Pandemic Immigration Stories: A Day In The US Consulate In Naples

A couple's immigration experience in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be surprisingly straightforward.

US Consulate, Naples
The US Consulate, from the seaside. Photo by Bianca Sue Brown

Layers of construction barriers hid the main entrance from view, so we veered off towards the seaside in hopes of spotting another point of access. Aside from enjoying the sights and sounds of Neapolitan fishermen in a local harbor, no luck.

Circumnavigating the consulate and slipping into the pedestrian way immediately before the construction seemed to be the only reasonable way of entering for our immigration interview. At the mouth of the walkway was an armed military guard. We exchanged stranger glances of acknowledgment with him from a social and scared distance, shrugged, and returned to our guesthouse.

Staking out the US Consulate General the day before our long-awaited visa interview proved to be one of many strokes of good fortune that have guided us through all 11 steps of the family visa process. We are careful not to confuse fortune with fatalism, as predestination shall not save you from immigration purgatory as much as preparation might. 

Immigration Process
US Immigrant Visa Process / Travel.State.Gov

Like a videogame or an exercise of willpower, leveling up was a measure not of your innate worthiness, but of a critical combination of reading the fine print, interpreting the fine print, and then actually going through all the motions and believing in the system.

Perhaps the immigration process does measure worthiness — a redefined version that rewards the one who reads, and does not dismiss the instructions.

And the last test was aptly set against the backdrop of Naples itself. Other consulates handle lesser affairs: you would like to move for work reasons? Go to Milan. But you think you will immigrate? We’ll meet you in Naples first.

On the global scale, COVID-19 temporarily slowed visa processing and brought a world of uncertainty of when/where/if. On the US side, an underfunding of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) workforce has further slowed processing times, as well as a series of restricted visa categories one more confusing than its predecessor.

On the Italian side, immigration meant a sunny seaside trip to Naples, navigating the cityscape, and planning all your meals around pizza and pasta.

Ten months since we originally filed our petition, we disembarked the plane in a manner that left much to be desired by way of COVID-19 compliance, but we were on the ground. We chose accommodation right in the upscale seafront neighborhood of Chiaia, a stone’s throw from the consulate, to reduce the unknowns as much as possible. 

Day 1 was a medical visit with an approved physician at 8:00 AM in an area of the city quite unrelated to the consulate — the kind of area where one would probably not have other business or tourist activities to attend to. Public transportation seemed to run on suggested schedules.

A small gathering of about 10 folks outside the building, everyone with a ticket in hand. The ticket office has a button designating ‘consulate visit’. You’re in the right place.

As other tickets are called out in turn, the ‘c series’ will be lucky enough to hear a man beckoning “anyone for the consulate?” You catch his words and follow that man.

A secretary verifies your personal information, you take the preliminary tests, you use the facilities. Relief on multiple levels. 

In the secondary waiting room, you begin eyeing the others, interested in who’s who. Radiology gives you an even more refined opportunity to scope out the immigration prospects, as the line for chest x-rays is only for those attending the consular interviews the following day. 

An American guy, midwest personality, accompanying his Brazilian-born wife. Young thirty-something Italian, engineer type, well-dressed and nervous. Perhaps over-dressed. An ambiguously bilingual couple, Italian good looks and cultural fluency on both sides. In the waiting line, some exchange of experiences and statuses — time-limited but mutually uplifting bonding.

Day 2 started earlier, much earlier than necessary due to nerves, and the feeling of your whole young life riding on the day’s outcome. We were out stalking sfogliatelle and coffee before the bars even opened. 

Retracing our steps from the day prior, we entered the consulate together. The consulate’s website explicitly states that the petitioner is not invited to attend the beneficiary’s interview, but I was taking every welcome mat rolled out to me.

The chairs behind us creaked as tired plastic does, and then a whispered exchange. My husband hesitantly turned around and then offered a friendly “good morning,” and a knowing nod. “The American guy from the medical visit?” I asked, before turning around myself and waving. “Yes, and his wife is here with him.” We spent the next few minutes rehashing our strategy for responding to tough questions, and then turned our attention to the mind-numbing monotony of the mega-engineering special on TV. 

The next two ‘interviews’ went by without remotely resembling the interrogations we had conjured up somewhere in the space between movies and our minds. The first consular officer even called me up to join my husband — I had respectfully remained sitting at a distance, feigning absolute absorption in the TV special on humongous German-made cranes — but up I went to the window, and then all the subsequent supposedly fear-inspiring questions were as follows:

  • When did you get married?
  • How did you meet each other?
  • What does the petitioner do for work?
  • What does the beneficiary do for work?
  • Where does the petitioner live right now?
  • When do we plan to move to the US? (a bit of a tongue-in-cheek question, eh?)
  • Do you have children?
  • Has the beneficiary done military service?
  • Has the beneficiary lived in any other country?

“Your visa is approved. You’ll be receiving it within 3-5 business days.”

It was sent out that same afternoon, and we received it two business days later. We returned home with all 12 passport photos we had printed out. We paid another fee, booked our flights, and with that surprisingly painless final step #11 in the immigrant visa process, our Italian chapter has come to a close.

For now. (The other side of this story is in this article, and it is still a key part of the plan.)

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