U.S.A., the land of the free and home of the brave. And one of the most elusive countries to visit for us Filipinos. Most may agree that acquiring a visa is challenging and lengthy. But for me – lengthy and expensive, YES. Challenging, NO!
I am writing this article not because I just to share with you my experience but I also wanted to take out the stigma of getting denied all time.
How it all started
I have always wanted to visit the US and see New York and visit my relatives. But since it takes a lot of effort and cost to apply for a visa plus the denial stories from my friends, I always delay my application up to the point that I lose interest to pursue my plans of applying.
But just last January, a good friend of mine told me that her visa got approved (after 3 attempts). It was a fiance visa and she was already preparing her documents to migrate to the US. She told me that it was time for me to apply for a visa so I could pursue my dream vacation in New York.
And at that moment, I immediately decided to apply for a visa without having second thoughts. I told myself that the plan was long overdue, and I have spent a lot of money traveling to same country over and over again. I thought it was time to go to America!
I started my application by registering through the US Department of State Consular Electronic Application Center. The site will require you to encode all of the important information (travel plans, personal information, etc.) needed for your visa application.
It is important to fill out the form truthfully and in all honesty. You need to make sure that you take note of the information as it will be the basis of the consul’s interview questions. Should your answers be different from the information you put in, then there’s a high chance of getting denied.
After the online application, I went to BPI the following day to pay the application fee of $160. At that time, I paid around P7,800. The payment is important because without it, you will not be able to schedule for an appointment. I need to pay the fee right away since I wanted to schedule the appointment in time for my visit to Manila and save on travel cost. After a few hours, I was able to schedule an appointment online and the best part was that my preferred schedule had 1 more slot left! *And I thought it was a good sign*
Research and Preparation of Documents
I had 3 weeks left prior to my scheduled appointment. And it was just enough for me to do a lot of research since my plan was to make sure that I make it on the first try.
You need to make sure that you nail the first interview. I know some friends who applied several times and still, they get denied because nothing has changed from their last application. I think the more denials you get, the lower the chance you get approved. Unless you can convince to the consul that you have something to prove and your intent is really for travel and not end up as a illegal immigrant.
After doing a lot of research, I listed down the top common items that one has to remember in order to pass the application:
- Prepare all essential documents. These documents may not be presented during the interview, but always have these documents handy. In red are the non-negotiable and important documents.
- Certificate of Employment (if employed)
- BIR Form 2316
- Proof of business (BIR docs, business permits, etc)
- Birth Certificate / Marriage Certificate
- Bank Certificate to prove your capacity to spend for the trip
I have a little over P1xx,xxx in my certificate. Remember, the amount should be able to cover the entire expenses during the trip.
- Invitation letter (if you were invited by a family member)
- Philippine Passport (should have at least 6 months coverage prior to its expiration). Counting should start on your preferred date to travel.
- Photo (US Visa size)
- During the interview, you need to be presentable. Wear something based on your profession. If you are a student, then wear a uniform. I wore a light coat with a shirt inside, jeans and rubber shoes. I want to make an impression that it was my regular get up in the office.
- Remember the first tip? Recall all the information you have encoded in the online application form. Review your notes, anticipate the questions and answer them based on the information that you have provided. So far, these were the top common questions that have appeared several times in the internet:
- What is the purpose of your travel?
- When will you be traveling to the US?
- Do you have relatives in the US? Where are they staying? What’s their job? Are you staying with you relatives?
- What is you job?
- How much are you earning?
- Who is paying for your trip?
- Review all items all over again, you need to answer all questions truthfully. Always remember that you need to prove that you will not end up as an immigrant and you answers to the questions are very important.
Now this is the most exciting part of the entire process. Just like any other interviews, the nervousness is quite overwhelming. My appointment was at 8:00am so made sure that I am prepared by 6:00am. I didn’t get much sleep because we watched a concert the night prior. I arrived at the embassy at around 7:20 and there was a long queue for the 8:00am appointment.
Take note that electronic gadgets or anything that has an on/off button are not allowed. I left my mobile phone at the store beside the embassy for a fee of P200. I had to leave my stuff or else I won’t be able to message my best friend who’s left at the hotel.
After an hour of waiting outside, we were asked to fall another line in front of the embassy. But this time, we were asked to present our passport and DS-160 confirmation page. I also prepared the OR from BPI on the payment but they didn’t bother to check it. I suggest you keep the OR as they might ask you to present it.
