Everything counts in small amounts

Friday, August 19, 2005

Republic of China Visa

I got my visitor's visa for Taiwan from the Seoul R.O.C. Consulate today. I was really impressed with the speed and efficiency of the whole process. The U.S. State Department could learn some things from Taiwan. First, the process only took three days, from the day I applied for the visa to the day it was issued. Compare this to 10 days to 6 weeks for the United States. Second, I didn't have to wait more than two minutes for service. It can take 30 minutes to 2 hours to talk to someone at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Third, the woman at the window was courteous and knowledgeable. She smiled and could answer all the questions we asked. The opposite is the case for the Seoul U.S. Embassy. There, the people are short, rude, rarely smile, and frequently have no understanding of the laws they are supposedly there to enforce.

Not many U.S. citizens know how poorly our State Department treats non-citizens. We rarely have to deal with the bloated bureaucracy, other than to get a passport, which is a relatively painless process. But, talk to anyone who has immigrated, visited the United States, or has a relative who has. They will tell you the process is a farce, as I told the consular generals at the Seoul Embassy frequently during the 10 months Jiyeoun and I were filing for her immigration visa.

Some American citizens might be included to think the State Department poor treatment isn't their problem. They'll never have to apply for an immigration or visitor's visa for the U.S., so they don't care. The problem is that the State Department's shitty treatment of foreign nationals comes back to hunt us. The receipt below is proof. It shows I paid a fee of 110,000 won, or $110 USD, for my Taiwanese visitor's visa. The fee for non-Americans is 40,000 won, or $40 USD. U.S. citizens have to pay nearly three times the regular fee. It's retribution for the ridiculous service and exaggerated fees Taiwanese have to endure when applying to visit the United States. So, not only is my tax money going to pay the wedges of the do-nothing bureaucrats at the State Department, but their crappy service is costing me money on top of it.

Some of the differences between the service are simply a result of the volume of people applying for U.S. visas. I was literally the only person in the Taiwanese consulate when I turned in my application. There are regularly lines of a hundred to two hundred people applying for visas at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. So the extra wait for an American visa is not entirely the State Department's fault. And, if you're being generous, you could also grant that the visa fees might need to be higher to pay for the technology necessary to transport, store, and process the large number of applications the U.S. State Department receives. Although, the lack of such technology and the fact that U.S. visa's typically cost three times those of other developed countries argue against such a generous assessment.

Regardless, there are other serious problems at State that have nothing to do with the volume of applications they receive. Like the difficulty of negotiating the maze of voice mail, email, and useless receptionists in order to talk to a live person with any authority. Or, the lack of State Department representatives capable of explaining their truly arcane regulations and their complete apathy when confronted with their incompetence once you do get through to them.

So, to sum up: U.S. State Department bad, R.O.C. Consulate Office good.


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