U.S. Tourist Visa Interview Experience
I would like to note that this blog post is for the B1/B2 TOURIST VISA, if you're looking for someone with an experience of obtaining a fiance/immigrant/working/student visa, I suggest a Google search and cross your fingers that someone was cool enough (like me) to share their experience online.
Growing up, I would hear countless horror stories of people getting denied a tourist visa to the United States. So, you can imagine my anxiety when the Guam Visitors Bureau invited me to visit their island, knowing I had to go through the scary visa processing and the fee you pay for it isn't exactly tiny. That's still Php 7,360 from my own pocket. Even if I was earning, let's say a net income of Php 700,000 annually, that Php 7,000 is a tough gamble. You can kiss that money goodbye if you get denied, but so darn worth it if you get approved with a 10-year multiple-entry visa. Either way, there's no real way of knowing unless you try, right?
To prepare for my U.S. tourist visa interview, I did a quick Google search for blogs who wrote about their experiences. I would say it helped a lot in giving me an idea of how the interview processing will go, and so before I forget what transpired today, I'm here to give you a blow by blow of what happened in the 4 and a half hours it took for me to finally finish my interview.
Let me say this now: the U.S. Visa process is 70% easier than applying for the Schengen Visa (and I'm assuming the UK Visa considering their requirements are nearly the same as the Schengen), because the U.S. doesn't require a lot of documents, you fill up your application online through the DS-160 website, pay your fee, schedule your appointment through the website or call center (plus points for U.S. Embassy not needing a toll number! I find the most hassle part of applying for Schengen/UK is that you have to call to fill up your application and it costs Php 32/min! CRAZY) and just be there on appointment day. For the detailed instructions on how to go about the steps before you can schedule your interview, you can check out http://ustraveldocs.com/ph/
For my visa interview today I wore something casual, a collared dark blue dress and my black flats. No one at the embassy wore anything too formal, just look decent and presentable and that's what's important. They tell you to be at the embassy no earlier than 15 minutes before your interview time. The 15 minutes is used to go through security, before you can get to the visa processing hall with all the counters and consuls. My interview was at 8:30, I got to the embassy at 8:20, so everyone else who was scheduled at 8:30 was already inside and through with security. I was one of the last people of the batch to arrive, which I think is what caused me to take 4 hours in there! So really abide by the 15 minutes before the interview suggestion so you don't wait so darn long. They also have a strict no electronics rule so leave that with someone you know or don't bring any at all.
There are three steps: the first is pre-screening where they clarify if you've got the right appointment schedule or if you want to correct any mistakes on your DS-160 application form, step two is the finger scanning and then step three is the interview itself. Steps 1 & 2 took a total of at least 30-40 minutes. I'm assuming, because I wasn't wearing a watch and the embassy apparently doesn't believe in wall clocks either. We were then hauled outside the airconditioned halls to wait for our batch to get interviewed. This is where the waiting took at least 2 hours, but thankfully the waiting area was shaded and there was a slight breeze coming in from Manila Bay with the occasional waft of stinky bay water. I should've brought a book, but at least I was sitting next to a lady who I got to talk to and swap stories with; stories about what we do for a living, valuing yourself and the work you do and of course, traveling and U.S. Visa rejection stories -- as if we needed any more stress about it.
Interviews I witnessed
We were finally hauled back to the interview waiting area, and this is where things start to get interesting. The interviews are held in 10 counters with a consul behind each window. The consuls speak in microphones so you hear them properly, and you get a vague idea of why each person is applying. Here are the different situations I witnessed:
1. Middle-aged man needing to visit the U.S. for training
2. A family of one mother, 2 daughters and one son
3. Single women in their 20's 4. A single man in his 20's
5. Mothers (middle-aged and old) wanting to visit their children
6. Someone who over-stayed her visa and tried to hide it
There were a few more, but the 6 situations stood out to me the most. I was sitting closest to counter 9, so I heard majority of the interviews and people who got denied and approved. Just by listening to the interview and how the person responded, I could tell which ones had a chance and which ones didn't. The quickest giveaway is usually when you're not confident in your answers.
