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The year 2019 would be a nervous one for me because that year, my 10-year US B2 visa (business, tourism, medical treatment) was going to expire on April 7. So I had to take the necessary steps in getting the requirements for my visa. Plus, it was also my first time to be present for my interview since I was of age. During my years in Philippine School Sultanate of Oman, when my parents went to the US Embassy in Muscat, my presence was not needed there due to a rule that minors (birth until 17 years) are exempted from interviews and 10-finger printing.

Some of you have hears stories that getting a US visa is as difficult as passing through the eye of a needle. This is indeed true. Unlike other countries which are ESTA members such as Japan, South Korea, Italy, Taiwan, UK, Canada, etc) wherein getting a visa is somewhat strict but not that complicated, the United States is way stricter in giving visas for Philippines due to some but a large number of Filipinos violating their strict immigration laws, overstaying their visas and living illegally in the US. Some do the TNT or Tago ng Tago, which is shameful for us Filipinos. This is the reason the US has temporarily stopped issuing work visas for seasonal workers.

WHEN AND WHERE TO APPLY FOR THE VISA?

Application shall be made at least 2 months prior to your intended departure. Application and the personal appearance for interview shall be at the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines at 1201 Roxas Boulevard Manila, Philippines 1000.

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In my case and my family’s case, we do it depending on our availability to visit the US. We do not travel there often but when we renewed our US visa in 2009, we traveled in 2011. We visit the US every 2-4 years depending on availability.

STEPS TO GET THE US VISA

Below are the first steps to getting the visa.

Step 1: Fill out the DS-160 form online

Click here to apply.

The DS-160 is a long application form that must be filled out online and submitted electronically. This is used by the consul to assess whether they will give you a US visa or not.

WARNING: Filling out the DS-160 can be tedious. It is indeed tedious in my case. There are times you ar enot sure what to answer. However, you don’t have to fill it in one seating. You can save details to edit later and continue just in case you get stuck on something. Remember to write down your reference number in case you need to retrieve your form later.

Step 2: Sign-up at the Consular Affairs website

To sign up, you need to sign up an account to set up an interview with the US Embassy, which is one of the most crucial steps in acquiring a visa.

To set up an account, click here.

Step 3: Pay the non-refundable application fee worth $160

$160 = P8,324.8the amount I paid that day

Well, that is the amount you have to pay for the application. The Bank of the Philippine Islands is in my knowledge, the only bank accredited by the US Embassy. There are two ways to pay for the application fee – in person at the bank and online.

Online banking is new to me and I do not know how to use it that much. We instead resorted to falling in line at the bank to pay. But for those who have an online banking account, register the reference number for your application, which is auto-generated here.

Bring your deposit slips and receipts that you printed when you applied for a visa.  The payment confirmation receipt is needed during your interview.

Step 4: Schedule an interview.

Once you’ve submitted your DS-160 form electronically and paid the application fee, you can already schedule an interview. You can do this via your account on the Consular Affairs website here.

Because in our family, we only fly to the US like 2-4 years depending on our availability, we hadn’t had much of a problem. The US Embassy recommends that you process your visa application at least 3 months before your actual flight. It always pays to be ready so it is better to process in advance to avoid mishaps or delays.

TIPS

I. WHAT TO BRING

  • Unexpired passport
  • Appointment confirmation
  • DS-160 confirmation
  • 2 x 2 photos
  • Payment proof

As I was taking a postgraduate course and I owned a business, I had brought the ff.

  • school certificate
  • ID
  • Business permit with mayor’s permit and ITR
  • Property papers
  • Car registration
  • Bank Certificate
  • Birth Certificate

These are some of the evidence that will prove crucial to showing strong ties with the home country.

My parents, although retired, brought the same aforementioned above (except for the car registration, and school ID and certificate) for the same reason.

Here are some things that you have to bring for that.

1) Students – latest school results, transcripts and degrees/diplomas, and other evidence of financial support such as monthly bank statements, fixed deposit slips, or other evidence.

