While I don't think Tom Petty has ever had to deal with Ukrainian visas, he might have been on to something when he penned those lyrics.
We're waiting for our departure back to Ukraine. Which is waiting on us to have visas in hand. Which are waiting on our visa invitations to arrive. Which are still not here yet. Let me explain.
As we've said before, in order to live and work in Ukraine for longer than 90 days, we have to have visas issued by a Ukrainian consulate. Those visas have to be issued outside of Ukraine; we cannot obtain them while in Ukraine. Our visas have always been valid for one year at a time, and when the year-long term of our visas is nearing expiration, we are required to leave Ukraine and apply for new visas at a Ukrainian consulate somewhere else. In this case, our most recent visas expired in August while we were in the US, and now we need new visas to be able to go back and spend another year in Ukraine. Since we are in the US, we will be applying (by mail) to the Ukrainian consulate in Washington, DC.
Since our purpose for living and working in Ukraine is religious (missionary work), the law of Ukraine requires that we have an invitation from a religious organization registered in Ukraine. This is no problem; we are closely partnered with Ukrainian Bible Institute in Donetsk who have been nothing but wonderful in issuing those invitations for us. It's a simple process for them of just drafting up a one-page letter listing our names and passport numbers and making a few statements about the nature of the work they are inviting us to Ukraine to do.
The thing is, after our good friends at UBI draft up that letter, we cannot actually use it to apply for visas until it has been approved by the Department of Religion in Kiev (the capital city of Ukraine). So our liaison at UBI sends it off to Kiev for them to review and approve. How long it takes the bureaucrats in Kiev to do this has been unpredictable. Average maybe two weeks, but it has been done in as little as one day in one case. And in another case -- which is our invitation letter this time around -- it can apparently take almost a month. We had sent all the relevant details to our liaison at UBI in late October, hoping that we'd have our invitation letter approved and in hand by mid-November, or at least by about Thanksgiving. That would still give enough time to apply for our visas at the Ukrainian consulate in Washington, DC, which as of October was estimating visa processing times of up to 15 days.
Our tickets to return to Ukraine are for December 13th. That's this coming Tuesday.
The first hang-up was that the invitation letter took so long in Kiev this time. Our liaison at UBI got the invitation back from Kiev and was able to quickly ship it off to us, but this was on Nov. 30th. That left us with a very tight timeframe for visa processing in DC before our Dec. 13th departure. Meanwhile, last week I checked the webpage of the Ukrainian consulate in DC and now they are saying visa processing times are up to 30 days!
However, there was a glimmer of hope that we might still have a shot. The shipping company in Ukraine had told our liaison that the documents would be delivered to us here in Texas in 3 business days, and I called the consulate in DC and was told that if all of our documents were in order and correct, then they could do the processing in "maybe 3 days." So there was still a chance, if we had everything overnighted both directions between Texas and DC.
Hang-up number two is the fact that it's now Dec. 7th and our invitations have still not been delivered to us here in Texas. This morning I got a phone call from a middleman shipping company asking for the correct delivery address, since our friend in Ukraine accidentally filled out the Texas address wrong, leaving the house number off altogether. Thankfully she included our phone number so the shipping company was able to call. So now we are being told that the invitation "should" be delivered tomorrow.
I'll still get it off to DC with our visa applications, passports, and photos (all part of the visa application requirements) right away, but it is crystal clear that we will have to change our tickets. The question now is -- what date to change them to? We can't afford to change them any more than absolutely necessary, since the change fees are hefty. It would be foolish to count on the optimistic 3-day processing possibility mentioned over the phone by the DC consulate worker, but on the other hand how cautious should we be? Should we allow for visa processing to take 9 days? 15 days? 30 days? The DC consulate worker had told me "maximum 15 days" (if there are problems with our documents) but the website still says up to 30. What should we plan on? And what about the looming holidays, since the consulate is closed for all US and Ukrainian holidays? Will they even be doing much work in between Dec. 25th and New Year's? And what about in between New Year's and Jan. 7th (which is Ukrainian Christmas)?
If Tom Petty is right, though, at least it should all get easier from here on out. Right?