1. Middle-aged man needing to visit the U.S. for job training
the consul asked him questions over and over again because his answers were unclear. He initially said he was being sent by his company to train to work with helicopters, the consul wanted to know how long he has been working with the company, he said 7 years and so the consul followed up with a question on why he needed training if he's been with the company for 7 years. The interview kept going around in circles until even airplanes were being mentioned. The guy had long "Uhhhhh"'s in his answers, an indication that he wasn't confident or sure. The consul also asked if he had a problem speaking English and if he needed an interpreter (something they always do), and he said no he was fine with English. I think he eventually got denied because he walked out not looking too happy.
2. A family of one mother, two daughters and a son
Everyone else was approved except one daughter who could not establish her socio-economic ties to the country. This is one of the horror stories I've heard where they deny one child so the family has a reason to come back to the country. That wasn't true for another family who applied together, both parents and a son and daughter. They were all approved. The daughter was still in school, and the son had sufficient net income monthly to help prove his ties to the country, that being that he had a good paying job to return to.
3. Single women in their 20's or 30's
I witnessed and overheard a girl who looked about my age answer her interviews in a very meek manner. She told the consul she was invited by her aunt to visit the U.S., the consul then asked about her work and how much she earns (this part I did not hear her answer to because I suddenly got interested in another person's interview lol), the consul then asked if she's ever traveled outside of the Philippines. The girl answers that she has and mentions Myanmar. The consul asked what she did there, to which I believe the girl replied she was on a medical mission of some sort, then she asked if she had her previous passport as proof. The girl didn't. The consul asked in which city she went to in Myanmar, the girl replied but the consul said "That's practically the entire Myanmar, where there exactly?" and then the girl thought for a moment and said she didn't remember. This is a huge red flag because it gives an indication that she was lying, and she neglected to bring her previous passport as proof.
4. A single man in his 20's
I wasn't sure why he was applying for a tourist visa, but the consul asked if he was married or had children, what he did for a living, how much his net income was and if he's ever been outside the Philippines. His answers were that he was single, worked at his dad's business, his net income was around Php 10,000 and he's only been to Hong Kong. In the end he got denied for the sole reason that he couldnt establish socio-economic ties to the country. Sadly, this is the harsh truth. The consul ended the interview, he tried to explain but she just said, "Sir, the interview is done. I'm sorry." and handed him a blue slip of paper which explains why he got denied. He tried to ask a question, but she again cut him off telling him that she believes everything he claims but it is what it is and that he needed to go. I felt bad, but I had to agree with the consul. It just doesn't look too good if you're a certain age but don't earn enough money here.
5. Mothers (middle-aged and old) wanting to visit their children
their interviews with the consuls are the cutest. They state why they want to visit their children, where their children live and basically answer all the questions the consuls ask. If they get approved, the consuls have to make sure they understand completely how the tourist visa and overstaying works. It was kind of like a mother teaching her child why you shouldn't stick metal into sockets. It was pretty clear that a lot of old people overstay and probably argue that they didn't know how the visa worked. Ayayay, not an excuse, grandmas and grampas!
6. Someone who overstayed her visa
This one was something I didn't think I would witness. The woman had overstayed her visa and I think she tried to hide it. We just heard the consul telling her that she could see in the system that she overstayed by a year, and then she had been black listed from getting another visa. This goes to show that if you overstay, you can't get away with it even if you tried. The U.S. will have records, and won't let you slip through. So, don't overstay, for the love of God.
My Interview Experience
I ended up being interviewed by the consul nearest me, the one whose interviews I witnessed the most and heard numerous rejections. I was scared, but as I walked up to the counter, I had to just put my game face on and relax. My interview went like this:
Me: Hi, good morning.
Consul: Hello! So, why are you visiting the United States?
Me: Well, I was invited -- *she cuts me off*
C: Who invited you?
Me: the Guam Visitors Bureau
C: Ah. And why did they invite you?
Me: They have an annual music festival and they would like me to attend, as well as tour the island C: Are you a performer?
Me: No, I'm actually a blogger.
