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Tips for US visa interviews
Dr Arun C Vakil |
February 13, 2006
You have applied for a non-immigrant US visa.
But you need to wait for a certain period before you are granted an appointment for your visa interview.
Waiting can be an agonising process, especially if you need to reach the US by a certain date. Here are some tips and information that will help you receive your visa on time:
In the last couple of year, the waiting period before the visa interview appointment has gone up due to various reasons:
~ The biometrics system has been introduced -- ie every applicant must be digitally photographed and their fingerprints taken. This additional layer adds to the processing requirements and increases the workload for visa officers.
~ The overall demand for US visas in India has gone up.
~ There is no corresponding increase in the number of staff at American consulate, which further delays the process.
US embassies/ consulates the world over, are struggling hard to overcome this problem. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recently announced they are exploring ways to use cutting-edge technology to transform traditional visa application methods. Later this year, they will begin testing how digital videoconferencing technology could rapidly expedite the issuing of visas.
Let us hope this happens fast and is implemented quickly; it will give great relief to future visa applicants. In the mean time, however, let's understand the system that is currently in place.
Check visa interview period before applying
Before applying for your visa, visit http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/tempvisitors_wait.php to check how long you would need to wait.
The exact time frame is determined by the Visa Application Centre (online, if you apply on the Web site, or in person, if you visit the VAC); the VAC is managed by the Visa Facilitation Services, an agency established for this purpose.
This web site gives city-wise information on how long (in days) you will have to wait for your interview. Just type in your location, ie Mumbai, Chennai, New Delhi, etc, and you will know exactly how much time you need to wait when applying for your Visitor Visa, Student Visa and other non-immigrant visas.
Accordingly, you can decide when to apply to make sure you reach the US on time.
Here is a table of waiting time in number of days to get appointments for the most popular non-immigrant visas B1-B2 (Visitor for Business or Pleasure) and F-1 (Student Visa) at four US Consulates in India, as of February 4, 2006.
In other words, if you apply now (February 2006) for a visitor visa, you will get an appointment for a visa interview any time after July 9, 2006, onwards in Mumbai and from June 15, 2006 in Chennai.
For student visas, the appointments commence from May 6, 2006, in Mumbai and from June 15, 2006, in Chennai.
Compare these figures with select US consulates in major world cities from where large numbers of visitors travel to the US:
Unfortunately for India, the waiting time is the longest compared to any other cities across the world including Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Ever since personal interview and fingerprinting for all non-immigrant visa applicants was introduced, the waiting queue at the US consulates disappeared but the electronic queue has tremendously increased.
Quick tips for visa application
~ You must apply for your visa at the VAC, the agency formed for this purpose.
You could either apply online by visiting http://www.vfs-usa.co.in/ or visit to a VAC close to your area of residence; the addresses are listed on the VFS web site.
Read all the rules carefully before applying.
~ The waiting period depends on the city of application and category of visa applied for.
~ Sometimes, it so happens that dates are unavailable. In such circumstances, you must constantly keep in touch with VFS and request them to give you an earlier date than what you have got in case a cancellation takes place.
~ Remember, no influence or contact works to get an early appointment in normal course. No one can help in this matter; you have to wait for your turn.
~ Be alert by constantly visiting www.vfs-usa.co.in, which may have new information about changing policies and procedures with regard to visa processing.
~ Even if they sound very busy or formal, do not be afraid to ask questions and seek clarifications from the counter staff at the Visa Application Centre.
You must feel satisfied with the answers you get. However, be sparing with your choice of questions, as unnecessary questions could irritate them and result in non-cooperation.
~ There is a facility for taking passport size photographs and a photocopier machine at the VAC, in case there is an error in your photograph and you need to take a fresh one.
Likewise, if some documents required to be submitted and you do not have photocopies, you can get them done at this centre too.
~ When you go for your interview, the Visa Application Center charges additional fees for snacks and drinks. This is optional and NOT compulsory.
~ Make sure you carry all your documents for your interview. In case, all your documentation is not in order etc, you may need to seek another visa appointment.
Unless the consulate official calls you again to the consulate for another meeting, you cannot go directly to the consulate. For most meetings or second appointment with the consulate, you have to approach Visa Application Center.
What constitutes an 'emergency'
There are circumstances when your visit can be classified as an 'emergency', in which case the VFS has discretionary powers to give an earlier appointment.
Travel for the purpose of attending weddings, assisting pregnant daughters, or attending graduation ceremonies do not qualify for emergency appointments.
However, if you have an unforeseen travel need as per one of the criteria listed below, you may qualify for an out-of-turn emergency appointment slot:
~ To obtain emergency medical care, or to accompany a relative or employer for emergency medical care.
~ To attend the funeral of an immediate family member (mother, father, brother, sister, child, grandparent or grandchild).
~ To attend to an urgent business matter where the travel requirement could not be predicted in advance.
~ Students or exchange visitors who are within 90 days of their start date of a valid programme and who have not been refused a visa within the last six months.
~ H and L (both temporary work visas in the US visa) renewals for applicants who are already working in the US and are returning to their jobs. Both require a petition to be filed by employer in the US.
