On Campus

Life in “Administrative Processing”

Pakistani Passport

Pakistani Passport

Not many HBS students are forced to defer their place. Yet after waiting for all almost 3 months for my F-1 visa, I was forced to make that decision in September last year replica watches. I’d spent months checking items off my Prematric list. I’d said my goodbyes, left my job and vacated my apartment in London – where I had lived, studied and worked for 7 years. However, last-minute problems with my Visa left me homeless, jobless, and scrambling to restart my non-HBS life.

12 months later, when I finally landed at Logan this past August to start HBS, I allowed myself a wry smile when I noticed an error on the immigration forms that I had filled. smalik@mba2012.hbs.edu  should now have been @mba2013!

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I was born and raised in Pakistan. Waiting for weeks to get a visa (any visa!) and going through additional security questioning at airports is routine for people holding a green, crescent and star bearing passport. But surely, I thought, applying in June would give me enough time to get an F-1 before September.

My interview with the embassy staff in London had gone well. However, I was handed my passport back saying that my application would go through “administrative processing”. Anyone who’s received that letter would tell you that the weeks (or months) following your interview are like living in a black box. The only way to track your application is to check for updates on a pdf file that’s updated a couple of times a week. There are no names, just application numbers – hundreds of them – and submission dates. Most of them said “pending” in the “Status” column. The fact that some of those were submitted in October the year before didn’t give me any great hope.

I thought I’d use this waiting period to unwind. I went back to Pakistan where my best friends were getting married. I enjoyed those 3 weeks, but a feeling of unease stayed with me throughout. I got back to London, packed my bags, vacated my apartment and bunked at a friend’s living room couch anxiously waiting, checking that pdf file every hour. It was now Labour Day weekend – orientation was to start on the Tuesday after. My friends on campus had settled in by now and everyone seemed to be having a great time (at least judging by the dozens of people they were befriending daily on facebook!). HBS had tried everything they could, but in reality one could only hope and pray.

The Panic Sets In

I had now started to panic. I’d spoken to HBS about the possibility of missing the first couple of days. However, at 5pm on Friday the column next to my application number stated “Send passport”. Success! I sent my passport through a courier agency (you cannot do it in person) and hoped it wouldn’t take longer than 5-7 days for them to stamp the visa on it. I now simply hoped that HBS would be OK with me missing the first 4-5 classes.

But then came a final twist in the tale. I got another email on Wednesday saying that subsequent to receiving my application, the authorities had decided to put my application through “further administrative processing”! The clock had effectively been reset. I had to wait several more months for the visa. A deferral was the only option available. I was jobless and homeless and for the next several months had to recount the story over and over again to all the people that I had said my goodbyes to.

Success (Finally)!

Fate, though, is a funny thing. I got my visa in November last year. I breezed through the prematric list this time. I got my old job back immediately. Sure I had to spend several weeks crashing on people’s sofas while looking for a permanent abode, but I was able to use this year to get an additional professional qualification and secure permanent residence in the UK (less than 24 hours before I flew to Boston in August!) – crucial things that I would’ve missed out on had I joined the Class of 2012.

Stories are expected to have a moral. And here’s mine – to potential international applicants specifically – apply as early as possible for your visa (I’ll even scream this in your ear to avoid procrastination). And if you can, most definitely apply to HBS in round 1. The Harvard brand doesn’t confer any privileges on us when it comes to immigration processes. On the flip side, nor should immigration issues be a deterrent to apply to colleges  in the US. My case was a freakish, rare occurrence. Some of the RC’s this year had to go through similar pangs of anxiety, but they ultimately got their F-1’s. The system in place is creaky, opaque and demands extraordinary patience. But if one plans meticulously, it works (in most cases!)


October 3, 2011
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