Nearly five years ago, I had to get an i-visa so that I could travel to New York to cover a one-day Dell press conference. It was an exciting tale of couriers, last minute dashes to the airport and the fear of a lost passport. I was sitting on a park bench in the middle of London, waiting for a call to let me know I’d been granted a visa and it and my passport were on the way to Heathrow to meet me for a flight a mere five hours later.
That time round most of the work was done for me by an agency. Now, I’m doing it by myself. It’s a right old pain in the arse, isn’t it?
First, there’s the fact that as a member of the media, I need the i-visa in the first place. What’s going on there? Everyone else goes in on a visa waiver, but journalists need to be vetted. How is that equitable?
Second, as a freelance, I’m in an interesting position. If I’m just going to the US on speculative work, I only need a B-grade visa. But if I cover something on behalf of a magazine, then I need an i-visa. But to do that, I need to have a contract and a letter from the magazine testifying to the fact. But if I have a contract, am I actually a freelance? And if I’m not, do I really need an i-visa instead of a b-visa?
Then there are the forms. Apparently, not only do I need to fill out the standard i-visa application form, as a male aged 18-not dead yet, I need to fill out a supplemental form listing every country I’ve ever visited, current employer, previous two employers, etc. No possible opportunity for error there then.
Then there’s the appointment for an interview at the US embassy that I need to set up.
Then there’s the $100 charge.
And lastly, there’s the 50mm x 50mm photo of myself that I need to provide. Is there anywhere that takes photos with these dimensions? I’m going to have to scan an existing photo, crop it, shrink it, and have it printed. How is that necessary?
If there are any problems I have with the process, I can always call the premium rate 09 phone number the US embassy has set up for the purpose.
And it’s all so I can go to the US every once in a while to cover US companies, out of which they’ll almost certainly get loads of free publicity for the stuff they’re trying to sell to us.
The odd thing is that I’ve been on numerous press trips with fellow journos who can’t be bothered with the i-visa rigmarole and go in under a visa waiver, despite saying their journos on business. Am I putting myself through all this for nothing?
Better safe than sorry anyway.