This post is about my experience applying for a US visa. Well, to begin with, I have to say that I got my US visa in 2009, so some of the things I mention here may be outdated.
I was living in Dubai when I applied for a US visa, however, since I was a student in Dubai and was on summer vacations in India, I decided to apply for the visa while I was in India. Furthermore, the US embassy in India works on the basis of jurisdiction, so some people have to apply in Chennai, some in Mumbai, and others in New Delhi. At the time my address was in Coimbatore so I should have applied in Chennai. However, since I was going to spend a few days in New Delhi I emailed the embassy and asked them if I could do my visa interview in New Delhi. They replied saying that this would be fine. So, I filled up the online application and scheduled an appointment.
On my application I said that I would be going to the US sometime later in the year and answered every question HONESTLY. (this is important) It doesn’t matter if your answer doesn’t ‘sound right’ or doesn’t fit with ‘what they might expect’. Make sure you are honest in all your answers and you should be fine. For example, many people might say that you must appear for your interview in your jurisdiction. I emailed them and asked if I could do the interview in New Delhi, honestly explaining my reasons (that I would be flying back to Dubai shortly after so I wouldn’t have time to go to Chennai) and they were fine with that. The US embassy is able to handle slightly complicated requests.
I printed out all sorts of documents such as address proof, student visa copies, prior visa copies, my father’s bank statement, my mark-sheets from college, and more! I had been told that the US visa is VERY HARD TO GET! I had heard that several of my friend’s had been rejected! Armed with this huge file I arrived in New Delhi ready for my interview a few days later.
The day of the interview arrived and the guidelines clearly state that you should not arrive at the embassy more than 15 minutes prior to your interview time. (they won’t let you in..) So I arrived at 2.15PM (my interview was at 2.30PM). Sure enough, there were several people hanging out outside the embassy because their interview was scheduled for later. I went through security (no phones allowed) and then went in.
Here I was in a room with several seats lined up and several people quietly sitting and waiting for their turn. The seats were facing a wall and the wall was lined with several sections with thick glass windows. Each section had an interview officer. The US visa interviews are carried out in FRONT OF EVERYONE! Initially I thought this was quite a public way of conducting interviews but then I got lost in the fun. Fun? Yes!
You have to hear the stories that people come up with!
(I have taken the liberty to spell words phonetically as they were pronounced by interviewees, for the sake of authenticity of course)
Interview officer to a group of three ladies (mum and two daughters):
Officer: Good afternoon Ma’am. What is the purpose of your travel to the United States ?
Mum: I go there for a wadding of my brother.
Officer: I see, and this person that is getting married is related to you how ?
Mum: He is my mother’s sister’s sister’s son.
Officer: So.. are you first cousins or second cousins ?
Officer: I see. And how do you propose to finance this trip ?
Mum to daughters (whispering): Ab mein kya kahoon iske bare mein ?
(Now, what should I say about this ?)
Officer: Ma’am, aap ko jo bhi kehna hai mujhse kaho!
(Whatever you want to say, please say it to me..)
(I was like OH MY GOD! A WHITE DUDE JUST SPOKE PERFECT HINDI!)
Mum: My husband will pay.
Officer: I see, but here you say your husband is a government employee and he earns Rs. 3 Lakhs per year. Just the flight tickets for the three of you will cost 3 Lakhs.
(3 Lakhs is about $5000)
Mum: We have some propetee.
Officer: And what will you do with this property ?
Mum: We will SALL it and that way we can pay for the trip.
Officer: Ma’am, you will sell your house to pay for a trip to the US to attend your second cousin’s wedding ?
Officer: I’m sorry ma’am, I do not believe your application is genuine. I will have to decline your visa request.
The interview officers speak pretty good Hindi. As such they can understand whatever you discuss in front of them!
So another interview. This time a shifty guy with a big potbelly walks up to the glass.
Officer: Good afternoon Sir.
Potbelly Guy: Hello Hallo!
Officer: How are you today sir ?
Potbelly Guy: Good, good!
Officer: So, sir, what is the purpose of your visit to the US ?
Potbelly Guy: I go to U ASS and do bijness.
Officer: What kind of business ?
Potbelly Guy: I run real estate bijness so I would like to see how real estate bijness in U ASS works.
Officer: I see sir. And how will you pay for your trip ?
Potbelly Guy (shifting his weight from one foot to another..): I will pay with my savings.
Officer: How much is your yearly income ?
Potbelly Guy: (no response.. quietly shifting his weight hmm..ing)
Officer: Sir, how much is your income ?
