Two Sunday's ago I was meant to be on a flight to Washington to attend the Microsoft Cyber-crime Centre's media tour. Yet, even though I was granted a visa, I couldn't go. The weak link in my plans was the US embassy's new visa delivery system.
I had never before encountered any problems with delivery of US visas.
I was scheduled to fly on March 16, and was called in for my mandatory interview at the US Embassy on March 12. I asked that my passport be delivered to the Rong Muang Post Office rather than my home.
While I was at the embassy interview, I realised that the visa-delivery process had changed: “People who have got the visa can go home without buying an envelope,” read the helpful sign.
Previously, applicants had to buy an envelope, pay for the EMS delivery service at a post office inside the embassy compound and get a tracking number and receipt.
But on this day, the post-office counter was closed, so I left. I thought the process was a bit strange, but I assumed that I would be alerted to pick up my visa at the Rong Muang Post Office.
One day before my flight (March 15), I logged on to the US embassy tracking system and typed in my passport number, only to receive the strange news that it had already been picked up.
Yet I remained optimistic, hoping it would show up. It didn’t. After missing my flight, I called Rong Muang Post Office on March 17 and was asked for the “tracking number”, which I did not have.
As a last resort, I e-mailed the embassy and received an auto reply: “The current status of your passport is ‘Picked Up’.”
A follow-up call from the visa section informed me that my passport had been delivered to the Rong Muang Post Office, and I was provided with a tracking number. I read this number out to the Rong Muang Post Office, who said “my” package had been delivered on March 14 via the Samsen Nai Post Office. I then rang the Samsen Nai Post Office, and they said a package with my tracking number had been delivered to a house in Intramara 51. I later learned that said package had been delivered to a man who had already flown to the US on March 15.
I then wrote to the embassy to say I had been given the wrong tracking number. An official rang to apologise and told me they had just put in place a new passport delivery system. Soon after, I was told that my passport had been at Rong Maung Post Office since March 13 – one day after the interview.
When I went to the post office to pick up my passport, I was told that I was not the first to have suffered with this issue. Upon further inquiry, it appeared that the problem stemmed from the new visa delivery system in which the visa staff should have reminded applicants to jot down their tracking number, which is on the application form.
Obviously, if I had been told to jot down my tracking number, I would have been able to make my flight.
US Embassy spokesman Walter Braunohler told me that more than 600,000 visas to the United States are approved, printed and mailed to Thai travellers every year.
“But we regret any delivery delays and are constantly reviewing our visa application and passport delivery process and appreciate all feedback,” he said.