C: Oh, how long have you had this blog of yours?
Me: I've had it professionally established in 2011. It's my main source of income.
C: And how much net income would you get? Monthly?
Me: I would average it to about ******
C: Alright. But you said main source? Do you have other sources of income? Or are they related? Me: Yes, they're related. I have the blog and then I have my social media as well.
C: Okay. Have you traveled outside of the Philippines?
Me: Yes, last month I went to South Korea and in 2013 I visited Germany, France and the Netherlands.
C: What did you see in the Netherlands?
Me:*I was caught off guard cause I wasn't sure if she meant do or see? I also thought she might be hinting if I took weed lol my brain really needs to know when to shut up during important stuff such as this!* I toured, saw the Dam Square, visited the Anne Frank house, and did neighborhood walks because I was only there for 2 nights.
C: Do you still live with your folks?
Me: No, I technically moved out. I mean, it's my main home address but I moved in with my grandpa.
C: Okay, so who paid for your fabulous trip?
Me: The Guam--
C: I'm sorry, I meant your last trip to Europe?
Me: My parents did
C: Can I see the invitation letter from the Guam Visitors Bureau? *reads through it* What's a Chamorro?
Me: I think that's what you call the natives who live in Guam... I'm actually not so sure *chuckles*
C: Oh, well, you'll find out! Your visa has been approved, you'll get it in 5 days!
Me: Thank you! So, I guess I'm done here!
C: All done!
Me: Thank you, have a nice day!
Overall, I felt it was a very pleasant and relaxed interview. The consul, who I judged as being tough and a little scary, was actually easy to talk to. They're normal people just like you and me, and they're just doing their job. If anything, I actually commend them for the work they do, because it's definitely not an easy feat.
My takeaway from witnessing different situations today and my personal experience:
- Be honest. Be confident. Stay relaxed. When you speak, speak up and well like you would when having normal conversations.
- If you can't speak English well, request for an interpreter, it might help you get better chances because you'll be more confident in your answers rather than being too busy trying to speak proper English
- Some consuls won't give you a chance to explain, which sucks. But it is what it is and they're just doing their job.
- Bring your passports for proof of previous travel. Always.
- You can bring documents to support your claims, but they almost always never ask to see them.
- They do judge you, hard. But these consuls are trained well to know and read the people who apply. If you mean well, it will show. If you can support your claims, then all the more you have a chance to get approved.
- Every situation is different. I know people my age with children who were granted visas, even their kid gets granted a visa -- and you would think this could be a red flag for someone who could work illegally but it's all about establishing socio-economics ties. If you can prove that you will come back, like a good job or family, then you have a chance of getting approved. In my case, if I wasn't invited by the GVB and I applied without their help, I think my previous travel to Europe, the fact that I came home, and my current profession is proof of my socio-economic ties to the country.
- Every consul is different. Some will give you a chance to explain (such as the man who was unclear about his training in the US) while others will look at the facts you present and base the decision on that.
Now I know through first hand experience that the misconceptions are usually started by people who get denied visas and exaggerate the difficulty of obtaining one -- probably to justify their bitterness for getting rejected. So, if you ever get denied a visa despite being true and honest, don't get mad at the consul or the embassy for their strict rules. Get mad at the people before you who were granted a visa but abused the privileges by overstaying or becoming illegal immigrants. (P.S. I dislike those people. I don't care the situation you're in, there is always an honest way to do it. If other people can manage to work abroad legally, then you can too. No excuses. It's a very selfish thing to do, which has affected many people's lives. I'm sure some people will get offended by my opinion, but this is my take on it.)
So there you have it for my entire US tourist visa interview experience! I hope my run down of my experience will help enlighten and prepare you should you ever apply for a U.S. B1/B2 Visa! I won't know the duration of my visa until I receive it next week. I'll update the blog as soon as I get it! So fingers crossed for me! I have a travel bucketlist for the U.S. that I want to accomplish before I settle down :-P
UPDATE: I received my U.S. Visa 4 business days after my interview. I'm happy to announce that the U.S. Embassy has given me 10 years! *cries out of happiness*