Brazil 1, USA 1 – Tit for Tat Visa Treatment

Brazil Flag - Order & ProgressSTOP : No [easy] visas between USA and BrazilI recently experienced first hand the consequences of bad diplomatic blood between the USA and Brazil. It’s a case of fingerprinting turned into finger-pointing…gone wrong. In short, the Brazilian Consulate did everything it could to delay my visa which mean that, ultimately, I received my visa too late and never went.

The treatment was not personal, I understand. It was clearly just a case of my being an American and, as seems so often the case overseas, that is not a positive attribute. In the case of Brazil, my treatment by the Consulate in Paris was the result of a retaliatory policy. Essentially, in 2004, the US began fingerprinting and photographing all but 27 [mostly European] countries when they enter the country. Brazil immediately responded with a tit-for-tat procedure (BBC & NYT article) that singled out Americans. Beyond fingerprinting, both ways, it is also a lengthy and costly affair for visitors to get visas.

The Visa Saga.
I was supposed to go to Brazil for a meeting to make three speeches and, as I was not going to conduct any business deals, I only needed a tourist visa. Since I was going to be away for a fortnight in the weeks leading up to my trip to Brazil, and knowing that getting a visa to Brazil for an American was a challenge, I went to the trouble of asking for a “special” second US passport [which took about a month] to allow for the visa application to be be started earlier and without my presence. The agency handling the visa application for me said that it should take four days. Having filed the papers two weeks in advance, that seemed quite safe. However, eight days later (the Tuesday before the Friday night departure), I found out that the Brazilian consulate wanted more papers. Clearly, the agency handling the visa could have been more on the ball. Anyway, I scurried around to get the demanded papers in on the Wednesday and was promptly told that the visa would take a further eight days. This meant that I would receive the visa the day after I was to leave Brazil. Not quite an exit visa I was looking for.

Rio de Janeiro - Corcovado CariocasI made a few calls to try some “diplomatic” sweet-talking. “I realize the situation in the US is horrible…so sorry about the treatment of Brazilians…, etc.” On the Thursday–the day before I was to leave–a person from the Consulate called me up and told me to write an email immediately to the Brazilian Consul explaining the importance and timing of my trip. Taking extra precaution, I chose to fax the same message to the Consul. A few more calls and emails later, nothing. I was told that the visa would come when it came. In effect, I was grounded. My Friday deadline came and went and I stayed in Paris.

The following week, in a twist of irony, I did receive an automated email from the Brazilian Consulate in Paris saying that their email system had been down for ten days and that emails would be treated as soon as possible. Of course, that meant that at the time the Consulate personnel told me to write the email, the server was already down. I sadly thought how smart I was to have also sent a fax.

The real salt in the wound is that when they finally returned the passport, with a visa in it, the visa had been put and dated three days before I was to leave. In other words, they just chose to hang on to my passport. All told, including the second passport application, the whole process took seven weeks. And to no avail, much extra work and heartache.

USA Map in YellowAside from the troubles this caused my partners on the other side of the ocean, I regret the nature of the relationship Brazil and many other countries have with the US (which doesn’t have to be just a country of blues and reds). And I regret not visiting again the land of the Cariocas. I don’t believe there are any easy solutions. Dogma has its price. So, too, does terrorism. It’s farcical when a feeble grandmother gets stripped searched at the security check point. And, visa blocking treatment like I received certainly doesn’t do anything to help the world overcome terrorism any faster. The intentional delays [rejection] of my visa application will do absolutely nothing. It’s quite the lose-lose.

I have read a lot of “heavy traffic” in the blogosphere on the topic. One comment (below) seems to wrap up the Brazilian perspective neatly:

This is diplomatic “pay-back” at work
. The American consulates in Brazil are probably the most hideous and inefficient foreign government representation we have here. I am talking not only about no mail submission, I am talking about 4-6 hours in a line to apply for an interview and then more hours in another line and a standing interview. So, we are just doing unto others as they do unto us. I wouldn’t know how early you should arrive, but unless you have very prominent issues there is no chance your visa will be refused. I think we don’t even maintain a “no-entry” list, except for known international criminals.

Here is the story of an US citizen and academic: Esperanto-USA. He points out that only 20 Americans will be handled per day at the Brazilian Consulate — in reciprocity to the US policy.

Other stories of hoops and hassles getting a Brazilian visa for US citizens: Traveladvice.

And a very dignified response from Bruna:
“Ok, I can see how annoying it is to get a visa to Brazil… Could you imagine how it was for me, a brazilian citizen, to get one to visit your country? We have
to prove we have no intention of staying there illegaly, as if everybody was crazy to live in USA. It´s humiliating. I had to collect all kinds of financial informations about my life to show I could stay there with my own money and had to prove I had strong reasons to come back home (such as a job or a house in my name). I´m sorry about your problems with brazilian visa, but USA seems to be the country that choses who is interesting to have there as a tourist.”

