Editors note: The following letter was addressed to U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16) and is reprinted here with permission from the author, who is a Rockford resident currently living in Budapest, Hungary.
By Drew S. Leifheit
Dear Congressman Manzullo,
As a Rockford native who presently resides in Hungary, I am writing to let you know about a situation that I believe is inherently unfair to the nationals of one of our global allies. I refer to the present visa processing system instituted by the U.S. State Department and, specifically, its application here in Hungary.
I can attest to this situation from the feedback I have received from many highly educated and well-paid Hungarian acquaintances, many of whom would like to visit the U.S. but whose visa applications have been rejected.
The local press here in Hungary has reported on the senseless situation of local Hungarian travel agencies having to return huge fees to customers who have pre-paid for their package holidays in the U.S. only to have their visa applications rejected.
Needless to say, Hungary does not require visas from U.S. nationals.
Apparently, the U.S. State Departments attitude toward Hungarians is that they must all be economic refugees who are pining for a chance to live in the United States. This is simply not the case.
Adding insult to injury, at the beginning of this year, the U.S. Embassy in Budapest advertised that for the first two months of the year they would accept online visa applications from Hungarians in lieu of visa applicants having to call the embassys infamous extortionist hot-line, which charges people dollars a minute to set up an appointment for a visa interview.
As I see it, this expedited process seems to have been a real suckers bet. Instead of actually having their applications revieweda process that would take some actual timeapplicants were rejected in less than five minutes, offering swift humiliation for a non-refundable $100.
Despite feeling that her privacy was being invaded by the process, my Hungarian friend, Dóra Szomolai, collected the numerous documents requested by the U.S. Embassy: certification of her workplace, a bank statement, title to the apartment she owns, electric bills for it, etc. all to prove that, as stated on her application, she wanted to visit the States for a period of two weeks. Which was, and remains, the truth.
The bureaucrat at the embassyan American woman who spoke no Hungarianbarely glanced at the documents to determine that Dóra was ineligible for the visa.
You havent proved to me that your economic ties to Hungary are strong enough, she told Dóra through an interpreter, also suggesting that she not apply for the visa for another two years.
Dóra is a 29-year-old psychologist enrolled in a Ph.D. program here in Budapest. True, the pay from her job as a dieting consultant is not spectacular, but I can assure you that, among her aspirationslike finishing her degree, for exampleshe has absolutely no intention of moving away from Hungary.
In the 1990s, I invited two other Hungarian nationalsone a student and another a poorly paid doctorto come for a visit to the U.S., and they both received visas immediately. Neither had plans to stay longer than their visits, and they both returned when they said they would. Why should U.S. visa policy be any different now?
I realize the precautions necessary in the War on Terror, but Hungarians are our allies and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect. In fact, they are true friends of the U.S.: at present 300 Hungarian soldiers are serving in Iraq, and so far 38 have been injured.
Furthermore, for the past 15 years Hungary has opened up its markets to U.S., generating millions of dollars of profit for U.S. companies.
Finally, Hungary is weeks away from joining the European Union, so Hungarians will finally be Westerners able to travel anywhere they want within Europe. Judging from the bad press generated and hassles created by U.S. visa policy, no doubt fewer and fewer will consider a visit to the U.S.
I am sure you will agree that treating the nationals of one of our trusted allies this waythrough unfair and seemingly arbitrary visa policiesis not in the best interest of the United States.
As a legal resident of your district, I kindly request that you raise this issue in the U.S. Congress.
Thank you for your consideration.
Drew S. Leifheit