After our trip to visit Kim in Ecuador, I wrote about how difficult it is to invite her new friends to visit us here in the US. Over the past few weeks I’ve become even more familiar with that process. Kim’s friend from her host family is a 20 year old college student at the university where she is placed through the Fulbright Commission. He is working toward his goal of becoming an English teacher in Ecuador. He’s a good student and lives a fairly typical, active college student type of life. Like many young people, especially a future English teacher, her friend would like to visit the USA.
Kim would like to be able to show him around her country, her home, and introduce him to her friends and activities. She would like to invite him to a family wedding, to the beach, to meet her friends, shop at Target and go to Starbucks. He could visit the school where Jim works, play some basketball, and visit universities to see how they operate here. He could visit Jenny in Charleston and observe how American college students frequently all live with each other rather than with their parents and grandparents, and probably wonder why anyone could possibly think that’s a good idea.
So Kim’s friend is taking the big step of (cue trumpets and flashing lights) *applying for a tourist visa*. And after doing more research on what might help this process along, we are gathering documents to sponsor him. Apparently having a sponsor is a positive, but nowhere close to a guarantee that his visa will be approved. The bulk of the responsibility still lies with him to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to the US Consulate that no matter how tempted he is once he gets here to start picking tomatoes in searing heat for an unlivable wage, he will be a good visitor, see the sites , buy the t-shirt, then return home to his family and school.
This is where it gets even more complex. Sponsoring a foreign visitor consists of quite a bit more than saying, “I’m a law-abiding, tax-paying, employed, US Citizen who would like to invite my friend from Ecuador to visit me for a couple of weeks during his semester break. I’ll let him stay here and feed him and make sure someone licensed does all the driving. I’ll pick him up when he arrives then make sure he is safely on his way home when its time to leave.” Instead, this is what’s involved.
First, this being the government, you have to obtain and fill out a form. Specifically Form I-134, an “Affadavit of Support”, issued by the Department of Homeland Security. Among other things, this form lets you know that you, the US Citizen, may be sued and held personally responsible if your sponsoree applies for Welfare and/or Food Stamps. It then goes on to ask for information about everything short of the results of your last colonoscopy, which of course you must have notarized. Bank account balances, stock accounts, home value, salaries, life insurance and personal property values are all covered.
There is then a list of documents to send along with the form. This list of what they want is longer and more intrusive than our mortgage application. First we are to write an official “letter of invitation” to the sponsoree, and a separate letter to the US Consul telling them we’re inviting him to visit us. Since you’re already doing the form and all the documents I would think it would be obvious we’re inviting him, but this is the US government so common sense is not a strength. The other documents they suggest include: an official letter from our employer certifying the position held and salary, the last few pay stubs, our past few years tax returns, including the accompanying W-2 forms, and our bank statements with an accompanying letter from the bank. And a partridge in a pear tree.
We have most of this information together and have agreed to send it directly to Kim, who will assure its safe arrival at the US Embassy in Quito when her friend has his required in-person interview. However, I am blacking out all social security and account numbers on the aforementioned documents. I trust Kim and her friend, but not so much anyone else whose desk this may cross to keep that information secure.
We also took one more step as well to help with this process: we called our friendly US Senator’s office. The one who sent Kim a letter congratulating her on the Fulbright and saying, “If I may ever be of assistance, please do not hesitate to call on me.” We decided this would be a good time to take him up on that offer. It turns out that our request is not so uncommon, and their office has a staffer assigned to help with just this issue. They indicated that they will write a “letter of interest” to their colleagues at the Embassy, and email a PDF copy to us so the friend can carry it in to his interview. But they were also sure to emphasize that this is “Not a guarantee”, that they have no real influence over the outcome, and that the interviewers in Quito will still have the ultimate responsibility in deciding whether Kim’s friend can come visit us.