U.S. Visa Application in Manila - Tips and Lessons Learned

5:22:00 PM

Background photo from the Internet 
I’ve already prepared myself to blog about “How My American Dreams Came Crashing Down” or “How One Can Cope up with Visa Denials” just in case my visa is denied. Because compared to my Schengen visa application, I’m only half prepared for the US visa. I was not able to read through as many forums and blogs about the interview process as I wanted to.
This time, the only source I had was the US Travel Docs website. Nothing more. Unlike in Schengen visa where I had the luxury of time to read through soooo many articles online before I finally lodged my application at the French Embassy.

I was filled with doubts.

Aside from my travel history and clear intentions to never overstay in the US, I have nothing to back up my social and economic ties in the Philippines. I am single and still living with my parents. I have no properties, bills, credit cards under my name. Even though I believe I have an in demand job here in the country, I still don’t think it can balance out the “ties” that I need to prove during the interview. There’s nothing to be afraid of they say. Sure! But more than stuttering in the interrogation process, I’ll definitely be more regretful if I didn’t take the chance to apply and not be able to see New York and California ever! And although I had hesitations, I knew… I will win this!!! I should win this! Because, Php7680.


Reasons Why You Shouldn’t be Afraid to Apply for a U.S. Visa

• According to Nonimmigrant Visa (NIV) Statistics, the Philippines has a 27.96% refusal rate for a tourist visa. - Contrary to stories that say the refusal rate is around 90%.
• 1.8% of total NIV issuances is for the Philippines. - This means that around 180,000 of 10 million visas were granted for Filipinos in 2015 alone.
• The requirements for a US visa are straightforward compared to Schengen visa and there’s no additional cost to schedule an interview. The US embassy hotline is a PH number so there’s no outrageous Php 30/minute cost.
• Usually, the consuls will not review your documents.
• The interview questions are not hard to answer, they are just practical questions.
• Believe that the consuls do not discriminate in choosing applicants in whatever way :)

If you’ve already made up your mind...

Here are the Things You Need to Do Before the Interview

1. Pay the MVR (machine readable visa) application fee
• Each applicant is required to pay this non-refundable fee whether a visa is issued or not
• You can pay either through over the counter or online. Here’s the link to bank and payment options
• The visa fee in peso may vary per the exchange rate at the time you apply, but it’s fixed at $160. This page will tell you the current exchange rate and until when it is valid.
• For BPI customers, the US Travel Docs page will generate an 8-digit reference digit which you need to enrol in your BPI online account. After that you can already pay it through BPI’s Bills Payment option! More info here.

2. Complete the DS-160 form (Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application)
• After trying the form for almost 5 times, I learned that there may be different set of questions per applicant depending on many variables such as if you had previous visa denials, had lost passports etc. So don’t panic if you noticed the same. Also please note that their website is slow and it sometimes wouldn’t trigger the save point. Always keep your application ID so you can retrieve your data after the session has expired.



3. Schedule your consular interview by calling any of these numbers (632) 976-8500, (632) 976-8501 or (632) 976-8502. Hours of Operation: Monday - Friday from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM
• You can lodge more than one application via the same call
• You will be asked for the following:
- Name(s) of applicant
- Passport number
- 8-digit MVR reference number (used for bank payment)
- 10-digit barcode number from the DS-160 confirmation page
- Email address
- Delivery address
Alternative: I haven’t tried to complete this one but you can also schedule your appointment online by signing up in the US embassy website here. At the left part of the page, you will see the next available day when you can go for an interview. The date changes when you refresh the page. I’m not sure how it’s being done by the system so I opted to set the appointment by calling their hotline (it’s faster!).

