Thursday, April 9, 2015

B1 visa interview

This blog shares my experience on B1 US visa process. By no means this is the de-facto guide to attend the B1 visa interview. I wanted to share my experience as there are so much hype around getting a US B1 visa.

When my friends came to know that I have this business visit to the US, everyone was looking at me like I have achieved something which was not achievable. I was thinking what is so great about a visit to US. Till date I am not able to figure what is such a big deal. I feel it has to do with the hype created by movies and people. It could also be to do with the fact that the world thinks US as the most advanced nation in the world. Whatever the reason is, I never felt it as a big thing. For me it was the same even if I had travelled to any other country. I remember a year back, there was talk going on in the company for a possible visit to the UK. People never showed these kind of emotions at that time. Weird.

Once people knew about my travel plans, there were all sorts of advice given to me. The first set of advice was about the B1 visa application and process. Some said take the help of a consultant so that you don’t screw up things. Some said you should schedule the visa interview in the morning. There is high chances that you will get the visa. The reason was that the visa officer will be in good mood as he wouldn’t have met many applicants. Then there was advice on how you need to dress and present yourself. How the documents needs to be arranged? How early you should reach the consulate? You should not talk this talk that. There were lot and lot of suggestions. In short people made me feel that this was some sort of a battle. People made me feel that getting a B1 visa for US is mission impossible.

I went ahead and did some googling on B1 visa process and filled the visa application myself. The online application had lots of questions and took time. But was not difficult. At least not as difficult as the 10th exams we have. Then it was time for the visa interview. The interview was split into 2 days. First day was the bio-metric and photo session. The second day was the actual visa interview. I have spend nearly eight years in Chennai, so I was aware of the place and how people who come early are made to stand in the sultry heat of Chennai. As highlighted in the visa confirmation, I reached exactly 15 minutes before the schedule time. I didn’t carry any mobile or any other objects except a file with documents. My security check was over in a jiffy.

After the security check I was asked to go to a counter (all counter looks like a bank teller’s counter, only difference every officer was separated from each other with concrete separators.). The lady in the counter verified me through bio-metrics and asked to join the queue. Saw my token number flashing on the flat screen. I ran towards the counter. There was a guy already going through  interview, so I waited for my turn. He literally pissed off the lady. He took a long time and all of his answers were not related to the questions being asked. Consulate officer was trying her best to help him. The guy was applying for the second time for B1. It seems his first attempt was rejected. I can make out  from the tone of her voice that the officer was getting frustrated. After all the hype created by my friends here I am, standing behind a guy who is giving all sorts of unrelated answers to some straight forward questions. I was damn sure my application would be rejected. Finally the lady officer asked the guy to wait in the waiting area.

My turn, I went with a heavy heart towards the counter. All hopes lost, I said a warm hi. The lady officer responded with a warmer hi. She informed that “she will be right back” and left her seat. I was left wondering what next? In that short time she was away from her seat, all sorts of thought came to my mind. It was like eternity. Here she comes, with warm smile on her face. My guess is that most probably the lady officer would have gone to a room for venting out her frustration. She probably would have vented out her frustration and came back.

The lady officer asks me the passport which I have already placed in the provision provided. She looks at my passport and asks a slew of questions. The questions are as follows.

  • What is the purpose of your visit?
    • My answer: for a series of business meeting and technical training.
  • For how long?
    • My answer: 2 weeks
  • Are you Married?
    • My answer: yes
  • Can I see your invitation letter?
    • I pull out the papers from the file and tried to remove the paper clip. It slips from hand and flies in the air. I was thinking oh shit, not this. In front of my eyes I could see the clip flying high, somehow I catch the flying paper clip. Took a deep breath (sigh of relief), took out the invitation letter and handed over to the officer.
  • Is XYZ company your client?
    • My Answer: yes
  • How long are you working for your current company?
    • My answer: 4 years and 9months
  • Are you going to work there?
    • My answer: no

Then came the sweet words from the lady officer.

That’s all, and your visa is approved.

I said thank you and wished her “have a great day”. She wished me the same.

There was me standing baffled. That’s it? This was pretty easy. The hype created by my friends and others was such huge, I was left stunned. Ok, it’s real. I better move my butt so that the lady doesn’t have a second thought. I left the place with a big grin on my face. It was as if I have achieved something which was out of this world. I was floating in air. Still to date I don’t remember how I reached back the hotel?? How much I paid the auto driver?

I think most of the suggestions which came to my way was due to the fact that people highlight rejections more than the approvals. The time I spend waiting at the interview counter, I sort of figured out how to attend the interview. It’s pretty straight forward. Give crisp and concise answers, preferably in one sentence. Our attitude of explaining too much stuff can screw your chance of getting a visa. So be confidant and answer to the point. Also go through few of the questions available online to know how to answer in one sentence. I don’t think getting a B1 visa is very difficult as others project it. Do your homework and go with a positive attitude. Keep things organised and take all the documents. It’s safe to ask friends and also do an online research on what documents you need to carry. Keep them organised, so that you don’t fumble when asked for some document. I feel the ground rule is don’t waste the visa officer’s time. There are lot’s of people in queue and it’s hectic. If you take too much time in silly things like finding a document, you are eating up other’s time. So be prepared, be organised and be crisp and clear. If you are not able to understand any question ask them. From the little amount of time spent in the consulate, I can make out the officers are very friendly. They try to help and are very cordial, unless we don’t eat their head.

My 2 cents for attending visa interview are these.

  • Be confident. Don’t make a fool out of yourselves. Just think you have passed bigger challenges than these. Remember the 10th standard exam I was talking about?
  • Be honest. Don’t lie and give rise to suspicion.
  • Don’t show your desperation. The world doesn’t end tomorrow. If rejected, learn what mistakes you made and apply one more time.
  • Be concise and answer to the point. Don’t try to explain too much. By doing so you are eating other’s time.
  • Be organised. Keep your papers in order. If asked for some document, don’t fumble. If you have organised the documents properly and know where docs are, it will help you find them fast. Always try to do a dry run of where the documents are. Again, remember if you delay you are slowing down the process.
  • Don’t take mobile, bags, backpacks and other metal objects. No water bottle or juice is allowed. You can have your purse. Lady's hand bags are not allowed.
  • Last but the most important, spend time in reading the information provided on visa application website.

Hope this helps. As I said this is my personal experience. This may help or may not. So please don’t come to me saying I read your blog and did everything and still didn’t get my visa. As the consulate website says, everyone applying for US visa is considered a prospective immigrant. Every visa officer will consider you to be a prospective immigrant and it’s your responsibility to prove that you will not immigrate.

Best of luck.