Thursday, August 30, 2012

US Visa Primer (or for those like me, are obsessive compulsive)

OK. I finally did it. After doubting for so long since I am single, 29, working in this company for five years, I decided to give it a shot.

After months of reading through pinoyexchange and preparing my documents, I finally decided to really be dead serious in getting a US visa. Note that I have no solid plans in going to the US and I just want to have that flexibility of having the option of flying to the US once Cebu Pacific goes long haul =). I have to also mention that this US visa, once granted, will also give me access to Taiwan without paying their very expensive visa fee =).

Here are the documents that I prepared prior to securing an interview at the US  Embassy:

  • Certificate of employment stating my position, annual salary in USD, and length of stay in the organization
  • Bank certificate amounting to Php xxx,xxx
  • Passports
  • Scanned picture following the specs on the US Embassy website
  • List of previous travels (14 countries in the last five years)
  • Land titles and car registration
  • Credit card bills
  • Certificate of tax exemption
Filling out the DS 160 form

After securing all of these, I proceeded to fill out the DS-160 form. It was a lengthy online form, complete job history with salary details, travel history, relatives in the US, and the like. I have uploaded it, then paid the fee at BPI. Then, after waiting for four hours, I accessed the USTRAVELDOCS website as I intend to select an interview schedule. The first problem that I had was entering the website since it was asking for an MRV code, and me thinking that such a code is the one that appears in the receipt given to me by BPI. I attempted in vain to enter the said code that appeared on the payment slip. Feeling hopeless, I decided to call BPI and here's the TIP #1: your MRV code is your passport number.

Once I entered the passport no., I was taken to the page where I can select the interview. The earliest schedule was August 08 so I selected that particular date, printed the confirmation letter and then checked my documents.

Here's another clumsy moment. In the DS 160 form, I totally forgot to put in my MIDDLE NAME after my FIRST NAME. Panicked, I called up the hotline to have this corrected. The lady on the phone just told me that this was not a problem and that I just need to simply log in, access my DS 160 and just edit it. SHe further told me that there's no need to select a new interview date.

HOWEVER,  as you guys might perhaps know, the date that I selected was the date Habagat ravaged the metropolis, with the US Embassy closing for 3 working day. Thus, I was compelled to reschedule. Initially, I was thinking that there has to be an error in the USTRAVELDOCS website since it was showing December 2012 as the earliest interview date. It proved to be true since I accessed it again 2 hours later and I see slots for the last week of August and finally, I was able to select a new date.

The Game Plan 

I had it all sorted out in my mind. While preparing for the interview, I kept on rehearsing answers but I figured, I need more than just praying hard (which of course helps!). I took it upon myself that I need to IMPRESS, that I need to STAND OUT from the rest of the applicants. My mental preparation reminded me of the last time that I stood in front of a panel defending my thesis.

And thus, I was able to decide that for this visa interview, I will be "friendly" to the Consul, realizing that there are many people that needs to be interviewed and that I only have 5 minutes to make sure I drove home the ever important message: I will not overstay in your country.

The scene that I had in mind was like two officemates meeting in a coffee shop early morning, buying coffee to-go before reporting for work. At the back of my mind, the conversation will have to be clear, concise, focused and at the same time making sure that I can achieve this in the next 5 minutes.

The Interview Day

My interview was at 6:30 AM and so I was surprised to see so many people at 5:30 AM in Roxas Blvd. I was dressed casually, just a polo and slacks. There were so many vendors/fixers/"miron" there. Some are screaming that they offer "CUSTODY SERVICE FOR CELLPHONES, USBs and the like". Others are saying that visa applicants should have black pen, while others are saying that the pictures should be taken by them to ensure that this will pass muster the scrutiny of the Consul. I remember one vendor saying to the poor visa app: "Paano ka magkakavisa kung mali ang picture mo? Dito ka samin magpakuha para sigurado."  Wow. I just ignored them and just checked all my docs for the nth time.

Since there was nothing to do, I started conversation with a teacher in front of me and instantly, we became friends. Her profile: a single mom, 52 years old, a public school teacher. Funny but what she had with her is just a COE. She was saying that her only hope is for the consul to be compassionate since she's a teacher and her visit will be financed by a friend in the US. I know this this will almost always result in a denial since the consul will evaluate based on the personal capability of the applicant to finance the travel and touring US.

It is easy enough to categorize the visa applicants that I saw during my interview day. Most, if not all, were dead nervous. They were all staring at the empty sky, perhaps praying to high heavens that they will get a visa (or perhaps they were memorizing answers?).

At about 6AM, we were all ushered by the guards to enter the embassy. Routine bag and body scans were done, then numbers were issued. The first step is the checking of confirmation letter and other docs and then finger scanning. The last part was the interview with the consul.

The Interview

Numbers were being flashed on the screen together with the corresponding  window. When my number appeared, I was the third in line. The consul was a white guy, mid 30s, and he seemed generally nice. Here's how the interview went with the first guy:

Consul: So you own a farm?

Applicant: Yes.

Consul: So how much do you earn in a year?

Applicant: (Stammers) I, err, think 4000.

Consul: Dollars? That's a lot.

Applicant: It's pesos sir.

Consul: I see. If that's the case, I am sorry but I cannot give you a visa for now.

Applicant: (Attempts to reason out). Sir, you see, this is my ___th time of applying. My brother, sister, they are waiting there.

Consul: (Listening to the reason of the applicant and seemed genuinely concerned) I am sorry but I will have to deny your application. You can reapply again.

The first guy was denied. Next came this mother with a toddler in tow..

Consul: How's your day?

Applicant: I'm good. You?

Consul: I'm ok. So you're goin to the US. What's your job and your husband?

Applicant: I'm a supervisor for 5 years at HSBC. My husband is a retired US navy.

Consul: I see. Can I see the birth certificate of your son?

Applicant: (Hands over the birth certificate). Here it is.

Consul: (while typing) So what countries have you visited in the past five years?

Applicant: (mentioned Asian coutnries)

Consul: OK, your visa's approved.

Applicant: Thank you.

I was intently listening on the questions so when my turn came, here's how our conversation went:

Consul: How are you doin?

Me: I feel great! And you?

Consul: Wow, a different reply. Am so used to hearing Fine thank you. So what's your name?

Me: I am ___________.

Consul: So what's your job?

Me: I am a _________ in __________.

Consul: So you are a lawyer workin in a law firm?

Me: Nope, never dreamed of it. I work in a research organization producing researches on ___________ and its impact on ___________.

Consul: (chuckles) I see. So why do you wanna go to US, I think in your form you mentioned Hawaii? and for how long?

Me: It's actually Guam. No solid plans yet but perhaps five or six days will be enough. I've been all over Asia and US is now the next on my list (smiles cordially at him). I try to restrict my flying time to about 8 hours max.

Consul: You got relatives in the US?

Me: This maybe difficult to believe but I have yet to hear a relative of mine in the US.

Consul: I see. OK, your visa is approved. It will be delivered to you in about a week or so.

Me: Thanks.

 After the interview

I looked for my teacher-friend and sad to say, she was denied. According to her, the consul who interviewed her was a black woman. Very strict and asked so many questions.

And so, a week later, my passport was delivered. I was given a 10-year multiple entry visa.


1 comment:

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