With my flight to South Africa scheduled for Sunday, November 22nd, I have been increasingly nervous about the absence of my passport. During the last week, my attempts to reach the consulate have reached fever pitch. The last forty-eight hours have made progress but continue to leave me on tenterhooks.
We should start with a sad reality for the South African Consulate; they do not answer their phones reliably. Their website directs people to call (212)213-4880. This is the general line. Another page, somewhat more difficult to find, directs visa applicants to call (212)692-2404. Unfortunately, both these numbers are haphazardly answered, and I have seen no indication that voice mails for these lines are ever checked. To add to the confusion, the consulate had not answered my emails to their general or visa-specific contact addresses. Yesterday was a breakthrough because a consulate employee answered the general call-in line when I called shortly after they opened yesterday morning. After I explained that nobody answered the second line, the employee gave me the direct line to the consular officer.
Yesterday’s conversation with the consular officer was pretty discouraging. It started with a mild uplift, though, when the consular officer reported that he had perused an email I sent the day before, asking when the consulate would return my passport, noting that the corporate account status for my application had been ignored, and explaining that few days remained before my flight to South Africa. From there, things began sliding downhill. First, he asserted that my corporate account status was negated because I didn’t apply through the government branch that was giving me this status (this runs directly counter to the documentation I received). Second, he began claiming that the consulate has a full month to process temporary residence permit applications, despite the fact that four weeks appears everywhere in their documentation. It was already clear that my visa would not be ready under either deadline. Third, he complained that I hadn’t included a form from SAQA that was required. I replied that I had asked them by voice mail on November 11th if any documents were missing; we were aware that there was some ambiguity about which SAQA document was the certificate. The one I received only ten days ago is the one I needed; it has a stamp and signatures on a letterhead. He complained that getting all the approvals for a temporary residence permit took lots of work. My unsympathetic reply was that he had been given four weeks of time to do that work.
Using email, I sent him the SAQA certificate. I hoped he would reply saying he had received it. Two hours later, I wrote another message asking for him to reply affirmatively that he had received it. Nothing.
This morning, I called the consular office again. The officer seemed a bit confused about who I was, but we straightened that up pretty quickly. Upon my asking, he replied that he had received the SAQA certificate. He asked me if I planned to pick up my visa in person, and I explained that I’m in Tennessee. He asked if I had paid the $16 fee for overnight shipping, and I replied that I had paid $127 for processing. I explained that my address had changed since I made the application; he asked me to send the new address by email. The officer seemed a bit agitated and confessed that he needed the phone clear to reach the South African government offices before they closed (due to time zones, their government offices close around the time ours open). I asked him if he would call me back later today, and he said he would.
Will I fly to South Africa on Sunday? I really couldn’t say. The odds seem stacked against it, but I’m trying to keep my hopes up. Unless I hear that my passport will be mailed by Friday, I will be forced to ask the university to reschedule the flight for December.
UPDATE: In a surprising turn of events, the consulate telephoned me at 1:00 PM this afternoon to report that my visa was ready. Unfortunately, they said, I hadn’t paid the additional $16 fee to have it shipped to me. I asked if it would be okay if I set up a shipping label with FedEx for them to ship it to me. They agreed. That’s all in place now. It may be that I can hold in my own hands a passport with visa Friday night, two nights before my flight!