The H visa is for specialty occupation ie a certain specialty required by an employer in the US and someone who fits the profile is unavailable in the US. This visa is subject to an annual quota of 65,000 per US fiscal year (October 1 to September 30).
L is an intra-company transfer, which means that a manager or an executive is being transferred from an Indian company in India to its branch, subsidiary or parent company in the US with certain conditions.
Documentation for emergency visits
Before you apply for an emergency appointment, you must ensure that you have documentary evidence to prove the urgency.
Dying person in the US
i. Letter from the US doctor and/or hospital indicating nature of health problem of the patient and life-expectancy of the patient
ii. Relationship of applicant to dying person by birth certificate or any other evidence to show the relationship like photographs or deeds.
i. A patient in India has to rush to the US for immediate surgery of an ailment will need medical history record and a certificate from his doctor/hospital recommending immediate surgery
ii. A certificate from same medical authorities to show that such surgery/treatment is unavailable in India and can be accomplished in the US
iii. A letter, fax or e-mail indicating booking done at a US hospital and/or appointment with a specialist doctor in the US on a specific date and location
iv. One person can go as an escort if the patient is unable to handle himself/herself due to ill health.
Business meetings in the US
i. Evidence through letters, e-mail printouts, faxes giving information of signing of contract, business negotiation for a deal and deadlines for them involving a large sum of money
ii. Evidence to show that big loss could occur in terms of loss of business or loss of money if the applicant cannot reach the US on a given date
iii. Evidence to show that the business emergency was not anticipated and therefore travel could not be planned in advance ie the suddenness was beyond the control of the applicant
Deadline for students
i. Students can show their I-20 form (admission form from a US university) indicating the date by which he/she has to reach the university campus where admission is granted
ii. Students should also show the date on which the I-20 was received without which they cannot approach US Visa Application Center for appointment for visa interview.
In other words, if the I-20 is received late, students cannot help it and can approach Visa Center only thereafter.
H and B visa holder coming for adjustment of status
Many students/visitors go to the US and then apply for jobs through employers and get an H visa approved. Whenever they come to India in between for visit to meet relatives and return to the US, they have to go to the concerned US Consulate in India in the area (north India, west India etc) they are visiting and get a stamping done in their passport from student visa or visitor visa to H visa.
This process also requires appointment, and applicants when they come to India, cannot wait for four months as they would lose their jobs in the US.
In such cases they have to plan booking in advance from the US and in case their individual situation is such that their existing visa is expiring and they need to get an H visa quickly, they have to send their official papers including copy of passport to the visa center and request for an emergency appointment while in the US.
Emergency visa tips
If it appears during the visa interview that you have misrepresented the reasons for travel, such facts will be noted on your case file and may adversely influence the outcome of your visa application.
Furthermore, if the consular officer determines that you do not have a genuine emergency -- as defined above -- then he/she will postpone your interview 90 days from the date you appeared under the emergency provision. For such travel, you can only request an ordinary appointment well in advance.
Guidelines for visa interviews
The interview generally lasts for one to three minutes during which you need to "market yourself". Efficient documentation and effective presentation are keys for success in any visa interview. You will succeed if you prepare well.
~ Your appearance should convey that the kind of applicant you are. In other words, if you are student, you should look like a student. If you are an executive, you should look like an executive.
~ Your body language should convey friendliness but also that you are serious about your mission.
Mind your manners and refrain from unnecessary body movement.
Smile when you meet the visa officer for the first time and do not show signs of nervousness (flickering of eyes, trembling of fingers) that could act against you. Look into the eyes of the officer while speaking.
~ Say "Good morning or good afternoon" as the case may be, when you meet first and say "Thank you" when you depart.
Demonstrate respect in your use of language even if you do not feel this is being reciprocated.
Be focused in your replies. Answer to the point and do not unnecessarily elaborate your responses, as this may not work in your favour.
~ You must ONLY carry a briefcase or a bag MERELY containing your documents and wallet.
Do not carry mobile phones or any other electronic instrument like calculators, iPods, walkmans etc or even items like deodorants, notebooks, make-up etc.
Possible questions for first time applicants
~ Where are you going? (for all)
~ What is the objective of your visit? (for businessmen)
~ Which places you are going to for sightseeing (for tourists)
~ What is your specialisation? (for students)
~ Why did you chose this university? (for students)
~ Who will finance your studies? (for students)
~ What will you do on your return? (for all)
~ What are your entrance tests score? (for students)
~ What is the annual income of your father/mother? (for all)
~ What will you do if I do not issue a visa to you? (for all)
Dr Arun Vakil has an MBA from the University of California, USA, and a PhD from the University of Wyoming, USA. He is an expert on US visa regulations. He was associated with the US consulate in Mumbai as an economist from 1974 to 1977. Dr Vakil conducts orientation courses for students going to the US; these courses are organised by the United States Education Foundation in India and the Indo-American Society. He also lectures on US visas and immigration laws. Dr Vakil wrote the book Gateway To America, in 1984.