. We were wanded by a security person before the building entrance, then just inside at the security station, we went through a metal detector, our bags scanned, and electronic devises were turned in for safe-keeping. Actually, the process was faster and easier than that the airport, any airport.

Ti and her son on line at the American Consulate (last two on the right)

I was impressed with the efficiency of the entire operation. Of course, being Vietnam, the staff were very nice also; not a bark to be heard.

We then found ourselves on another long line and people like me, U.S. citizens? were allowed to sit down in the waiting area. I had brought a real book knowing that they would take all electronic devices for safe keeping.

At this point, about 8:30, the waiting area with nice bench seats (I’m not being sarcastic, they were very comfortable) started filling up.  People were called to various windows based on a number they were given after the first line and before they sat down.

My girlfriend and her son joined me on the bench seats just before 9 a.m. (because we were near the end of the line outside) and were called to the first window just after 9 a.m. This window collected all of her required documents and took less than 10 minutes. We then sat down again, waiting for the interview window to be called.

A staff member checks to make sure people are on the right line at the American Consulate.

They provided water and the restrooms were clean and available.  People were pretty quiet, and I was just glad I brought my book. (Turns out, Vietnamese think they must be quiet and not move around. Ti informed me on the taxi ride home. I had wondered why the woman she was sitting next to, across from me, was whispering and the place was so quiet. Normally, Vietnamese talk like New Yorker’s, loud and clear!

We were called up to the interview window just before 10 a.m. The Consulate Officer was friendly, asked me a few general questions and then I and her son, were asked to sit down, while they (Officer and an interpreter) asked my fiancée some questions.  He proceeded to ask her a number of routine questions in English it turns out. (at first when Ti told me this, I was surprised, but then realized it made sense, since Ti and I had been together for two and a half years and I’d been in Vietnam more than 12 months during this time).

After a few minutes I was called back and asked if I knew my fiancée was still living with her husband in 2018?!?

Now, I am accustomed to being surprised by all sorts of things in Vietnam that I had thought I understood, but this was beyond the pale. I told him, no that’s not right, she must not have understood the question.  While I stood there, he asked her again and I expected her to say, 2015, but she again responded 2018!

Hopeful visitors wait in line

She was clearly flustered, and I was getting there too.

I again said, “no, that’s not right” and said directly to her, “you are saying you were with your husband in 2018”.

Finally, she understood the confusion. I went to sit down again, while Ti explained in Vietnamese and English that while she and her husband broke-up and separated in 2015, the divorce was not legal until 2018.

Within a minute everything was back on track (though it wasn’t really off the track, just that the CO was really trying to help and protect me) and a minute later she got the Blue Paper, because medical results have not been completed. Once done, my fiancée can return almost any day just after 1 p.m. and her K-1 visa will be issued.

Later I thought about this confusion and realized that we often don’t distinguish between the break-up and the legal divorce. At least I don’t. The legal divorce was just the crossing of t’s and dotting the I’s.

All in all, I was amazed by the number of people, a few hundred, they had to process in a few hours. I’ve sat in far worse and inefficient DMV offices over the years.

Three hours after arrival, we were in a taxi on the way home. All in all, I don’t see with the number of people, papers and documents involved, how it could have gone any better.  I also think that at least for the K-1 the process takes about three hours, so if you arrive to get on line at 06:00, you’ll get out sooner, but you will still be there about three hours.

While I was thinking of writing this review, I realized this was my fiancée’s first exposure to American bureaucracy and Americans, other than myself.

I know she was impressed. She experienced a friendly, fair and transparent process, which I think is what America and Americans are all about.

I know it made me proud.