[I write this to narrate an event that made me lose some amount of self-esteem. It is timely because recently a new President was sworn into office, promising good governance and hopefully this would translate into a better standing for the Philippines in the community of nations. I have seen and experienced Filipino passports given that second scrutiny or their holders asked to step aside at immigration queues for ‘special’ handling, with nary a protest or whimper from our government. ]
Immigration policy is essentially excludatory.
It was in late 1985 when an immigration counselor at the International Students Office of a university in Detroit told me this. This I took to mean that in most instances any visa application has a high probability of being rejected. To make the long story short, I did not see my children for 3 long years.
For the next 2 decades, I forgot all about applications for visa as these were processed with facilitation due to the positions I held in the Philippine government and the United Nations.
After retirement, I resigned myself to the fact that I now have to call or email for a time-and-day slot to file my application and join the queue for the submission of documents and the interview by a consular official.
Invited by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community
I was recently invited to join a mission to New Caledonia to organize, facilitate, and deliver presentations in  a regional workshop (8–9 July 2010) on National Strategies for the Development of Statistics (NSDS) for Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs), in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and;  in a Pacific donor roundtable. Moreover I was also asked to conduct discussions with PICTs on support to their NSDS processes.
So I prepared to apply for my visa to New Caledonia, an overseas collectivity of France located in the sub-region of Melanesia in the southwest Pacific, with the Embassy of France.
I wrote to them about said invitation and inquired through email <firstname.lastname@example.org> on the application process. After three working days, I got this reply from <email@example.com>:
‘Confirming your appointment for June 22 at 8am.’
I surfed the Internet and was able to link to these pages for more information:
I got the general requirements for a short-stay business visa application which outlines the following:
- All applicants are required to submit the following documents in person.
- Kindly present your documents in the FOLLOWING ORDER:
- Original documents MUST be presented with a photocopy.
- Extra documents might be requested for particular case
- WARNING: Incomplete files may result to the refusal of the application.
- Business Visa Application
- Signed application for Schengen visa with photo (35mm + 45mm, white background) + 1 extra photo.
- Cover letter from company in the Philippines with dates and purpose of the trip.
- Business invitation letter from French company
- Proof of income :
- – Official business registration of current and previous years (if self employed)
- – Income tax return from previous year, where applicable
- – Photocopy of international credit cards
- – Salary slips (last three months)
- – Bank account statements (last three months)
- Identity and marital status :
- – Photocopy of the first page of the valid passport and all relevant previous and / or valid visas.
- – If married: photocopy of your marriage contract and birth certificate authenticated by the NSO
- – If single: photocopy of your birth certificate authenticated by the NSO.
- An international valid worldwide travel insurance (medical expenses and repatriation) for the duration of the visa and valid for all Schengen states. Minimum coverage should be EUR 30,000.
- – For a visa valid 5 to 15 days, insurance policy should cover 30 days.
- – For a visa valid 16 to 30 days, insurance policy should cover 45 days.
- – For a visa valid 31 to 90 days, insurance policy should cover 90 days.
- Flight booking (please do not purchase your ticket unless your visa is granted).
I also downloaded a Schengen visa application form from the Internet.
Very efficient, or so I thought.
22 June 2010
Before 8 a.m. I joined the group of applicants at the [parking] basement of the Pacific Star Building. We filled out a slip to gain entry to the building. The waiting area was a blocked-off section near the tunnel entry/exit of vehicles with several benches and a few electric fans. It still seemed like a good option than standing in line out in the open with the elements.
A little after 8, we were told to go to the security desk to give our filled-up slips, to leave our ID cards with the guard, and to proceed to the 16th floor.
At the 16th floor was the visa office. Another guard reminded everyone that the old application form will not be accepted. It looked different from the one I was holding so I reluctantly got one and filled it up hurriedly. Then he took turns checking our name in the list of applicants for that day.
Mine was not there. I told him that I was informed through email that I had an appointment for June 22. He asked for a copy of the email. I did not print one out since there were no instructions to bring one. And this was not the consular office of a Third World country.
Anyway I went down and out of the building and found an Internet café catering to Koreans two blocks down Makati Avenue and was able to print that email. Back to the 16th floor, the guard was convinced that I did have an appointment for 22 June, but he asked me to wait outside. Workers are allowed in only after 9 a.m.; for some reason tourists are let in earlier. We [including several needing a transit visa on the way to South Africa] were told to wait at the corridor, standing, because the building administrator does not want visa applicants to sit on the hallway as other offices occupy the 16th floor.
I finally got number 18 in the queue. The number being served when I entered was number 6.
In between, a number was called, an elderly couple stood up and fumbled with their documents perhaps out of anxiety and approached Window 4 as the next number was called. I don’t know what happened but they took their seats and were still seated when I left.
After an hour, number 18 was called. I slipped in my documents through the hole at the counter. The consular official in Window 4 eyed me condescendingly [maybe because I looked meek, or maybe he was feeling superior, or maybe because I am Filipino] and said that I was not following instructions. I was taken aback and was able to mumble a ‘sorry’ but was wondering what was happening because I was following instructions. He picked up a piece of paper by his side and showed it to me. I never saw the paper before. He said this was being given by the guard at the door. I firmly said that I was not given any. He called up the guard and said that there is a man here who says that he was not given that piece of paper. I did not hear the conversation; he put down the phone and said ‘Take your seat and I will call you later’.
The paper contained the following instructions:
the passport must be presented first to WINDOW 4
- Fully accomplished Visa Application Form
- Detailed Itinerary since departure MANILA
- Flight booking
- Hotel voucher (hotel booking not accepted)
- Visa fee of 3490 ph (only the EXACT amount will be accepted – no change and no coins)
Shucks, there were new requirements that the website made no mention of.
When I applied for a Schengen visa in 2008 at the same Embassy, my biggest problem was coming up with the exact change. You only get to know the exact conversion of 60 euros into Philippine pesos [because this is not fixed] when you are waiting inside the room at the 16th floor. I had to buy coffee at a café at the lobby to get loose change. But this time, I had small bills to cope with this situation. I thought that I would be okay…
I decided not to go through this process anymore because in the first place I had no intention of visiting New Caledonia. I was invited to help out an office in their territory. And I did not need any further aggravation that morning.
Many got through because they may have been properly advised by travel agents/specialists, or they had been through this earlier the week before, or they were just plain lucky. I hope that the elderly couple who were waiting for their ‘repeat’ submission of documents eventually got through.
I can tolerate being subjected to acts of condescension in a foreign land, but I cannot be unreasonably humiliated by an alien in my own country.
And this was a privilege? Because sadly for many Filipinos the only chance for a better life for them and their family was to get visas, regardless of whether their self-respect, dignity and pride as a Filipino remain intact after the application process.
- Don’t, rather never trust websites, even of offices of First World countries.
- If you can, engage the services of travel counsellors/agents or get advice from those who have gone recently through the application process.
- You will always find at least one condescending, unrepentant official in a foreign service office located in your own country. How you react to this situation is your own personal choice, in the absence of positive government action.
- Don’t ever feel inferior because you are Filipino, especially in your own country. You are entitled to a dignified treatment even if you commit a few mistakes. Stare them down too.
 Not found in the dictionary. It was a wonder that I knew what he meant. Should it have been ‘exclusionary’?