On Thursday I left a few messages with the Uzbekistan consulate in NYC about my passport. When I talk to an assistant I was told to call back at 5pm to speak with the man in charge of visas. When I called at 5pm I received voicemail again, but this time I had the visa man’s extension. You see, the Uzbek consulate and embassy only publish their main number on their web sites and visa applications.
Both agencies have automatic voicemail systems which you have to navigate. You first select the “visa and consular affairs” extension, which would make sense if anyone ever answered that extension. The embassy in D.C. then goes into an appropriate person’s voicemail. The man at this extension does not return calls at all, but at least you feel like you’ve gotten somewhere. However, the NYC consulate’s system than asks for your extension. If you do not know the extension you stay on the line or press 0. I have tried every combination of staying on the line, pressing 0 and even typing in random numbers in the hope that it is a valid extension to no avail. You have better luck stumbling onto hidden video game codes than reaching an actual person.
On the off chance that an actual human being answers the phone you will hear some static and possibly a utterance in a foreign language. Both stunned silence and loudly repeating “hello!” will bring an exasperated response, but not a disconnected call. But be aware that any time you reach an actual person they will “go to check on something”, put you on hold and ultimately disconnect you. When you try to call back the line will be busy for about an hour and then you will be routed through the voicemail maze again.
Luckily, after talking to the assistant on Thursday I asked for an extension number to call. For anyone trying to reach the Uzbek consulate for visa questions that number is 212-754-7403 x109. Surprisingly, my call was returned Thursday night at 9pm. But, assuming that a consulate would not be calling me at 10pm est, I was not home. A message was left with my mom to call back at 9am est Friday and that’s just what I did. Because I was worried about getting my passport back in time I was prepared with a FedEx account number. Not surprisingly, I was routed through the dreadful voicemail system again but this time armed with x109. I left a nice and appropriate message requesting my passport back because of my impending departure and sat by the phone waiting to hear back from the visa man or his assistant. After two hours past the time I was told to call I tried again, nothing. I continued to call every hour throughout the day and was met with either a busy signal or voicemail.
At 10pm est the visa man answered the phone. Naturally, after calling the consulate about 10 times my level of anger had continued to rise. While I was understanding and restrained at 9am, I was furious and accusatory at 10pm—not a good attitude to take with the man holding my passport hostage. I started out requesting my passport back and was surprised to find that he had no idea who I was. If someone left me 5 voicemails in one day I would certainly pay attention. Visa man insisted that I should have called at 9am when his assistant was around. I explained that I did call at 9, and at 10, and every hour until I finally reached him. He continued to insist that I had not and that there were no messages for him. I politely voiced my concern with his phone system and suggested his assistant talk to the phone company, because there must be a serious problem with their system.
At this point I had a captive audience and I was on a roll. I should have given the FedEx number to him and left it alone but I wanted to know what the hold up was. He told me that he was not allowed to disclose the problem with my application, but that it was just taking longer and he needed another week. I wondered aloud how he could hold my passport for more than the allotted 10 days (in this case he wanted 30!) without at the very least contacting me to inform me of it’s status. Visa man began to get annoyed and went on about how they can not keep calling and calling people and that some of the phone numbers I supplied were not working etc. It became clear that he was trying to contact my school, which I listed on my application. Now, I did just finish up classes and the information is totally legitimate, but there’s no way the school is going to return a random call from the Uzbek Consulate, let alone release any information about a student which is covered under privacy laws. One of my fellow students had complained that her very own mother, who paid her tuition, was not allowed to talk to her teacher without prior written consent.
So, wether the hold up was my college or the Uzbek hotel information I provided, I’m not sure. In any case, I now know that there really is no easy way to beat the system of bribes, extortion and red tape involved in getting a visa to Central Asia. Even without needing a LOI, it seems that you still have to go through an agency to get a visa to Uzbekistan.
At the end of the call visa man agreed to send my passport back via FedEx and to return my $100 money order. Given that it was a Friday night I don’t expect the package to be mailed until Monday. Although I requested it arrive by Tuesday, I still have no idea if it will actually happen. I will brave the voicemail maze again on Monday to check that it’s being shipped, but I am not keeping my hopes up that I will be given a tracking number.