To my dear US American Friends:

December 4, 2009

[I was about to write a post on the Honduran elections and realised I have written but never posted this one.  Since I don’t really have much time to write today I’ll leave you with this somewhat unhappy post for now.  More on the elections later.]

To my dear US American Friends:

Surely it can’t be a good thing for the US if potential visitors re-route long haul trips to avoid your country? Do you really want to have a reputation for having one of the strictest and inflexible immigration policies in the world? One that views a 54-year old New Zealand grandmother on vacation as a potential terrorist or illegal immigrant?

Is it fair that after the trauma of the theft of a handbag and passport, she should be subjected to an exhausting 48 hour journey, and considerable extra financial cost to get home in order to avoid the USA because she doesn’t have a week to sit in Honduras and wait for a visa?

If all has seemed quiet on this blog lately it is because I have just had a couple of weeks off  while my parents were visiting us here in Honduras. This should have been a relaxed and fun opportunity to show them a little of their son-in-law’s country, but unfortunately Honduran crime and US immigration conspired to turn it into somewhat of a nightmare.

My mothers handbag, with passport inside, was stolen at lunch on their first day in Tegucigalpa. Their introduction to Honduras was a very friendly but heavily armed truck full of police officers who escorted us to the station in Comayaguala to make a report, a process which somewhat surprisingly for Honduras, only took a couple of hours. Then followed a couple of days of phone calls and emails to sort out how to get NZ emergency travel documentation in Honduras, and a couple of trips to Tegucigalpa to get documents copied, photos taken, bank payments made and the application shipped to the closet NZ Embassy, in Mexico City. I still can’t work out why it would take 2-3 days for DHL to get documents from Tegucigalpa to Mexico, but nevertheless, the Emergency Travel Document (ETD) arrived in time for my mothers booked flight home to New Zealand.

Except there was a problem. The most painful part of the process, and what caused the delay in thier travel plans, was not the Honduran crime, nor the NZ documentation issues but US immigration. My parents ticket routed them through the US, and under normal circumstances, on a New Zealand passport, they would have been able to travel on the visa waiver scheme. However  the ETD is not a fully machine readable passport and new regulations, introduced only a few months ago, require a visa if the passport is not machine readable.  This is apparently a non-negotiable and inflexible requirement, but luckily the NZ Embassy informed us before the ETD arrived so we began to make arrangements for the visa.

We paid $13.50 for a pin number just to be able to access the US embassy call centre, and at the same time had to pay US$135 for the appointment.  We called the embassy. No, not possible to make an appointment until the document was in our hands.  So we waited another day until we had the document.  Good news, she was eligible for a expedited appointment, so we wouldn’t have to wait 2-6 weeks.  Bad news, even an expedited appointment would take 3 days, and then another 3-4 working days for the visa to be issued.

By now my parents were well ready to leave Honduras.  Both Mum and Dad had jobs to return to. After much discussions and a flurry of emails to their insurer and travel agent they decided against waiting, and booked the earliest flight home that they could – via Mexico City and Vancouver, thereby completely avoiding the US.

I have long been mystified by the paranoia and suspicion of the US immigration service, and find going through US border protection a tense and generally unpleasant experience, but this is really too much.  Between Honduran crime and US immigration rules my parents holiday was ruined.  My daughter was not able to enjoy the time with her grandparents as they were stressed and tired, and we missed out on showing them many of the really wonderful things here in Honduras as we were tied to Tegucigalpa, and generally to to tired or busy to do much sightseeing.

Again, dear US American friends, how can this kind of thing be good for your country?  We non- US Americans have no power to change your immigration rules but perhaps if some of you started asking your representatives why the border agency of your country, one built on immigrants, is no longer interested in welcoming visitors then one day, maybe the rest of us will be happier about visiting you in the future.


One Response to “To my dear US American Friends:”

  1. […] things didn’t quite go completely to plan, with delays and changes due to political and family crises.  While I haven’t done as many visits and interviews as I originally anticipated my […]

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