HOOPS, the FINALE! Approved for takeoff!

Yesterday, our long awaited business visa’s arrived in the mail, a full 3 days ahead of when we actually need them (as opposed to last time when they arrived day of)! They were supposed to be good for 90 days, but with all the trouble we’ve only got 30 days left! Thankfully we are leaving this weekend and won’t need them after that, but it took a month to get the invite, and then another month to sort out the simple typo in the electronic system, and we’re left with a month to travel… crazy how much more difficult the business visas are to deal with than the tourist ones.The visa’s completes the last critical piece of the puzzle… we have permission to enter the country, we have flights for us and her return, we have hotels and apartments, and we’ve confirmed her passport is ready for pickup. Now we just need our daughter!

We will be spending the remaining 3 days we have left is a panic of suitcase packing and baggage weighing. We have more stuff than ever for this trip when you add in we’ll be taking more clothes for the 1.5 week stay and heavier/warmer clothes for the colder weather, not to mention adding in enough clothes and entertainment to keep Sweet Girl occupied for the week in the capital and the plane trip home. All this must fit into two checked bags not weighing more than 50 lbs each and two smaller carry-ons… space bags have become our friends. Also factor in assorted electronics, photography gear, food and snacks, gifts, orphanage donations and a stroller… we’ve got quiet the load. And of course, on top of that, we have the usual preparations needed for the little ones to spend a week and a half with Annie – grocery shopping, laundry, food prep, scheduling, and more!

Please also keep friends of ours in your prayers. They are walking a concurrent adoption with us and they have hit some roadblocks. We know firsthand how stressful that is, but their situation is even more complicated. I’m sure they are feeling discouraged and frustrated and helpless and my heart breaks for them.

 

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The only known in adoption is the unknown…

(posted by him)
So in an earlier post, I gave you a little preview into the “fun” it is applying for visa’s to enter Sweet Girl’s country. In her country, you must be invited to come via a formal invitation. This invitation allows you to get a visa from the local consulate. And there are two types of visas (though law is currently changing this as we speak), a tourist visa, good for a double or single entry in a 30 day window, and a business visa, that can be gotten for multiple entries over a long period of time. Up to this point, we have been traveling on tourist visa’s as they are easy and simple to get (your invitation can come from any travel agency or hotel abroad). The business visa, in our case for adoption, must include an invitation from the adoption ministry… much harder to obtain. Since our court appearance over a month ago, we have been working to obtain this invitation. We wanted me to travel on a multiple entry business visa recently for trip #3, but the invitation arrived a day late and dollar short, so I traveled on another tourist visa. Why so important? Well, first off, a multiple entry business visa would have saved us money over multiple single entry tourist ones, but that’s not the main point. The main point is the passport office in Sweet Girl’s hometown requires that we be traveling on a business visa when we come to pick up her passport during the final trip. Without it, we may not be allowed to get her passport and thus not be able to bring her home.So, whats the quarrel? Well, first a little background. We had asked about our business invitations when we were there for court, end of August, and a few days later were told they would be ready by Sept 12th. Well, Sept 12th came and went, and Vita called everyday, but the invitations where still not ready and no one knew the problem. Well, this turned into the situation I wrote about preparing for trip #3…the long and short of it is, the invitation was ready on Sept 24th, but not in enough time for me to turn it around into a visa in time for trip #3. Vita had sent us a scanned copy of the invitation, and we noticed something odd while looking at them. Her’s appeared to have been dated Sept 12th, as originally promised, but mine appeared to be filled out differently/at a different time and was dated Sept 24th. We concluded that there was some breakdown in communication and they had only issued Her’s and forgot mine, and then had to scramble to add mine when we started calling everyday. But we thought the worst of it was behind us.Well, when I returned from trip #3, we knew trip #4 was imminent, and wanted to go ahead and apply for our business visa since they are good for 90-days (instead of 30 like the tourist). So we once again sent off our passports to our travel agent in Seattle to apply for them, this time not needing to pay for as much extra rush processing. But then I get a call last night, there is a problem with my visa application, the consulate has rejected it. When any agency in Sweet Girl’s country issues a visa invitation, they record it in a computer system the consulate uses to look up the invitation. This saves us from having to pay the $150 in shipping to get the one piece of paper here physically. But, the adoption ministry in Sweet Girl’s home town that issued me my invitation, miskeyed a number into the online system so there is a mismatch between the actual invitation and the electronic registration. Now the consulate is saying they won’t issue my visa without either a.) the original copy of the invitation (which we hope Vita physically has) or b.) the office that issued the invitation can correct the typo in the online system. Either way, its gonna take at least a week to sort out and I may not get my visa with enough time to travel the 3rd week of October (the soonest Sweet Girl’s passport would be ready). Her invitation, the one issued on the original promised date,  is of course fine, she’ll get her visa.