4. Prepare your supporting documents - though may or may not be requested at the discretion of the consular officer. Just in case the consul will ask me for documents, I brought with me my COE with compensation, 2015 ITR, bank cert and 3 months payslips. If you want to know the official list of supporting documents, click this. I summarized them here as well:
• Current proof of income, property or assets
• Your travel itinerary
• A letter from your employer detailing your position, salary, how long you have been employed
• Pay slips from the most recent three months
• If visiting a relative, bring photocopies of your relative's proof of status (e.g. Green Card, naturalization certificate, valid visa, etc).
Yosemite National Park in Spring! Photo from: http://www.desktopimages.org

Outside the U.S. Embassy

Contrary to the popular belief (that you have to line up early in the morning), you only need to wait outside the embassy 15 minutes before your schedule. They will not let you in even if you’re super early so save your time and just be there 15 minutes early. As a rule of thumb, anything electronic is not allowed inside the embassy and that there’s no counter where you can leave your things. You will see some people who offer to keep your phones, chargers and headsets for a price (I think it’s 250php, with no guarantee if you’ll get it after your interview). Avail their service at your own risk.

...Also, don’t attempt to do these 2 boo-boos!
1. Chargers and earphones are considered electronic items even if they’re useless without a phone. Because I literally ignored the signs, I brought them inside the embassy and they were detected by the x-ray scanner. Unfortunately, they had to send me out to leave these things somewhere outside the embassy. I left mine at a plant box outside (because I didn’t have the time to go back to the parking lot) and they were gone after the interview. I just lost 2 chargers and an earphones which are all original. Damn it!

2. Seriously, you shouldn’t be smiling in your 2x2 photo. Because I wanted to look good in my visa, I tried to submit a photo with a natural smile and ears unexposed. Though my friends already told me about this, I didn’t listen to them. Coz the website says it’s okay to smile for as long as you’re not grinning and your face isn’t that distorted. So strike two, I had to be sent out of the interview hall again to have my photo retaken at the Kodak booth (Php 80).

Bring the following during your interview

• Appointment letter (all pages)
• Your original MRV fee receipt. You will not be interviewed if you fail to bring your receipt
• Valid passport
• DS-160 confirmation page
• 2”x2” color photo (neutral facial expression and not smiling, ears exposed)
• Supporting documents
NYC skyline! Photo from: http://cdn.wallpapersafari.com

Here Goes My Interview Experience!

If you stumbled upon my post about how we got our Schengen visa (see Schengen Visa Application at the French Embassy, Manila), you’ll know that there were only 2 questions asked during the interview: if we’ve ever been to Europe and if my boyfriend and I will be travelling together. It’s a pleasant experience nevertheless! I expected harsher questions for the US visa interview because of stories I heard from my friends. And I prepared myself for the worst! Then it turned out, and I realized that the consuls’ questions are not harsh. Maybe it’s just how people trying to hide something that makes the interview process an unpleasant experience. Honestly though, it was nerve-wrecking to line up in Step #3 of the NIV process. You’ll see people get the dreaded “blue slip” and cry after leaving the interview counter. You’ll see disappointed faces. I didn’t know how should I feel about lining up to a disappointment. Anyway! While waiting for our turn, I did my job to eavesdrop to those currently being interviewed- just to prepare myself for the battle and of course, for me to share something to the readers of my blog! Here are some of the interview questions I heard while I’m in queue. Please note that I did my best to recall the details, but these are the only ones I can transcribe.

Applicant 1: A Lady in her late 30s. I’m not sure of her job here in PH (Denied)
Consul: How much are you earning?
Lady: 400,000php
Consul: Is that in a year?
Lady: Uhm, no.
Consul: I’m sorry madam but you do not qualify for a visa *gives the blue slip*
* I wasn’t able to hear clearly the questions before the earnings part but I heard the lady’s voice was shaking.

