A little over a year ago, I applied for a J1 Visa which would allow me to be a "legal alien" in the US. After making an appointment online, I went along to the American Consulate in East Jerusalem (a fairly surreal experience) and 10 days later my passport was back with a visa attached, good for 1 year instead of the 3 I'd requested (my shlichut has a 2 year contract but it generally extends to a 3rd year).
A year later, I've just received a couple of sheets of paper from my employers which I know are somehow related to the visa but not really sure how they work - so I pick up the phone and ask. Apparently, they mean that as long as I have these papers, I'm legal in the States despite my visa running out shortly (great). So how do I get a new visa? I ask, expecting to be told which Government office to go to.
Not that simple. In order to get a new visa, I've got to go to an office in........Jerusalem - the same one as I originally visited. If I leave the US after August 20th, I will not be allowed back (I'm not even going to risk giving it a shot with my British passport - the fact that it "might" work is no real comfort).
Now this is all well and good assuming that I don't want to leave the States other than to Israel - fortunately cousin David got married in Canada when the Visa was still valid but what if I fancy a trip to the UK to visit Mum? No go - as is the Caribbean holiday that Mrs Gilly was trying to talk me into.
This works the same way for a friend of mine who is here with his (American) wife. In order to get a working visa, he has to find a job and then go to Israel to apply for a visa.
I respect the US's right to set policies for visas any way it likes but it puts the fact that you can make an appointment (if you can get through on the phone) at Misrad Hapnim and go and get a visa without having to spend $1000 on an air ticket into a slightly happier light. Yes they're inefficient, don't speak the language and all too frequently on strike - but at least they don't require a 12 hour plane journey.....