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Is This The Year You Visit The States? Here's How To Apply For A U.S. Visa

With tips on how to ace the in-person interview!
PHOTO: istockphoto
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The United States has captivated the local imagination and become one of the top destinations for Filipinos traveling abroad. It is an unfortunate reality, however, that those with Philippine passports must go through what can be a grueling U.S. visa application process. So, whether you’re headed there to visit relatives, attend a music festival, or to simply enjoy some much-needed coat weather, we’re here to help you navigate the U.S. tourist visa application process, including the dreaded in-person interview.

Overview of the U.S. tourist visa application process

Looking at the US embassy’s tourist visa application page, you will notice that there are 4 steps listed:

  1. Pay the application fee
  2. Complete the electronic application
  3. Schedule your in-person interview appointment
  4. Go to the US embassy for your visa interview

While this is accurate, what the list fails to convey is that these steps take time to complete. In general, you should expect a processing period of over three weeks between submitting a visa application and the first available interview slot. Sometimes, if your visa application requires additional processing, the wait can stretch to six weeks or longer. As such, it is in your best interest to submit an application three months ahead of your intended travel date.

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Before you submit your tourist visa application

To reduce the risk of delays in your application, make sure you follow application directions thoroughly, and provide complete, honest information. The key things you need to know before you get to your application are:

  1. What type of visa you’re applying for
    Those temporarily traveling to the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment should apply for a Type B tourist visa. Note that there are two subclasses to the Type B visa. For recreational travel purposes—including visiting friends, relatives, and attending social events—you will want to apply for the B-2 visa.
  2. How much the visa application fee is, and how to pay it
    Whether or not your visa gets approved, you must pay the application fee. According to the visa application site, the tourist visa is P8,640. This can be paid at any BPI branch, or for some BPI members, online. You must print out the correct deposit slip from the visa application site before you go to the bank. After payment, save the receipt. It cannot be replaced if lost. And you will not be able to make an appointment without it.
  3. What supporting documents to gather
    Check the visa page to find out which supporting documents to bring with you to the interview, and prepare them well in advance. These documents vary depending on whether you are a student, employee, visiting a relative, or have been to the U.S. previously. Original documents are preferred over photocopies. Under no circumstances should you present false documents.
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Completing the application

For tourist visa applications, fill out form DS-160. Application directions should be followed as closely as possible. Here are a few of the most important things to remember:

  1. Use English.
  2. Make sure the picture you submit adheres to the photo requirements.
  3. Note that the website will log you out automatically after 20 minutes of inactivity, so save your information regularly.
  4. Once submitted, print out the DS-160 confirmation page.

Scheduling the visa interview appointment

After submitting your application online, you will be able to make your appointment on the same page. To do this, three pieces of information you will need are:

  1. Your passport number
  2. Your visa fee payment receipt number
  3. The 10-digit barcode from your DS-160 confirmation page

Once you have scheduled your appointment, you will be issued an appointment letter, which you must print.

How to succeed at the in-person visa interview

First, make sure you visit the U.S. Embassy at the correct date and time of your visa interview, with all the required documents in tow. These documents include:

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  1. Your appointment letter
  2. Your printed DS-160 confirmation page
  3. A recent photograph (according to the photo requirements)
  4. Your current passport and all old passports

It is also worth noting that you will not be able to bring your phone inside. Be prepared to be without a screen for a few hours. Take this time to prepare for your interview by making sure your documents are organized, and practicing answers to anticipated questions, such as: what will you be doing in the U.S., who are you staying with, what do you do for work, etc.

The U.S. visa interview happens out in the open. Almost as if you are talking to a bank teller. You will be standing up, speaking to a consul through a glass window. Eunice Espia, a visa expert and General Manager of the travel service company High Light Tours Philippines, advices applicants to be mindful of appearance and tone. “Although US consular officers are trained to understand our culture and the way we communicate as Filipinos, it gives the interviewer confidence when we can articulate ourselves,” she says.

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Here are her tips for a successful U.S. visa interview:

  1. Be in business attire or smart casual clothes. Do not overdress with too much jewelry.
  2. Be straight-faced and look at the interviewer’s face when being asked a question.
  3. Make sure you understand each question fully. If the question is unclear, ask the interviewer to rephrase or restate it.
  4. Speak clearly, but do not do so in a way that may be construed as shouting.
  5. Be straightforward.
  6. Be honest and authentic.
  7. Say please and thank you when appropriate.

Overall, the information you need for a successful U.S. tourist visa application is publicly available. The main thing applicants need to ensure is that they follow the stated directions.

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