Applicant 2: Married couple in their late 50s. They were interviewed prior to us. (Denied)
Consul: Do you know anyone in the states?
Wife: Yes, my son is in the US.
Husband: I have a sister in the US.
Consul: *leaves the window for 3-4minutes* (I think she verified something in their system)
Consul: Madam, didn’t you know that your son is staying illegally in the United States? (She totally emphasized the word illegally)
Consul: He’s supposed to come back last June, but he didn’t.
Consul: I’m sorry madam but the consulate is verrry strict on this one *gives the blue slip*

Applicant 3: Young boy with his mother. I heard their interview while the consul was checking Applicant 2’s application (Approved)
Consul: Have you ever been to Disneyland?
Kid: *very excited* Yes, in Hong Kong!
Consul: And Universal Studios?
Kid: Yes, I’ve been to Universal Studios Singapore as well.
Consul: Do you want to see the one in the United States?
Kid: Absolutely!!!
Consul: *talks to her mom to hand over their passports* Your visa is approved. Enjoy Disneyland!

Our interview:
Consul: How are you related to each other?
Me: He’s my fiance.
Consul: When are you planning to get married?
Us: Late next year.
Consul: What’s the purpose of your travel to the states?
Me: For vacation in New York and San Francisco.
Consul: So, what do you do for work?
Me: I am *my position in the company* for *nature of job* of *some IT product*.
Consul: Is that online or in office?
Me: It’s in an office.
Consul: Oooh, in *sees the company name*. How long have you been with this company?
Me: For 3 years already.
Consul: And you sir?
Krz: I work as a *states his job*
Consul: How long have you been with this company?
Krz: 8 years.
Consul: Have you travelled outside the Philippines?
Me: Yes, we went to Europe last year.
Consul: Where in Europe?
Me: France, Italy *I was interrupted here*
Consul: What did you do there (in France)?
Us: We went to see the Louvre, went on Seine River cruise, climbed the Eiffel tower and visited 3 other museums.
Consul: May I know who will pay for this trip?
Us: Both of us.
Consul: Do you have any relatives in the states?
Krz: Yes, my brother.
Consul: What does he do in the states?
Krz: *states his brother’s work and how he obtained a visa*
Krz: Do you want me to show a copy of his visa?
Consul: No, it’s fine.
Consul: Okay, your visa is approved.
Me: Yay! Thanks!

We went out of the embassy with all smiles forgetting about the 20php change I supposed to get at the Kodak booth (because I had my photo retaken). I also checked the plant box outside the embassy where I kept my 2 chargers and earphones, only to find out that they’re all gone for good. But since I was very happy about the visa, I didn’t feel so terrible about the lost items.

The Bottomline After Surviving Both U.S. and Schengen Visa Applications

Requirements
US
Visa*
Schengen Visa
Is required during interview? [Yes/No]


Visa fee
$160
€60
Fee to schedule for an appointment
₱0
₱35/min
Round trip flight reservation
No
Yes
Passport size photo
Yes
Yes
Cover letter
No
Yes
Day-to-day itinerary
No
Yes
Proof of accommodation or hotel vouchers
No
Yes
Proof of employment
No
Yes
Leave of absence signed by the employer
No
Yes
Income tax return
No
Yes
Recent bank certification
No
Yes
Last three months statement of account
No
Yes
Birth certificate
No
Yes
International travel insurance
No
Yes
* Anything marked as “No” is optional. You may bring them as your supporting documents

Trust that the consulate does not discriminate anyone who applies for a visa. I didn’t feel judged by how I spoke the English language, or by the way I dressed up that day. Their job is to assume (or scare) people who plan to never go back to the Philippines. There’s nothing to be afraid of if you have clean intentions. You just have to be confident with your answers and prove to the consul that you will go back here after seeing the states. Interviews are made to give us a chance to present ourselves in a manner that can convince them of our economic ties in the country. Never lie about the information you’ll give to the consul as they definitely can find out about your background and whereabouts.

Good luck on your US visa application!


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2 comments

  1. Hello!! Found out only the passport was being taken away in the interview. I printed all out but I guess they change their system and only needed the passport haha!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay! Good to know you got approved coz they will take your passport if you're denied anyway! At least, you came in prepared :D

      Thanks for dropping by my blog, Irene! ❤❤❤

      Delete

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