Two years ago, I went through a most horrific process wherein I lost one day of my life, saw many strange government buildings I never knew existed despite 10 years in NYC, sweated enough to lose 3 pounds, was yelled at my countless crabby women in windowless offices, ran all over town (or biked, rather), and had absolutely nothing to show for it at the end of the day. My student visa was finally ready 4 weeks later, just one day before my flight was scheduled for Barcelona.
This time around, I thought things would be different. My company is taking care of all the paperwork on their end, and so I figured life would be a breeze and a work visa would magically appear in my hands and that would be that. What I didn't realize was how long the process takes from the Spanish side (and I'm sure it's the same in every country, and probably worse if you're trying to get a US work permit) but also that I'd have to go through virtually all the same steps as two years ago.
Back in the first week of June you might recall I went to Norway, where I met up with my dad. He brought from San Diego the last piece of paperwork the Spanish government had required - my NYU undergraduate diploma. So by June 10 or so, my company and, thus, the government, had everything they needed. I, meanwhile, found out in July that I would still have to go through a visa process on my end, which I could only start in September because I'd be traveling, and which could take two months because one crucial document from Spain might not arrive for a while. And indeed, the actual work permit from Madrid, which my company filed on June 19 was finally signed Sept 11, three months later! And was in my hands in Boston the following week. After I received that, the only thing left was my certificate of good conduct from the NYPD, the trials of which I tried going through in Boston, to no avail.
So yesterday, armed with all the paperwork I could possibly need, I woke up at 3:45am to catch a 6am flight to NYC. I arrived, miraculously awake, downtown around 7:30 to get my certificate of good conduct from a friend who had kindly picked it up for me and ate a huge egg and cheese sandwich. At the time, or at least immediately afterward, the egg & cheese had seemed like a really bad idea. But it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made all day.
By 9am I was at the consulate, seventh in line for the work visa window. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, and there weren't too many people in line. I was feeling optimistic. And when, by 10:45, I was called up to the window, I thought the day would be a breeze and I'd have time to see plenty of friends and enjoy Manhattan.
Wrong. The woman who handles the visas was very nice to me, but informed me that one piece of paper was missing. The Apostille of the Hague. You see, I had remembered there were two more steps in the Apostille process two years ago, but this time around I couldn't find any info on it so I figured I just needed the good conduct certificate (since that's what the website says). She kindly said she could process me without it as long as I brought it when I came back to pick up the visa. IN FOUR DAYS. (What?! My last one took four weeks! Awesome!)
I decided not to wait. It wasn't even 11am and I was confident I could do it all and be back in time to drop off my passport and the paper by 2pm, when the consulate closes. And frankly, I couldn't face two days of bureaucratic nonsense. She gave me a paper that explained what I need to do. Three steps: Notarization, Certification of the Notarization, and Apostille. There was only one address, William Street, which I remembered all too well from the last time around, and I asked the woman if I needed to go somewhere first, for the other two steps. She insisted that William Street was enough.
So I picked up my bags (a backpack of stuff for the weekend and my laptop), ran to the subway, and headed all the way downtown. And this is where things started to get sketchy.
1. I needed to get off the subway at Cortland Street. So as we neared the station, I got up... and the train never stopped. It's under construction. So I got off at Rector, near Wall Street, and had to battle my way through tourists and news crews (I think Giuliani was giving a speech or something) and walk the 15 minutes to William Street. By the time I arrived I was drenched in sweat. It's October, but it's still nearly 90 degrees.
2. At William Street I had to check in with security in the lobby and then again on the 19th floor, where they Apostillize you. The security guard told me I needed to go somewhere else to get notarized and certified and then come back. She sent me to 60 Center Street, 15 minutes further north, and said they could do everything in the same place.
3. Threw my bags (which seem to be getting heavier by the minute) on my back and headed back outside and off to 60 Center. Fortunately I lived in Manhattan for 10 years so I know my way around, and even more fortunately I did all of this two years ago so I knew my way around these buildings. Unfortunately, it was only getting hotter, and by the time I arrived at 60 Center Street, I was again sweaty and disgusting.
I went through security (third time now, not including Logan Airport), had to leave my camera with the guards, and went to the basement to the County Clerk's office. After a 20 minute line, I presented my certificate of good conduct to an angry woman who got angrier when she saw my paper wasn't signed and stamped. I pointed to a signature and seal in the corner and she snapped, "I saw that. Do you think I'd be telling you this if that was the right signature?! It has to be someone we have on file, there is nothing here I can notarize. Go back to Police Plaza and have a supervisor sign it." Do not pass go, do not collect $200. That woman very nearly made me cry.
