I’ve been travelling since I was a toddler, meaning to say, I’ve been going to America all my life. In fact, other than for the first couple of years of my life, I’ve never been without a valid US visa. I’ve spent long periods without any other country’s visa, but I’ve never been without a US visa. For Jamaicans, having the ability to board an airplane destined for America at any time has, in the past (I can’t really say if it still is), been something of a status symbol, almost a way of unconsciously saying, “Hey, I’m worth something because America says I can visit whenever I want to.”
Jamaicans generally tend to experience great anxiety around the visa acquisition process. We also tend to experience great relief and excitement if we’re actually approved for the visa. The general feeling in the country, I believe, is that a US visa is a difficult thing to acquire, particularly if you are unable to demonstrate ‘ties’ to Jamaica. Stable employment or business ownership, a spouse, children, home or other property ownership – that sort of thing. Even with those things in place, immigration officials can sometimes be fickle, and a visa application that looks perfectly good on paper can be denied. It was therefore with some anxiety that I spent the last several weeks of my time in Jakarta watching the days count down to the expiry of my ten-year US visa. I had been praying about the renewal of that visa for what I thought was one main reason: transiting through the US is the most cost-effective way for me to get from Jamaica to most of the places on which I have set my eye for travel.
I arrived in Jamaica at the beginning of January this year and my visa wouldn’t actually expire until May. Most embassies require that you apply for their visa from the country in which you are legally resident. I am legally resident nowhere else in the world but Jamaica, so I had to get it done here, and the sooner the better for a few reasons.
First, the closer it gets to summer, the crazier it gets at the US embassy in Kingston and the longer one has to wait for an interview (even renewals require an in-person interview); so I didn’t want to delay and end up in a mad rush of people, scrambling to get an appointment time. Second, I was unsure when a job opportunity would work out and I wanted to be ready to go as soon as I needed to, so I wanted my travel documents in order ahead of time. So it was that about a week after I arrived in Jamaica, I did my online renewal application and got an appointment for the Monday after I would return from my New York eye surgery trip.
I am going to be perfectly honest. I battled anxiety over losing that visa throughout the entire process. It was stupid, but it’s the truth. I knew in my spirit that God had my back; He is the one who is sending me out into the world beyond Jamaica so He will always provide pathways for me to go out there, even if not through America. I also know that faith and anxiety cannot coexist because anxiety means that my faith is lacking. But my brain kept telling me that I had cause for concern. I had no stable employment, I don’t own a business, house, car or any other type of property in Jamaica, and I have no husband or children.
I hoped that my 35-plus-year travel relationship with America would count in my favour but I didn’t feel that I could count on that and I kept battling the anxiety. I continued to try to take my negative thoughts captive, repeatedly confessing the anxiety and praying over the entire situation but it was still there, like a quietly boiling pot on a stove. I couldn’t understand it. I thought that my faith had grown beyond being anxious over something as minor as this. I know that no human being controls anything in my life, even this, but still it niggled at me.
Eventually, I decided to spend some time thinking on it, and I wondered if perhaps I was afraid of losing this status symbol. That seemed absurd to me, seeing as how I had already (happily) lost all of my status symbols – the house, the car, the highfalutin friends, the relationship – so I eventually dismissed that idea. Then I recalled how Australia had rejected me, and I finally realised that I was afraid of being rejected again.
The anxiety stayed with me until interview day so I just kept praying on it, even as I made my way to the embassy. As I shuffled along in the line with everyone else, vaguely taking note of exiting faces – some relived and clearly trying to contain their excitement, some somber and trying not to look too disappointed – I calmly read my National Geographic and finally left it all in the hands of the Lord. Previous experience reminded me that my success or failure in re-gaining the visa had already been determined by the embassy’s immigration staff. By the time I arrived for my interview, the outcome had already been decided by them so all I could do was wait until I was seen by my interviewer to know my fate.
The interview guy asked me two questions: Where did you do your Master’s degree? They already knew the answer to that since I did it in America. And what are you doing now? I had put that on the application so they already knew that too.
I answered his two questions and literally one minute later, he was telling me to pick up my passport with my new visa in a few days. I guess America did take into account my long travel history with them, after all.
I left the embassy relieved that my visa had been renewed, but also spiritually embarrassed that I had wasted so much emotional energy on being anxious over it. Even a minute of worry would have been too much because I’m supposed to know the God I serve. I continued to ask His forgiveness for my doubts and for His continued grooming of me towards perfect faith.
So a couple of weeks later I jumped into the process again, this time for Canada. One of my very favourite people in the world lives there and I thought it would be a good idea to be able to go visit her from anywhere in the world that I happen to find myself. I did what I had to do and that visa was also renewed. That time, I had no anxiety, but I cannot say if it was because my faith had become a little more perfected through the US visa process, or if it was because I already had the all-important US visa in the bag. Whatever it was, I continue to pray that can one day I qualify to enter the Faith Hall of Fame.