Once again, what we thought surely would be simple and we had plenty of time for has turned into a debacle and will probably push things right to the edge again. It might not be possible to go get her the third week of October (10 days!) like we want/plan. It’s possible that the passport wouldn’t even be ready then. But it’s pushing us to push the pickup trip date out to the 2nd week in November. This would ensure that we’d have time to deal with the visa and ensure the passport would be ready. It sounds sensible, but it means our Sweet Girl would be without her family a few extra days that she doesn’t absolutely have to be… something we’ve tried to avoid all along.

A rock and a hard place… preparing for Trip 3

(posted by him)
So 10/3 is just right around the corner, the 30-day mark from court when the court’s decree is finalized in writing, which consequently means trip #3 is just around the corner. Before I get into that, I thought it important to fill everyone in with all the happens of the last month as the process hasn’t let up just because we’ve had court.One thing that I should put out there is Sweet Girl’s region is unique among other regions in Eastern Europe as it requires 4 trips, not 3. The extra trip comes about from the passport application process which falls squarely between the courts decision and us being able to bring her home. See, Sweet Girl will travel to the United States as a foreign national and as such requires a passport from her country to travel on. In most regions, the task of applying for a passport can be delegated to your adoption facilitator through power of attorney so they may start the process while you’re in the US and all you have to do is arrive to pick up the passport and your child, then return home. Not so in Sweet Girl’s region, they require one of the parent’s passports to start the application, thus requiring one of the parents to be there. The turn around time for a passport in her region is also much longer than other regions, several weeks instead of several days, making it difficult to wait in country and splitting up what would normally be 3 trips into 3rd and 4th trips.On top of this, there is a secondary complicating factor, and that is visa’s we use to travel on. Up to this point, we have been using 30-day, single entry, tourist visas which are pretty trivial to get through any travel agent, we happen to use one based out of Seattle. In Sweet Girl’s country, visa’s cannot be issued without first an invitation from inside her country, so that’s the primary purpose of the travel agent, to facilitate the invitation from, for example, a foreign hotel, and to process the request through the consulate. However, we knew that in order to pick up her passport, we had to travel on an entirely different style visa, an adoption (aka business) visa. In order to get one of these, the invitation had to come from the adoption ministry in Sweet Girl’s region and the travel agent could not help us here. So knowing all this, after we finished up court last trip, we had asked Vita to formally request our business visa invitation (something thats normally done later). The other thing about business visa’s is they can be issued for multiple-entry across a longer than 30-day span. We had figured, if we got the invitation soon enough, we could travel on a single multiple-entry business visa for trips 3 and 4 and save about $500 over a single tourist for trip 3 and a single business for trip 4.

But there was also an alternative motive for going ahead and requesting our adoption visa invitations… we had full intentions of attempting to work the system, look for a loophole in the process, and combine the 3rd and 4th trips into one take-home trip. If we could get the passport process down to a few days, we could apply for it, wait, and pick it up, then bring her home all in a single trip. So, thanks to the Translate feature of Google Chrome, we spent a lot of time reading the information on the passport office’s website and found a small chink in the armor. A clause that states passports could be expedited within 3-days with a letter from a foreign doctor stating emergency medical treatment in another country is necessary. Because of Sweet Girl’s special needs classification, immediately when we got home, we worked with our pediatrician to craft a letter stating she needed to see our Sweet Girl as soon as possible. We then notarized and apostilled this letter and sent it on to Vita. Now something you should know about the passport offices in her country. Each region is more or less autonomous and is subject to its own interpretations of the laws (just like laws vary between states here). Because of this, we knew it was still a long shot, but it was only avenue to try to get her home sooner. We had discussed this idea with Vita, who agreed to call the passport office and ask so we said we would go ahead and prepare the doctor’s letter for her to have. On the off chance this ploy worked, it was even more important to go ahead and get the visa invitation early so we could travel on the correct adoption visa if we were successful at combining the 3rd and 4th trips.

