First of all, everything you need to know on the visa application procedure is here. More than the “objective” part of process, what I want to share, and I think what you are more interested in knowing, is my experience in applying for a nonimmigrant visa.
As you will see in the link above, there are four steps. Here is how I went through them:
(1) Payment of application fee. I got my visa application payment slip here. Fee is US$160, or PHP7,360*. I printed a copy and went to BPI to pay (there is also an online option if you have a BPI account).
(2) Preparation of required documents. There are only three documents required to be able to schedule an interview: The DS-160 ONLINE NONIMMIGRANT VISA ELECTRONIC APPLICATION, your passport, and a 2×2 picture. I did not do this in one go but it’s ok since you can always save your draft application in their portal.
(3) Scheduling an interview. I booked my appointment online, making sure I had with me the requirements above as well as the receipt number in my payment slip. In choosing a date, I considered the time I needed to obtain the other documents I may need to present during the interview.
(4) Interview. A.K.A the most dreaded part of the process.
I chose an 8:30 appointment for the visa application. I arrived at 8, so close to being late!
I need not say this really, but I will anyway: allot more than enough time for travel as the Manila traffic can be horrendous, as was in my case.
Upon arriving, there were a few vendors outside, selling pens. Do not be fooled. You will never need a pen during the process.
Because applicants are not allowed to bring any gadget (meaning no phones, tablets… not even a USB!), among other things, and the embassy has no storage facility, plan on it early on. No problem if you have a car or a non-applicant companion who’s willing to count sheep outside as s/he waits for you. As I had neither, I just brought my documents in a clearbook, IDs (which had no use as it turned out), and some money.
Upon entering, I got my number from the ticket queue and went to the outdoor waiting area. After about 40 minutes, it was finally my turn to go inside, where a bigger waiting area was located, and where the interviews happen. Note that a family or group of friends traveling together are given just one number, are interviewed together, but with merits considered individually (except for little kids of course)
STEP 1: Pre-screening
They asked for my confirmation slip, passport, and a 2×2 photo ID.
In case you failed to bring a photo, there’s a Kodak stall right after the ticket queue, before you enter the first waiting area.
STEP 2: Fingerprinting
Was asked to go to the queue area and wait for my number to show onscreen for fingerprinting.
STEP 3: Interview
Was asked to go to the queue area again, this time for the final interview. This was the longest wait. I sat in front of the interview windows and got to listen to the questions, the answers, the approvals, and the denials. These are what I gathered from that eavesdropping:
(i) No travel history reduces your chance of being granted a visa. I only witnessed one approval with this case, and the consul said “I normally don’t approve visa application with people having no travel history, but because you….” I didn’t hear the rest of the sentence but it’s safe to say that the applicant showed strong support for her case.
ii) For the yuppies who are just starting their career, it may prove challenging to establish that you have enough ties with the PH to not want to work (and illegally stay) in the US. There was one family – parents, a 23-yr old already-working daughter, and a much younger daughter – who all got approved except for the 23-yr old daughter. Sad. More than how you will support yourself in the US, the more important thing is establishing your ties to the Philippines through your family, work, possessions, etc. Of course, what constitutes as “sufficient ties” will depend on the consul’s assessment of each case, so there is an element of luck (or misfortune) here.
(iii) For those with boy/girlfriend in the US, still best to have a strong case as an individual rather than solely depend on the guarantee of partner. There was one girl who had a boyfriend of 2 yrs in the US whose application was not approved, although she was asking for that denial, really, when she answered “no work, but manages a sari-sari store in the province” to the consul. I mean, she might have had a better chance if she said that she works as a full-time manager of a family-owned store. How you present yourself and how you phrase your answers can make or break you.
(iv) There is no telling what documents will be demanded of you, nor what questions will be asked. There are cases when the consul does not even look at a single document you have, and there are cases when the consul asks for the full binder of documents you brought. You can be asked anywhere from “How many countries have you visited in the last three years?” to “How much is your monthly salary?” or “What do you intend to do in the US?” The key is mental preparation and honesty. Also, look pleasant. SMILE. Appear, or BE confident.
(v) If you get denied and wish to reapply, wait a few months, when some things might have improved in your situation already. There are two cases I witnessed where they reapplied 2 weeks-1 month after they got denied, and the only question the consul asked was: “What changed in your situation compared to when your application got denied 2 weeks ago?” Of course, the consul was answered with silence.
OK, now to my story.
I had listed in my mind the things I had going for me:
– I have a stable job
– I have been traveling a good lot for the past few years
– I have used Schengen, Japanese, Taiwanese, Thai (business visa) and Korean visas and a still-valid UK visa
– I have no relatives in the US
– I am paying for all expenses during the entire trip
…and also the things that might not sit well with the consul:
– I am single
– I didn’t have a lot in my bank account at that time, considering I had planned for a 3-week trip
– I was traveling alone
I reckoned the pros outweigh the cons. And I was right. When it was my turn, the Chinese-American consul, having read through my online application on his screen, just asked me the companies I have worked for and the company I work for now, and what I wanted to see in New York. I mentioned the museums, and immediately he suggested the Guggenheim museum and related the story of how he used to live in Manhattan. He basically just chatted with me. He didn’t ask for any document, although I did bring the following:
– Bank statement
– Certificate of Employment
– Travel Insurance
– Photocopy of credit cards
A few more anecdotes later, he said my application is approved and that I should wait a few days for the passport with visa to be delivered. A few days later, it arrived: 10-year multiple-entry visa. Praise God!
In conclusion, I think the US visa application process is one of the more reasonable ones, and one of the easiest (but no less nerve-wracking). You just have to be prepared – with the documents and with how you answer the questions. Unlike other visa application processes, there is no need to present plane and hotel booking nor a detailed itinerary. Personal appearance is required though, and the visa is quite expensive if you get denied. If approved, PHP7,360* for 10 years is more than fair.
*subject to fx rate applied by the US embassy at the time of payment