LAST year, this Australian family splashed out around $6000 for a dream holiday to Hawaii which they’ve been looking forward to ever since.
The destination had been an easy decision due to the fact that, as Australian citizens, they didn’t need to get a visa for visiting the US. Sweet … or so they thought.
But this January came some surprising news — the visa rules changed and Australians who have recently visited some countries in the Middle East are no longer able to use the US visa waiver program.
As Rassoul Ghaznavi-Zadeh and his wife Hani had migrated from Iran seven years earlier, they were shocked to hear of this development and scrambled to apply for visas for themselves and their five-year-old daughter so they could still make the trip.
What has ensued has ended up being quite the battle, and with their holiday due to start on March 20, time is running out and they are caught in a frustrating situation where they could lose thousands.
“As we are Australian citizens, obviously we did not need a visa to go to the US and happily spent a lot money, all non-refundable for our flights and hotels,” Mr Ghaznavi-Zadeh told news.com.au of the situation.
“Around late January this year, I realised the US law has changed and now we have to get a visa. Apart from the fact which we had to pay around additional $700 and apply for the visa, you can imagine how stressful it was to realise about a month prior our scheduled trip.”
So Mr Ghaznavi-Zadeh requested an emergency visa interview which he and Hana attended on February 11, which only led to further uncertainty.
“The officer who was talking to us asked me whether I have done the forced military service in Iran — which is something everyone has to do in that country,” he said.
“Obviously my answer was yes, so he gave me a form and said they need the translation and copy of your military service and it can take one to two months to respond. Remember, I have never worked for military, this is a service that everyone has to do in Iran, so this is a problem for everyone.
“And stress started again. Now I need to look for a copy of my military service which I have not even seen it in the last seven years living in Australia. Why would I need to even touch that when I am an Australian citizen and in no way I need it.”
Luckily he managed to find it, and sent it over to the US council straight away. In response he received an email saying the visa process could take up to 60 days and there were no guarantees.
“Within their email there was a note that, if it’s an urgent request, to send your supporting documents over. I sent another email and sent all my non-refundable tickets and explained why we are in this situation as a result of changing visa conditions in US.
“After sending the urgent request, I received an email from them which basically said it is what it is and I shouldn’t have purchased tickets without having a visa. Apparently they forgot that we did not need a visa, it was them who changed the law.”
So in the end, the family still have no idea if their visas will arrive in time.
“We are now in a situation with less than a month to our trip and I don’t even know whether I can get a visa. We could lose more than $6000 as a result this,” Mr Ghaznavi-Zadeh said.
“I even asked them if they can give my wife’s and daughter’s visa, so they won’t miss the trip but they responded no. This whole thing seems annoying and ridiculous to me and my wife. We would have never gone to a country that we are not welcome.”