All told, such treatment will make Brazilians visiting Americans and vice-versa less likely. Certainly, this reciprocal treatment will not reduce terrorism. I wonder what the total [opportunity] cost this means to the respective economies. Non-productive energies, non value-added expenses (visa charges), diminution of international interchange… An expensive price to pay by any measure.

Births out of wedlock

In France, it was announced (see here in the NY Sun!) by INSEE, the Paris-based national statistics agency, that in 2007, for the first time, the number of babies born out of wedlock eclipsed 50% (hitting 50.5%). That sent me scurrying across the web to find comparative stats. I was not sure, but I assumed that France was not alone in that trend. And that is an understatement. The trend is international. And quite a statement on the plight of marriage, as well as on the state of society.

Here is what I found out.

In the UK, this BBC report from 2004 said that the rate in Britain had reached 42%. But it is Sweden that leads all EU countries with around 53% (see Eurostat graphic to right). Sweden (red line on top) was already at 52% in 1995. France (green line) has been the second highest in Europe since the mid-1980s. Some good info on this Demographic Blog, and a comprehensive recent post on Demography Matters.

In the US, per 2005 CDC Gov stats, the percentage is 36.9%. Who makes up that 37% is not easy to piece together. But, already on the immigration front, courtesy of the Center for Immigration site, I have the following details and quotes:

  • Hispanic immigrants have seen the largest increase in out-of-wedlock births — from 19 percent of births in 1980 to 42 percent in 2003. This is important because Hispanics account for nearly 60 percent of all births to immigrants.

  • In addition to the 42 percent rate for Hispanic immigrants, the illegitimacy rate is now 39 percent for black immigrants, 11 percent for Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 12 percent for white immigrants.

  • There’s no indication of improvement over the generations. Among natives, the illegitimacy rate is 50 percent for Hispanics; 30 percent for Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 24 percent for whites.

  • There is no evidence that illegitimacy is related to legal status. Illegitimacy is common in many immigrant-sending counties. According to the UN, in Mexico and Canada the illegitimacy rate is 38 percent; in El Salvador it’s 73 percent; and it’s 86 percent in Jamaica

Per this CITY, Hispanic Family Values article, there is clearly a lot of concern with regard this trend of births out of wedlock in the Hispanic community. And I quote from this article, “[E]very 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women bore 92 children in 2003 (the latest year for which data exist), compared with 28 children for every 1,000 unmarried white women, 22 for every 1,000 unmarried Asian women, and 66 for every 1,000 unmarried black women. Forty-five percent of all Hispanic births occur outside of marriage, compared with 24 percent of white births and 15 percent of Asian births. Only the percentage of black out-of-wedlock births—68 percent—exceeds the Hispanic rate.” This NPR podcast deals further with the situation for Black Americans.

Perhaps another area that deserves highlighting is the appallingly high number of teen births in the US. This article from Breitbart.com says the following:

“The birth rate among teenagers [in the U.S.] declined 2 percent in 2005, continuing a trend from the early 1990s. The rate is now about 40 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. That is the lowest level in the 65 years for which a consistent series of rates is available. The U.S. teen birth rate is still the highest among industrialized countries.”

Looking at births out of wedlock, in general, the most critical issue may just be the existence of a loving couple to bring up that child. But between the high numbers of teen births and the high divorce rates, not to mention out-of-wedlock births, there is surely a new paradigm shift underway in terms of the composition of family. Apparently, Gen Yers are placing high(er) esteem on traditional values of family and are now looking for guidance and mentors. It would seem that there is a lot of work to be done on all fronts to create a successful concept/image of long-term marriage, new economic models and incentives and, above all, EDUCATION for what is, as far as teen and out-of-wedlock births are concerned, an over-weighted phenomenon in under-educated classes.

US Embassy in Paris – Latest thread

As my passport saga draws to a close (I picked up today the new 10-year passport, replete with 48 extra pages to last me through 2017), I thought I would comment one more time on the US Embassy experience. This time, notwithstanding high expectations in terms of efficiency that were entirely met, I turn my attention to the population that waited with me in the large hall. This Monday morning, it was a busy day. By 9:15am, all 100 seats in the waiting area were filled and there were about 100 more people milling around, looking at the small electronic board announcing whose number was next (accompanied by a recorded voice). The lack of an announcement board in the lower section of the hall, where there were another 30+ empty seats, meant that everyone preferred to stay in the large room, even if it meant standing. A few observations. First, the composition of those waiting. Bearing in mind the people are nominally either French people seeking to go to the US or US citizens, it was quite interesting to see that between 60%-70% of the crowd was a visible minority, specifically Black, Latino and Asian. Secondly, I was very agreeably surprised by the repetitive courtesy that the various “people behind the window” showed to the visa seekers. There was visibly an effort to smile and be receptive to each candidate. This was a far different experience from our visits to the US consulate in Montreal over the last few years. I wonder who is responsible for managing this “disposition” and whether it is left up to the personnel in each Embassy or whether this is a general “order” to all Embassies. Of course, I don’t think that the satisfaction level is miraculously high, but it was still nice to see. The third comment was how the line was drawn down with great speed. At 9 o’clock, there were just 4 “official” windows open. By 9:15, there were 6 and by 9:30, there were 11 windows cranking through the crowd, whose sides kept swelling. Contrary to a prior post, I came to the conclusion that there is still a thriving demand to visit the US. And the comment of the guard at the outside security gate confirmed it, “Monsieur, c’est comme ça tous les jours.” I am now the happy owner of a fully valid passport. Bad news is that each time I enter the US, for my sins of having lost my passport, I will have to go through the song and dance of proving it is my authentic passport.