2) Employees – employment letter from your employer and pay slips from the most recent three months.

3) Business visitors and company directors – evidence of your position in the company, institution and remuneration.

4) Self-employed, entrepreneursm and digital nomads – business registration certificate, mayor’s permit, income tax return.

5) If you’re visiting a relative – photocopies of your relative’s proof of status (e.g. Green Card, naturalization certificate, valid visa, etc).

6) Previous/Frequent visitors to the US – If you have previously visited the United States, any documents attesting to your immigration or visa status.

NOTE: You have to establish deep ties in your country and convince them that you are coming back. Bring land/condominium titles, car registration certificate, lease contract, etc.

II. TIME OF ARRIVAL

Be at the Embassy grounds 15-30 minutes of your scheduled interview. It is recommended that you take the earliest schedule as possible when you set an appointment. This is because you are fresh and the consul who will interview you isn’t tired yet.

For us, we had the 10:30 a.m. schedule and we had no problems in there.

III. KNOW WHAT TO TAKE TO THE INNER EMBASSY GROUNDS

Bring only your documents like the passport, confirmation slip, and the others that you need. Place them in a clear plastic envelope.

Electronics like mobile phones, smartphones, smart watches, tablets, USB, headsets, and the like are prohibited inside the embassy grounds. I have seen stalls manned by vendors where you can leave them for a fee but do so at your own risk. In my case, I had a cousin living in Metro Manila whom we left our stuff with. He took care of them until the end of our appointment.

One of these vendors taking care of the electronics was selling newspapers, I decided to take the Philippine Daily Inquirer but my mom said no as she thought it was not allowed inside the embassy. The vendor contradicted her by saying that the embassy only bans electronic devices on its premises except for normal wristwatches while newspapers are permitted because it is okay to take time to read while waiting for the interview.

IV. INTERVIEW TIPS

The interview lasts for as little as 1-5 minutes, so you have to make the most out of it. Here are some keys to that.

1) Dress appropriately – A good decent attire will do. For men, polo shirts and slacks or denims are good enough. Wear leather or rubber shoes that fit your attire. For women, a normal dress or a bit of Sunday service clothes will do. Coat and tie attire is not necessary. If you’re a student, a lawyer, or an employee, then dress like one.

NOTE: Short pants, slippers, flip-flops, sandals, shorts, mini-skirts, spaghetti straps, backless are not allowed.

2) Look confident – The way you walk, and your facial expressions

3) Be polite – Answer the interviewer respectfully with courtesy. Greet them good morning/afternoon and ask how are they doing. Just that. Never argue with them. If you fail to hear or understand the question, keep calm and do not panic. Just relax and ask to clarify the question like this:

“I’m sorry but I did not understand what you said. Can you please repeat it?”

And always remember to say thank you.

4) Less talk, less mistake. One question, one answer – This is the most important rule. If they ask you about your purpose of your visit to the US, just say clearly “For leisure”, “only for holiday”, “only for vacation” and not “I’m having a vacation with my friends there” or anything.

Make your answer firm or you will screw the interview. If they want to know what else you’re doing there or if you’re going to meet someone, they will ask. You don’t have to provide every single detail in a question that doesn’t even ask for it.

5) Be brutally honest – The consuls are trained to know if you’re lying or not. For the most part,  they ask questions based on your previous answers to get the truth out of you in the latter part of the interview. It is like tactical interrogation by law enforcement, like a TV show grilling/roasting and others. You can’t outsmart these people. The interviewers take a record of all your interviews. I will reveal about those who got denied a visa in the last part of this blog.

THE INTERVIEW

STARTING POINT

Arrive 15-30 minutes ahead of schedule. When your time is called, fall in line in one of the two queues. The guards will check your time and when it is the scheduled time, they will let you through.

At the entrance gates, the staff will check your confirmation receipt and your passport. They will place a colored sticker on it then they will clear your for entry to the embassy grounds. The sticker indicates which row is to enter the embassy. We got green in our case and entered the gates leading to the New Consular Services Building, which was inaugurated in 2011. The old chancery, where visas and interviews were conducted before, has been converted to offices.