After which, we were asked to go inside the office. We had our bags checked, then fell in line again for the appointment number. Once done, we stayed at the waiting area outside of the main office for the bio metrics and pre-screening.
30 minutes have passed then we were asked to go through pre-screening. I could still remember the nervousness (which was funny) as I was confirming my name and birth date. I was also shaking while I was doing the bio metrics. It was like I have never done those before. But of course, I need to make sure I look relaxed all the time. After I was done with the first 2 steps. I was asked to stay again outside of the main office for the final interview with the consul. Hearing those words made my heart jump.
I thought the waiting was fast but I suddenly realized that I have been waiting for over an hour. Hungry, tired and sleepy. No mobile phone or tablet to keep me amused so I settled on counting the bricks around the area.lol
It was already 12:30pm when it was our batch’s time to go inside the main office for the interview. As I went inside, I immediately sat on the area near the consuls so I can hear the interviews and take some tips. I apologize but I could not possibly provide you with a blow-by-blow details on some of the interviews as I was busy judging who will be denied or approved. As I was listening to the interviews, I can already tell if the person will be denied or approved though their reasoning and body language. But there were actually some surprises especially when they get approved despite providing insufficient answers.
20 minutes have passed and my number was not yet called. I was hoping that I won’t be assigned to the consul with the most number of denied applications. The numbers flashed were random so you really wouldn’t know if you are going to be called next. But alas! My number was called…
I immediately stood up in front of the applicant (whose still talking to the consul) and waited for my queue. I gave a hand sign to the consul if she was ready to entertain me (I did that so the consul would think I was too polite to check if she was ready). She nodded and I immediately put my game face on, handed by passport, photo and DS-160 confirmation page.
Consul: What’s your name?
Me: (Gave my complete name).
Consul: So what’s the purpose of you travel?
Me: For vacation.
Consul: Where will you be going?
Me: My plan is to go to New York and spend a week there, and then spend another week in Houston where I will be spending another week.
Consul: So that’s a total of two weeks?
Consul: What’s the name of your relative and your relationship?
Me: (Gave the name), she is the sister of my father.
Consul: Where will you be staying in Houston?
Me: (Provided the address).
Consul: What’s her job?
Me: (Provided the profession).
Consul: So who will be paying for your trip?
Me: I am. But like what I mentioned, I will be spending a week with my aunt so we already talked about it that while I am there, she’ll take care of my accommodation, food and a tour of the city as well.
Consul: So what’s your job?
Me: (Provided my job and job description).
Consul: How much are you earning? And how long have you been working with the company?
Me: Pxx,xxx and I have been working with the company for 6 years and 6 months.
Consul: Are you single?
Me: Yes I am. And I live with my dad.
Consul: So you’re on vacation?
Me: Like today? (Yes, I went on VL for this trip)
Consul: No, I mean for you trip to the US.
Me: Oh yes, I will be using on personal time off.
Consul: *short pause* Okay, your VISA IS APPROVED. You’ll get your passport in a week.
Me: Thank you (in a calm, but screaming inside voice)!
I immediately exited and I almost left my umbrella because of too much excitement. Outside the embassy, I was jumping for joy because I was approved during first try!
I got my passport after 6 days and guess what? 10 years multiple entry visa!
Now here are my post interview top tips:
- Always prepare your documents. My documents were not asked (because the were never required) but it’s better to prepare all necessary items should they ask for it.
- Be confident! Smile all the time. Greet the consul by asking how they are doing. Do not ever show that you are nervous because they might think that you are hiding something.
- Always tell the truth. I can still remember the US embassy slogan “ang sikreto ay walang sikreto”, meaning there are no secrets or tricks in passing the interview. You need to confidently answer the questions honestly because the consul has the tendency to probe and if you can’t answer, then you’re done!
- You need to prove to the consul that you have strong ties in the Philippines and that you are going back. Proof includes your job, your family or your properties.
- Provide short answers. Answer quickly as it would show that you know what you are saying. If you need and interpreter then go ahead. But I strongly suggest that you respond in English since you need to speak the language all the time in the U.S.
Now that you have learned something. I hope that I have somehow helped you answer some of your questions. Let me know if you need something specific.