Geting a new US passport

A little story that I didn’t talk about regarding our holidays and one that is, by nature, a tad embarrassing. Three days before going for our holidays in Turkey, I went on a business trip to London. After a day of meetings, on the Thursday night, upon arriving at Waterloo to take the Eurostar back to Paris, I found I no longer had my passport. It was past 5pm. Getting on the train was impossible. Panic aboard (except I wasn’t aboard at all). Our trip to Turkey was hanging in the balance. Our charter flight from Paris to Antalya left on Saturday. I had less than 48 hours and only one business day left to get a new passport in London, get a train back and then do everything one has to do on the last day of work at the office before going on holidays on the fly. A tall task. My wife supplied via email with me with scans of my lost passport, birth certificate, etc. (note to self: best to carry a copy with yourself in your bags).

On Friday morning, having taken an appointment on line for 8:30am, I got up early as I had to find a place to take my two photos — in a size not available in photo booths — that was open early AND not too far away from the Embassy.

After rumbling around, I managed to find a spot that was open early and, photos in hand, rushed to the Embassy. I arrived at the gate at 8:30 on the nose. The appointment apparently took into consideration the queue. Sparing you on the smaller details about the comedian guard, I was walking out through the in-door at 10:25am with the emergency passport in my hand. It took under an hour and a half to get a replacement passport. I was astounded. Aside from what I thought would be the inevitable long queue, I didn’t even know a passport could be issued in a day. Until you need it that fast, it’s not a question you really want to ask.

I was back at Waterloo at mid-day and, to the relief of all the family, back on my way to join the family. Of course, there was some work to be done, some bags to pack and some other last minute stress. But, we made it.

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Back in Paris after the holidays and after a quick business trip to Switzerland, I then went to get a permanent passport. (BTW You can’t get two emergency passports in a row). This morning, I showed up a 8:50am to drop off my application. I was out by 9:10. Seems so weird to spend so little time doing bureaucratic things. Kind of got me thinking… I can only imagine this is the privilege of being a US citizen. But I have other frames of references of how Embassies/Consulates will treat their own citizens. Is it possible that US embassies have figured out how to run efficiently? Have people stopped lining up for visas to go visit the US? Whatever the reason, a good score on my account.

And in yet another bonus: The US Embassy called me up later today to ask if I wanted to add a suffix “2nd” to my name, as that was what appears on my birth certificate and it had been omitted in my passport application form. It’s true that I have not had that “II” or “2nd” on my passport for all my adult life. But considering the ‘discovery’ (ongoing book) of my grandfather, after whom I was named and who died as a Japanese POW in 1944, I told the woman that I would indeed be glad to add the suffix. I am proud to be NMD II. My step-grandfather, Kenn Hinks, who married my widowed grandmother and was a remarkable man in his own right, always used to write to me with “II” behind my name on the envelope. An elegant gesture. In a touch of serendipity, this is an official rebirth of the notion of the II in my name.

The bad news, and just in case you needed another reason not to lose your passport: Every time I enter the US, for probably the rest of my travelling life, I will be stopped at the US Customs & Immigration and made to pass a second scrutiny of my passport to ensure that it is not a forgery or the lost passport in re-circulation. Might as well always check through baggage because I will have a minimum of 10 extra minutes to wait for the extra security check.

P.S. Anyone find my old, cancelled passport, please send it on to me!

Taxi! What’s up, Doc?

The other day, on Long Island, I was driven to the airport by the chauffeur of a rather nice sedan. With his latino accent, rapper hat (despite the warm weather) and small stature, I must admit I didn’t pay much attention at first. After a few miles, the conversation went beyond the stilted to the interesting and finished in the highly titillating. It turned out that my chauffeur was a prior Olympic competitor (gymnast) for his country (Ecuador) and is currently finalizing his studies to become a neuro-surgeon. Just goes to show you that you must remain open minded at all times… especially in a country where the dream for “a better future” is still a dream in some people’s minds. Anyone else meet anyone else with such a surprising background?