4. Gather my bags, and head out into the stifling heat and humidity yet again. I left my camera behind because I thought I'd be back shortly. By now it's 12:15pm. I walk back downtown to Police Plaza, where there is a huge line outside. So I go to the front and explain to the cop that someone forgot to sign my paper and I only have till 2pm to get it to three different offices or I'm toast. Under normal circumstances, I'm sure he would have helped me. But today, the last day before a holiday weekend, they had A FIRE DRILL at Police Headquarters. The building had been evacuated, so no one was allowed in (hence the line) and there was no one there to sign my paper anyway. I'm crushed. And at this point, or a few minutes later sitting on a bench in the shade, I think I actually did cry for a second. (PS - The whole police HQ is evacuated? Seems like a perfect time for a caper... I'm just saying.)
5. I decide to wait it out... and finally, after a long wait, they start letting people in again. So I get in line. And I go through security again. Every time I do, the guards are perplexed because my bag is packed for three days. I finally get to the fingerprinting office and explain about the signature and they are nice to me for the first time EVER and it's signed and stamped within five minutes. I'm instructed by one lady to not let the notary lady be mean to me again. Easier said than done.
6. Back outside with my bags, and off to 60 Center Street again. This time there is a new crew at security because it's lunchtime, so I have to pass through x-ray again. TWICE. They don't like the stuff in my bag. I even have to screen my folder of paperwork. But finally I'm through and back in the basement and now the line is even longer: fifteen people ahead of me. So I wait about 20 minutes and I'm at the front of the line when I open my folder to get my paper out and... my passport is gone. I manage not to scream out obscenities, but instead mutter them under my breath as I frantically go through my papers again and again. This my worst nightmare.
I figure I left it at the police station, so I run back upstairs, where I start to explain to the guard that he still has my camera and could he please keep it, when he says, "Oh you forgot something." I think he means the camera, but when he opens the drawer, there is my camera with the passport on top. It apparently came out of my folder in the X-Ray machine, got stuck on the belt, and didn't emerge from the machine for 10 minutes, after several other bags had gone through. I almost hug him with joy. Almost.
Back downstairs, where the guy who had been behind me is now at the counter and the line is 30 deep. No way am I waiting in it a third time. I stand next to the guy at the counter, explain after he's done what has happened, and am processed immediately. By the same mean woman, who doesn't seem to recognize me from an hour earlier and is now surprisingly polite.
7. Notarization done, it's time to pay $3. Which means standing in another line. Which takes what feels like DAYS. Some people who are in line ahead of me are getting DIVORCED and I just want to pay $3. But there's nothing I can do but wait. Another fifteen minutes or so later and I've finally paid and have my piece of paper and decide that I might just have enough time to still get back to William Street...
8. Get my camera, run to William Street (10 minutes away), check in at security, go up to 19, see that original guard again who is impressed I have made it back, fill out a form, and go to the Apostille window. It is now 1:55. I have until 3pm to be back at the consulate at East 58th Street with my passport or the visa can't be processed. The Apostille guy informs me it will probably be thirty minutes before the document is ready, but maybe longer... apparently the State Department also had a fire drill that day and the whole building was evacuated, so they were pretty backed up. I explain my predicament and he looks at me and says, "Go to the consulate. Now." I get a receipt to come pick up my Apostille later and I'm out the door again, in the elevator, and out on William Street.
9. I miraculously catch an express 5 train. This was a gamble because I wasn't sure it stopped near the consulate, but it was a risk I was willing to take. And for once, I won. Three stops later, I was getting out at 59th Street and soon enough I was on the 30th floor of the building, where the consulate was... closed. Locked. Undaunted, I knocked on the door and a voice asks me what I want and I explain that the visa lady told me I could still come until 3pm. It's now 2:30. I'm supposed to be meeting someone for lunch exactly now, and I haven't eaten anything since 7am. He lets me in, no security screening this time, and I give my passport to the nice lady. I also explain to her that maybe next time she should tell people they have to do other stops before William street, but she just smiles and nods at me blankly. In one ear, out the other.
10. At 2:35 I'm outside on 58th Street, sweating profusely, and dying under the weight of my stupid bags. I call my friend and tell her I can be downtown again for lunch at 3. I run into my old friend who owns the Grey Dog's Coffee (one of my FAVORITE places in Manhattan) and soon enough, the horrors of the morning start to dissipate. Three beers help with that.
Moral of the story. When you write a long-winded email to your family about the trials and tribulations of visa processing, be sure to READ IT AGAIN if you have to go through it again. Would've saved me a lot of time. And also... I miss my good old NYC bicycle. That would've made life better too. But hey, now it's all done and my visa will be ready on Thursday.