Now fast forward to the last week or so. Vita had previously called the passport office, but the supervisor was on vacation for several weeks so we had no answers there. As for the visa invitation, Vita had been calling every day and was told it was promised on 9/12, but we were almost two weeks after that date and still no invitations and nobody knew why. So now we were faced with a dilemma, 10/3 was fast approaching, the date we would be ready to apply for her passport, but still had no answers on expediting the passport or getting a business visa. Plane flights were getting more expensive by the hour and we knew we didn’t want to delay trip 3 all all to apply for her passport later unless we were absolutely sure we could combine the trips and bring her home on that trip. All along, we said we wouldn’t make her wait longer than necessary because of money or paperwork, we’d find a way. Also, due to the timing of this work trip and Her work schedule, it was not a great week for her to travel unless we would be picking her up. And since the passport office only requires one parent to apply for the passport, we decided that I would go solo unless we were combining the trips. So we made a judgement call and went ahead and booked my flight for 10/2 – 10/6 with no idea about visa’s or whether the passport office would honor our doctors letter and request to expedite.

Because the travel dates had already been set, this gave us a hard deadline for when we must apply for a visa… even with paying expedite fees, our travel agent in Seattle had to have all information in hand by 9:00am Thurs morning in order to pick up the visa Fri and have it overnighted for Sat delivery back to us. But we still didn’t know what type of visa. So we filled out two applications, one for tourist and one for business and packaged them up along with my passport and mailed them to Seattle with instructions that we would provide at the last possible moment which application to submit to the consulate. Then Wed we received good news, our business invitations had been granted and Vita sent us scanned copies. But along with this came a bit of bad news, the passport office had rejected our request to expedite the passport so there would be no combining the trips, but having me travel on a multiple entry business visa would still save us money and give me the option of remaining in country if for some reason they said the passport would only take a few days when I dropped it off. We thought we were set with the visa. However, the consulate uses an online computer system to look up the invitations, and even though they had been issued, it hadn’t yet appeared in the computer system so we were still without luck… we had til 9:00am the following day to hope the computer system would get updated. We went ahead and started the process to get a tourist invitation as a backup plan. Then Thurs and our 9:00am deadline comes and its still not in the system, we make the call to go with a traditional tourist visa. A couple hours pass and I get a call from our travel agent, there has been a computer glitch and our tourist  invitation is also not in the system, the consulate (in Seattle) won’t be able to have the visa processed until Mon morning (the day before I leave) and its too late to re-process on our business invitation that did end up showing in the computer system about lunch time. :frustrating:

So we’ve come up with the following hail-mary play… I will stick to my original plan of flying out from Charlotte-Douglas airport tomorrow at 11:00am. I will be going solo to apply for our Sweet Girl’s passport while she remains behind to watch the twins and work. My visa should be ready this morning in Seattle where our travel agent will FedEx it priority overnight to the Charlotte-Douglas airport to arrive tomorrow (the day I leave). So I will leave my house tomorrow, heading to the airport with no passport. I need to find the FedEx terminal there, attempt to pick up my priority package held there before heading over to the passenger terminal. If all goes well, I should make it out of the country on time, crisis averted… but we have basically lost all margin for error now.

Since this is a short solo trip, pretty much for the sole purpose of going is to the passport office to apply for her passport before turning around and coming home, I won’t have much opportunity to see our Sweet Girl, though I hope to at least see her once or twice… look for the short blog entries for trip 3 in the coming days. If all goes well, she and I will be returning in late October one last time to pick up our Sweet Girl and bring her home…. for good!

(him)