Potbelly Guy: Well, sir.. income is a lot.
Officer: How much ?
Potbelly Guy: Actually sir, income is very HEAVY!
Officer: Sir, I need you to give me a number, some sort of estimate.
Potbelly Guy: Around 5-10 lakh Rupees per week.
(this is about $20,000 per WEEK!)
Officer: I see, do you have any bank statements or tax documents to prove this ?
Potbelly Guy: No, not really, most transactions in cash but genuine!
Officer: I’m sorry sir, but unless you can prove a documented source of income I won’t be able to grant your visa.
At this point I noticed that they give you a booklet with details as to why you may have been rejected and how you can improve your application in the future.
Officer: Sir, please take this booklet and refer to it for any future visa applications you may make.
Next interviewee was a short sardarji (a sikh) with a big red turban! He looked like he had dressed nicely for the interview. There were several people who had worn suits and showed up! I felt quite under dressed in my shorts and tee shirt. Why, they might just reject me for looking careless!
Officer: Hello, sir! What is your reason for wanting to visit the United States ?
Sardarji: Ecktually, I want to go there to expand my business!
Officer: And what business is that ?
Sardarji: Well, I make paper here in India. I want to go to US and learn how to make envelope.
Officer (confused): I’m sorry, you want to go to the US to learn how to manufacture envelopes?
Officer: And who will you be learning this from ?
Sardarji: I have some contacts.
Officer: Do you have any invitations from these businesses ?
Sardarji: No, I’ll call them when I’m there.
Officer: I’m sorry sir, your reason to go to the US does not sound genuine. I am sure India manufactures very good envelopes and unless you can present specific needs and an invitation I am unable to approve your visa.
By now my hands were clammy and I was feeling like this guy is going to grill me. I didn’t have enough money in the bank (I was a student, supposed to travel with my parents), I lived in Dubai and my address in India was in Coimbatore and I was supposed to apply in Chennai but I was applying in New Delhi. Surely that looked suspicious! All these people around me had dressed to impress and here I was looking like a ruffian. My chances were below zero.
But that’s when my turn came up.
Officer (with a smile): Hi sir, how are you doing today ?
Me (phew! okay he’s smiling): I’m good! How are you ?
Officer: Having a great day! So, what have we here.. ?
(flipping through my passport looking at visas and stamps..)
Officer: So, what do you do in Dubai ? (there were several visas and stamps)
Me: I’m a university student.
Officer: What do you study ?
Officer: What kind ?
Me: Electronics and Instrumentation.
Officer: I see, nice.. (continues flipping..) Which year are you in ?
Me: I’m in my 3rd year. Got another year left.
Officer (showing me a page in my passport with a Chinese Visa): And what were you doing in CHINA ?
Me: I went for a two week trip with my mom to Beijing and Shanghai.
Officer: I see.. (continues flipping through pages) and what were you doing in TURKEY ?
Me: It was my parents wedding anniversary so we went on a trip together.
Officer: I see, and when are you going to the US ?
Me: Sometime later this year, probably in November.
Officer: Who are you going with ?
Me: My parents.
Officer: How come your parents are not applying for visas ?
Me: My parents already have 10 year visas. They went to the US back in 2007.
Officer: What did they go there for ?
Me: Well, my dad’s a pilot and he went there for training on some aircraft. My mom then joined him there later for a short holiday.
Officer: I see.. you know what.. I’m going to approve your application.
Me: Oh, great!
Officer: Alright, have a good day and a great trip!
And that was it. I had this HUGE file with all these documents. He didn’t ask for a single one. I left the scary interview area and went out. I had skipped lunch and it was already around 4PM. Grabbed a subway sandwich.
My passport was ready the next day with the stamped US visa. Yay!
I didn’t end up visiting the US until 2012 because my parent’s plan didn’t come through. But, in 2011 and early 2012 I ended up using my US visa to enter Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and in 2010, Turkey! All these countries – and a few more – give Indians visa on arrival if you have a valid US visa.
For a person who travels a lot on an Indian passport, a US visa can come in pretty handy. Apart from the fact that you can visit the US multiple times in the next 10 years (and it is definitely worth visiting!) you can get into several countries with visa on arrival. Some of these are: Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and other Central American countries, Turkey, Taiwan, and a few more.
Of course, it’s easier to get the visa if all your documents are in order and you have some history of international travel. Another thing you should be able to demonstrate is a strong reason to return (in my case I was enrolled in a University and was in the 3rd year of a 4 year course..).
So that was my US visa experience!
In retrospect, it was one of the simplest (and most entertaining!) visa experiences I had.