Waiting for Godot or is it Blinken?

OKAY, Blinken is the last name of the current US Secretary of State appointed by the new occupant of the White House, President Joe Biden.

In the Samuel Beckett play “Waiting for Godot,” the two main characters, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), were the anticipants.

There has been speculation as to who Godot really is, or is he just a symbol of something religious, philosophical, psychological or visceral?

Yet the two-act play in a singular scene below a leafless tree waiting for Godot to arrive has kept audiences and critics spellbound, some shaking hands on a great premise about uncertainty, and others shaking heads, lost in the scuffle of expectations and disappointments.

Pozzo and his dog Lucky on a long leash provide comic and tragic relief in both acts – first as interlopers then reappearing in the second act with roles reversed – Lucky becoming the sightful master and Pozzo hell-bound to silence.

Then there is the boy messenger of Godot who updates Didi and Gogo on the arrival of the main invisible character.

After keeping the hopes of Vladimir and Estragon that Godot is coming the next day, the boy messenger finally said Godot is not coming, his message apparently not directed to Didi and Gogo since the boy claimed he had never met them before.

The boy clarifies that he was just delivering the message.

The message from the play never stopped reverberating.

Last year, “Waiting for Godot” was resurrected on YouTube (available for in demand viewing) with Ethan Hawke as Vladimir and John Leguizamo as Estragon. Lucky is portrayed by Wallace Shawn and Pozzo by Tarik Trotter. The boy is played by Drake Bradshaw with Scott Elliott directing.

This time, Dido and Good are individually contemplating their life in separate cubicles as Zoombies, glued to existential monitors waiting for Godot to appear on “screen.” Yes, the two-act play has been updated to portray a pandemic lockdown scenario.

The setting may be different but the ending is just the same.

Godot never arrived.

Visa wait

To the hundreds of thousands of Estragons and Vladimirs waiting for their interview dates worldwide during the Covid-19 lockdown, their visas seem to personify Godot.

The US Embassy in Manila is a classic example of a recurring nightmare of waiting today for that interview notice, going to bed at night, not sure if the visa schedule notice will enliven the inbox the next morning.

During its March 5, 2021 online briefing for journalists and the world press, the Messenger was Consular Affairs Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services Julie M. Stufft announcing the Godot-like status of waiting for immigrant visas at consular posts worldwide.

The Stufft announcement described the waiting and backlog scenario.

“Before Covid-19, the (State) department issued approximately 10 million visas a year. Just over half a million, 500,000 of those were immigrant visas while the rest were shorter-term, nonimmigrant visas. The pandemic, though, has severely constrained us in two ways: it has drastically decreased the number of people we can safely move through our facilities overseas; and just like the majority of workplaces in the United States, it has also reduced the number of staff we can safely have in the office at the same time.”

Do we detect the presence of a leafless tree?

Next, came a whiff of hope – and masked disappointment.

Ms. Stufft stressed that, “I do want to emphasize that we are committed to transparently sharing the current status of our worldwide visa operations. By way of statistics, in January 2020, there were about 75,000 immigrant visa cases pending at the National Visa Center ready for interviews. Thirteen months later, in February 2021, there were 473,000 – about six to seven times greater. The snapshot gives you an idea of how much longer the line has gotten since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s important to note, too, that this number doesn’t include the entirety of that queue. It doesn’t include cases already at embassies and consulates that have not yet been interviewed or applicants still gathering the necessary documents before they can be interviewed and, also, of course, petitions awaiting USCIS approval.”

Immigrant visa applicants I have interviewed said they receive emails from the State Department’s National Visa Center (NVC) providing a countdown.

One applicant for an F3 visa (married son of a US citizen) says NVC had considered him documentarily qualified in November 2020. In March 2021, he received a notice that the waiting period for his interview date (and the Godot-like subsequent visa decision) would be about 120 days.

In May, he received another notice that his wait had been cut down to 60 days. He is looking forward to getting his interview scheduled sometime in July this year.

The system

Meanwhile, the visa machine keeps running.

NVC receives thousands of approved petitions from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) every week.

On April 5 this year, NVC was working on cases received from USCIS dated March 23, 2021.

NVC still operates with reduced staff going through the boxes of cases that come from the five USCIS service centers: California, Nebraska, Potomac, Texas and Vermont.

Once a case is received and evaluated, a case number and invoice ID number are assigned. The visa applicant then gets the “Case Creation” or “Welcome Letter.”

From then on, visa applicants become responsible for monitoring whether Godot is likely to appear in six to 10 months.

Armed with the case number and invoice ID number, a visa applicant must pay the fees ($120 affidavit of support and $325 for each visa applicant) before the petitioner can submit the affidavit of support.

Then each visa applicant completes the DS 260 immigrant visa application form before uploading the required civil documents. For those who are not aware or did not read the fine print of NVC processing, the NVC system is heartless.

After a short period of inactivity, the system throws out the application form. If an applicant fails to save the completed pages, he/she would have to start again.

Then there is the issue of file size. Most people are not aware of how to reduce a scanned document, such as a birth certificate, to the maximum 2 Megabytes (Mb). Go over one byte and your upload bites the dust.

Even after uploading all the documents, NVC staff monitoring the hundreds of thousands of cases cannot simply cope with updating the review notes.

An applicant must go through each review note to check what else is missing or whether the uploaded document had been accepted or rejected.

Applicants who were lucky enough to be considered documentarily qualified, however, are still waiting for Godot – the interview date that is heralded to come but never seems to appear in the horizon or in real life in the inbox.

There are also applicants who have been scheduled for interviews as early as March last year. That was when the embassies worldwide shut down after then-president Donald Trump issued the proclamations banning immigrants from entering the United States.

Despite having completed the medical exam at St. Luke’s (the official health sentry of the US Embassy in Manila), applicants were not able to go to their scheduled consular interview because of a lockdown ruling.

The series of visa cancellation appointments followed.

From priority to ‘tiered’

At time of writing, the US Embassy in Manila remains suspended in animation. The latest announcement on consular services, June 21 echoes the previous public notices except that this time the list of immigrant visa applicants considered priority are now “tiered.”

Visa operations:

“Routine visa services remain suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The US Embassy in the Philippines continues to operate with reduced staffing.

As conditions surrounding the Covid-19 situation improve, the embassy will add additional services, culminating eventually in a complete resumption of routine visa services. The embassy cannot predict when the resumption of full visa services or “a specific category of visa classes will occur.”

Immigrant visa (IV):

“The embassy continues to have a significant backlog of all categories of immigrant visas. We are using a tiered approach to triage immigrant visa applications – based on the category of immigrant visa – as we resume and expand processing. While we are scheduling limited appointments within all four priority tiers every month, the following lists the main categories of immigrant visas in priority order:

– Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age) and certain special immigrant visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the US government).

– Tier Two: Immediate relative visas; fiancé(e) visas and returning resident visas.

– Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE special immigrant visas for certain employees of the US government abroad.

– Tier Four: All other immigrant visas including employment preference and diversity visas.

Pundits mirroring Pozzo and Lucky provide slivers of hope, only to be snuffed out by a new cancellation appointment.

In stark contrast to the play, Godot (the visa interview) will come. It’s just that nobody can precisely know when.

Tiers for tears.

Author: Peter Davis