I had to go to the US Embassy in London to get a visa. It will actually be the third US visa I will have had. Consensus view – consensus between US Immigration officers, corporate layers and relocation leadership – is that I need a US visa to be able to carry out my role. More specifically…that I need a visa to enter the USA as frequently as I do and with people based in the US who I supervise.
I have debated this conclusion – with myself at least – the US visa waiver system works very well and getting and using a US visa is both more costly and more complicated. But needless to say, good sense is to follow guidance of Immigration, Legal and Relocation. Nonsense would be to take the risk.
I was dreading my Embassy visit. Each of my previous two attempts – you have to apply at, and be interviewed by, the US Embassy – was a nightmare. I remember being in the Embassy for hours waiting to be called. Nothing to do, no smart phone or computer allowed. A whole day wasted.
But this time is was simple. Smooth and no delays. I was comfortable inside the embassy, the assistants inside were very helpful. Everything was great (and I was granted the visa).
I thought on the way home that morning – I was in and out 90 minutes – how impressed I was by how much they had improved the whole application process. How much effort they must have put in to improve the system since my previous experience. How they must have analysed the flow of applicants, the sequence of activities, the number of applicants, the number of assistants available to help…
So I sat on the train and I tried – based on my memory – to work out what was different…how they had improved. It was partly interest and partly for learning. Any time I see a system level improvement I am always impressed and want to learn.
The strange thing was that despite all my effort, I couldn’t spot anything different. It was the same set of rooms and interview bays. The same number of applicants – give or take. And the same process. But something must have changed?
The only difference I could see was that I was allowed to take my phone inside with me this time. I knew that when I arrived because I had checked on the embassy website before setting off. I also left my laptop behind because I knew I couldn’t take that in with me.
And then it dawned on me. The biggest change from previous applications wasn’t the system but was me!
This time I was prepared and informed. Last time I had arrived at my allocated time – but with my laptop and phone – only to be told by Embassy security that I couldn’t take them inside. My only choice was to go to a nearby shop where I could rent a deposit box by the hour.
And on my first visit, I remembered that my application wasn’t printed correctly and that I had to walk to a nearby office where I could re-print my application with the correct barcode. I was 90 minutes late returning to the embassy…
So that was it. And that was my learning. When I arrived on time. Prepared. Having checked my paperwork and having read in advance the security information…I entered on time, was processed on time, was approved on time and left on time. The system worked. When I entered the system ill prepared or ill-informed then I was delayed. That was my responsibility. The system still worked.