Thursday, February 10, 2011

Comprehensive guide to US non-immigrant visa application circa 2013

*Updated on April 1, 2013.

I originally published this blog post last April 2007 when I applied for a US visa. The procedures have changed dramatically since then. Back in 2010 my hubby's US visa expired. He had to undergo the whole application process because there was no VRP (Visa Reissuance Program) at the time. He got approved for a 10-year multiple entry US non-immigrant visa. Please note that this guide is for Philippine citizens only.

Prior to shelling out US$160 and applying for a US visa, it is highly recommended that you travel to another international destination first. If you have no previous overseas travels, you will have a high probability of being denied as the US in general does not want their country to be your first international destination. This has happened to a friend of mine. Consul denied him and told him to travel elsewhere first. He went to Hong Kong (easiest, nearest, buy-and-fly international destination) and then tried for a US non-immigrant visa again. He was approved the second time around.

Before the interview:
  1. Have a 2" x 2" photo with a white background taken at an establishment which is familiar with the US visa requirement (I recommend Picture City) and ask for a digital copy aside from the prints (bring a USB drive they can save the photo to). You will need to upload your photo online when filling up the US visa application form. Your head in the photo must be thumb-sized. You will need to bring prints on your US Embassy interview date. This is actually just a back-up in case the photo you uploaded doesn't cut it. My hubby ended up taking his photo back since his uploaded one passed the US embassy standard.

  2. Go to https://ceac.state.gov/GENNIV/Default.aspx and read the instructions. Select your location from the drop down list. Click the "Start Application" button to start filling up the US visa application form online.
  3. Save after filling up each page, this is so that in case your connection breaks you can retrieve the latest version of your application.
  4. Honesty is the ONLY policy where US consuls are concerned. Fill up your application form honestly. Do you have close relatives in the US? Say so when the question pops up. They have ways of checking while you're being interviewed (the wonders of databases, the internet, and cross-referencing) and you're basically dead if they find out that you do when your form says you don't. You will get asked questions pertaining to the application form during your interview so if you were not the one who filled it up, familiarize yourself with what's in it.
  5. If applying for a child or a person with disability, indicate exactly WHO helped fill up the form in his or her behalf. They get really nitpicky about seemingly minor stuff like this. I know someone who was sent out to redo his kid's form because he indicated that no one helped in filling it out. The kid was 3 years old and so the consul said it's impossible for him to have had no assistance. Likewise, an elderly couple ahead of my hubby told the consul that their daughter filled up the form for them since they have a hard time using the computer. Problem is, they did not indicate that fact in their application and so they too were sent out to redo the form.
  6. Personal appearance is required for applicants of ALL ages. It is highly suggested that BOTH parents accompany a child applicant. My hubby and I accompanied our kids aged 3 and 7 at the time. Although I did most of the talking, consul asked for hubby's passport and directed a couple of questions at him.
  7. Print out your confirmation and accomplished application form using a laser printer (for the bar code which they will scan).
  8. Pay the US Visa application fee (about P6,400 in cash) at any BPI branch. The US visa site says US$160 but BPI actually does not accept dollars. Don't forget to bring your accomplished application form AND passport when paying. You will have to wait 24 hours after payment before you can attempt to schedule an interview appointment.
  9. If 24 hours have passed after you've paid your application fee, log on to http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph/ in order to secure an interview date. Go to the Non-Immigrant Visa Information section and click on Appointment Wait Times. Go to Current Appointment Availability. Select Manila then click Proceed. Look at the Tourism calendar for the month and then click Regular. Dates highlighted in green are the available interview dates. If there are no green dates you just have to keep checking daily until you see some (your application fee payment is valid for one year from date of settlement). Choose the date(s) you want. From here on, you can call 902-8930 and then schedule an appointment. Or you can schedule via the internet HERE. You will receive confirmation of your schedule and further instructions via email.
  10. Securing interview dates can be a pain. I had to check daily for 3-4 days before I could see any green highlighted dates. It's recommended that you start the application process three (3) months before your planned departure date.
During the interview:
  1. Be at the US Embassy at least 1 hour before your designated timeslot. Prepare to spend 3-4 hours of your time for this session. My hubby's interview sked was set at 7:45am. He finished around 10:30am. He was there by 6:30am.
  2. Do not bring gadgets of any kind -- that includes cellphones, MP3 players, USB drives, etc. There is no depository at the US Embassy and they won't let you in if you don't get rid of them.
  3. Bring your printed application form and interview confirmation letter plus supporting documents such as your NSO birth certificate, NSO marriage certificate, bank certificate(s), ITR (with employment certificate if working / business registration if self-employed), valid IDs, all your previous passports, previous US visa (if any), papers pertaining to assets you own, invitation letter (if any), and other documents that will help establish ties that bind you to the Philippines.
  4. Their foremost concern is that you do not become an illegal immigrant or TNT (Tago Ng Tago) so you have to prove to them that you have no such intention. Back in 1999 when my hubby first applied, all that was asked of him was a business card. Hubby said that in the waiting pavilion (this 2011), there's a sign that says everyone is presumed to be an immigrant unless proven otherwise... so you will spend your interview minutes convincing the consul that you will go back to the Philippines.
  5. You have to show that you can afford the trip. I know a family of five who presented a bank certificate showing P800,000 for their savings. The consul told them if all five of them went to the US (computing the cost of air tickets, hotels, and incidentals), their savings would be wiped out. They were all denied.
  6. A show of money or healthy finances does not guarantee approval. A friend of a friend who's around 20 years old presented bank records showing around P20 million in his name. The consul told him that it is impossible for someone as young as him to amass this kind of fortune and suspected that there was some monkey business involved. He was denied.
  7. Be calm and consistent. Answer clearly and look the consul straight in the eye when you address him. Shifty behavior sets off alarms in their heads. Remember, the slightest shadow of a doubt cast on your application can prod the consul to deny you.
  8. There is now what you call VRP or Visa Reissuance Program which is the equivalent of renewal when your US visa expires.
  9. There is no need to overdress for the interview. My hubby went in wearing jeans and a collared t-shirt. Just look neat and decent. I've seen whole families in suits and ties and tuxedos and well... it's just not necessary. The waiting pavilion where you will spend some time is not air-conditioned so wear comfy clothes.
  10. The most common questions asked are (based on my conversations with several applicants):
  • "What do you do for a living and how much do you make?"
  • "Why do you want to go to the United States?"
  • "Who are you travelling with?"
  • "When was your last trip to the United States?" (if previous visa holder)
  • "Do you have any relatives in the United States?"
  • "How long do you intend to stay in the United States?"

NOTE: It is entirely possible for family members all applying at the same time to have mixed results. I personally know a family of four wherein the parents were granted visas while the teenage kids were denied. Likewise, company backing is no guarantee for approval. There was a whole contingent with ten (10) people who were all denied even if they had papers and support from a prestigious multinational firm. They were lined up ahead of a friend of mine who saw the whole thing.

If your application is approved, your passport + visa will be sent to you via courier, it will get to you within 3-5 working days. You can track it HERE. If denied, your passport will be returned to you on the spot.

Approved visas can have a duration of anywhere from a few months to a maximum of 10 years (the usual is 1, 5, or 10 years). Some are good for a single entry while others are good for multiple entries. When I applied with my kids I was given 10 years while the two of them got 5 years each.

I hope this helps! Good luck! I will continually update this post as I talk to more US visa applicants in order to make this guide as informative as possible. More insights? Check out my transcription of the webchat with US consuls regarding Non-Immigrant Visas HERE.


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