Thursday, August 23, 2012

The long and painful visa process!

Since I returned to the United States at the beginning of August, I have been working on applying for a visa to Ukraine. Most of the times I have come over to Eastern Europe I have had institutional support either through the university I studied with in the US or a State Department affiliated organization, which supported programs such as Fulbright and the Critical Language Scholarship. However, the program I am participating in this upcoming year provides no such support and this has been more challenging than I anticipated. Don't get me wrong I am very happy to have the scholarship that I have and the Kharkov Center for Gender Studies, the center I will be working with has been wonderful but they cannot provide me with visa support so I have had to work with other departments at the university in order to facilitate this assistance. I started contacting people back in January but most of the emails to university officials went to full mailboxes or were unreturned. I knew that they accepted people until October so I was not missing any deadlines but it was even unclear what department I would needed since there were many programs for international students. I decided once I got to Russia this summer I would start calling people because email is still not the main mode of communication in the Post-Soviet sphere and making phone calls in Russian especially with technical immigration questions made me nervous. I finally received a response from a gentleman who told me I had the wrong department and wrote him back saying that he was the only person I received a response from in the entire university, so he took pity on me and put me in touch with the correct people at Vasyl Karazin Kharkiv National University where I will be taking Russian classes next year. 

By July I finally had a contact there that was willing to start the paperwork to get me an invitation. You can't just go over and be a student in Ukraine (and Russia), you have to be invited by the university and have an invitation issued by the Ministry of Education, Science, Youth, and Sports. In August the invitation arrived at the university and I have been waiting for my contact to figure out where I can send money so they can send to me in the US because I need the original to apply for my student visa. It took three weeks for her to figure out that I needed to Western Union her the money which only seemed a little less sketchy than me direct depositing the $125 into her bank account. I guess the university does not have direct deposit which makes me nervous for the future when I will have to pay my tuition! Because this process took so long I ended up having to push my departure date back two weeks to accommodate the delay and thankfully I decided I shouldn't buy my ticket until I knew when I was going to receive the invitation. Yesterday, I received word that my invitation was on the way to the US and will arrive (fingers crossed) on Monday. Now I have to translate a bunch of documents into Russian because they don't accept the English originals, notarize them and apostille them (the internationally recognized notarization) before I can send all of these documents to the consulate in Chicago. Then after all of that hopefully the Ukrainians will send me my student visa! We also decided to buy our tickets yesterday for September now I have less than three weeks to do all of that and get my visa! Of course that is just the beginning of the process because once I get to Ukraine I have to apply for a residence permit to live there and only once I receive the residence permit can I apply for a visa for my husband. I have talked at length about this process to other people from the region and they tell me foreigners coming the US have to go through similar processes to study here. I do have sympathy for them but then I think at least the requirements are clear and people return emails. Half of all the run around I have had to do has been because the information is not available on any website and because people won't answer my emails! I am especially thankful to the Fulbright office in Ukraine who has been really great helping me through this process even though I had my grant five years ago and it was to another country. So the advice I would give to people trying to navigate the bureaucratic process of Eastern Europe is start early, be persist, and ask many questions about the ever changing process to a wide variety of sources. This process is frustrating in every country and is much easier to navigate in person so hopefully the following stages will be less painful. Also please keep your fingers crossed for me that my visa arrives before I leave on September 12, 2012!

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