SECURITY SCREENING

You have two security screenings. The first takes place once you enter the gates of the embassy’s new consular building.

The first security is similar to that of an airport security, complete with an x-ray scanner and a body search. Each x-ray scan had two platforms, one for male and one for female. I stuffed the watch and when I entered the metal detector, it alarmed a bit and I had to empty my pocket of coins. The screener saw them and I was frisked, to which they never found any problem and I was cleared to enter.

WAITING AREA

The waiting area was a covered area with chairs and signs, and we were seated at the second row. There was a number board which was not turned on that day so we had to rely on our stickers. A photo booth is located near the restroom entrance. Near our seating was a stall where patrons can buy snacks and beverages as well as souvenirs from the embassy. Leaving my family, I bought some water and checked the souvenirs, which consisted of shirts, patches, mugs, pens, pins, buttons, and more. I decided to pick my choice later on.

It was worth a 30 minute wait for our schedule and we spent time reading the newspaper while the stall’s radio broadcasted some news. A television set located in the waiting area also aired news programs.

THE EMBASSY

Our color was called and we were ready to enter the consulate building. As soon as we entered, another security check was in place. We only had body bags and our envelopes which were checked. After which, we had to go to the pre-screening area.

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The interior of the new consular services building (source: A Mighty Life)

The inside was well decorated with the seal of the US Embassy on the wall flanked by a US flag on its right and Embassy flag on the left. That was the thing that greets you as your enter the embassy’s consulate services building.

PRE-SCREENING

This area is staffed by Filipinos. They ask your for your passport and will ask you questions in Filipino for the most part. English is available upon request but we went through with Filipino. Below was how it turned out

SCREENING OFFICER: What is your purpose to visit the United States
US: We are going there for holiday only
SCREENING OFFICER: You are applying as family right
Yes we are applying as a family
SCREENING OFFICER: Do you have any relatives in the United States
US: Yes we have a relative there.
SCREENING OFFICER: How is this person related to you
MOTHER: She is my sister.
SCREENING OFFICER: Is she a green card or a citizen.
US: She is a US Citizen
SCREENING OFFICER: What is your relative’s job.
ME: She was a logistics manager for Honeywell and retired in 2010.
SCREENING OFFICER: How often do you visit the US.
US: Depends on our availability. Sometimes 2-4 years

There were no more questions asked. We were then instructed to head to the fingerprinting area.

PRE-SCREENING

Americans this time work in here. They will ask first for your passport, which they will scan using a laser scan similar to that of those in the grocery and department store counters. They then ask you to state your name and your birthday. Next, they will ask you to place your fingers on the scanner in a certain order. First, they do the thumbs, and second, they do the four fingers, first left, then right.

At the end of this, we were then told to fall in line on one of the windows for the interview proper.

INTERVIEW PROPER

This is the scariest portion of the ride. The Consuls in this part take matters very seriously so we have to be honest in answering them. One question, one answer.

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Non-immigrant section (source: janeuymatiao.com or Jane)

The consuls here may either be nice or strict and of course, they are multilingual. While we were in line at Window 17, there was this Chinese person here who was denied a visa and a girl who was applying for the same visa also fell to the same fate. When a visa is denied, they give you back your passport and a long green form. I do not know what the form is. In another window, a Filipino medical student who was originally born in Saudi Arabia but later moved to Kuwait was approved of his B2 visa. Two windows away from him was a law student from a Zamboanga college who was also approved. The same went for an engineering student in the row on our left. Oh and uh, both the law and medical students were frequent visitors to the United States but I did not hear much of the conversation. When the visa is approved, the consul says you have to expect your visa in 7 days and they take your passport.

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Consular windows for American citizens. We did not go here but this is how consular wondows would look like.

When it was our turn, we headed to the window where a female consul awaited us. We greeted each other before we began the interview wherein she asked for our passports. The window was some sort of soundproof glass and speakers above us while a microphone was hidden on the side walls.

As she scanned our passports, the interview began. This was our conversation.

CONSUL: So um, is this your first time here?
MOM: Yes, but we have applied previously for a US visa outside of Philippines
CONSUL: And who was born in Oman in this family?
ME: That’s me.
CONSUL: So what is your purpose to visit the United States?
PARENTS: Leisure.
ME (simultaneously): Holiday
CONSUL: How long to do stay there?
PARENTS: One and a half-months.

The consul check our records on the computer and we did not know what happened. Perhaps the computer contained our entry records to the US because, every time we enter the United States, our entry is always recorded by the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) and this is sent to the immigration bureau in the US and it is transmitted to US Embassies worldwide.

It seems that being frequent visitors to the US, we did not have much problems. My mom answered all the questions.

CONSUL: So what is your work?
MOM: We are retired nurses. We worked in Oman at a prestigious university hospital (turns to me), what is the name of the hospital?
ME: Sultan Qaboos University Hospital, which is affiliated with the Sultan Qaboos University.
MOM: Sultan Qaboos University. My husband was in the emergency department while I was in the children’s department.
CONSUL: And prior to that, where did you work?
MOM: We worked in Saudi Arabia before moving to Kuwait where we worked for two years in a hospital which is under the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health until the 1990 Gulf War broke out when Iraq invaded Kuwait, forcing us to return home. We moved to Oman in 1992 and worked there until 2015.

The consul then turned to me and asked me of my job.

CONSUL: So what is your work young man?
ME: I am currently in a postgraduate course specializing in legal studies.
CONSUL: Oh, good.

We were never asked for our documents because it turned out that we are frequent visitors to the United States and we always complied with their rules. Instead, the consul asked for our passports.

CONSUL: Do you have your old visas with you?
US: We have them.
ME: Ma, let me hand them. Here (hands the passport through an opening beneath the window).
CONSUL: So, since these visas are still valid, I will cancel these in order to make your new visas valid.

We were glad that our interview was short. After the old visas were cancelled, we were given back our old passports which has the “cancelled without prejudice” stamp. After some encoding and typing on the computer, the consul told us to expect the delivery of our visa after 7 days.

Here is how the cancelled visa looks like

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I thanked the consul and waved at her and she did the same. I told my parents that we were starving and the consul said that we”d better freshen up for lunch after that exhausting interview.

My parents used the restroom first before I did. When I was done with the toilet, I waited for my mom, who was in the female restroom situated at another wing of the consul services building where there are empty booths staying silent. I sat at a chair next to a children’s play area and waited until my mom left the restroom.

We decided to shop for goods at the embassy. The souvenir shop was our only chance. There, we bought four U.S. Embassy shirts, one light grey, one brown, one blue, and one purple, worth P500 each. I bought myself a US-Philippine flag pin for P50.

The purple one was given to my cousin as a gratitude for helping us throughout our ordeal in the US Embassy. I first stopped at the PNB Financial center to claim my PAL Boeing 777-300ER scale model before we had lunch at the nearby KFC.

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The PNB Financial Center, which serves as PAL’s HQ’s and where they have their PAL store.
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The Philippine Airlines 777-300ER I purchased.

Our Embassy time was exactly an hour and 15 minutes. The three processes I went through were fast and efficient, the little wait times in between were tolerable.

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The new visa
Do you have any stories to share about your US Visa/US Embassy experience? What tips do you have for those who will be applying? Feel free to share them Are your ready to apply for a visa?

FAQ’s

  1. Do I need show money? – It depends. They seldom ask for bank statements and they seldom don’t. Just make sure you have a lot of money in your account and bring the bank statements. Do not present it unless that ask for it.
  2. Is the fee refundable – No
  3. What to do if you are denied? – Keep trying. Never give up.
  4. How long is the validity of the visa – This depends on the generosity of the consul. It could range from 3 months up to 10 years Multiple Entry Visa.
  5. Do you need travel insurance? – It is recommended that you get one. You don’t know what will happen on the road.
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