Thursday, October 23, 2014

My First US B1 Visa Experience

Dear Friends

It only takes courage to meet a US consular officer and get your visa approved!

If you have enough credentials at hand, suffice it for you to have a good homework followed by a mock interview.

Hereby, I would like to share my experience in attending a US B1 Visa interview at the Chennai US Consulate in 2014 July, for the first time.

I am skipping all those procedural steps such as filling/verification of the D160 forms, how and when you reach Chennai etc etc because it will happen in due course with a natural intervention from your side. 

But I would like to make an important note on verification of D160 form. That is, closely review what you specify for questions whose answer is either Yes/No. If you mistakenly gave a ‘Yes’ for a ‘No’ and later during the interview you say ‘No’ then it is enough for a consular officer to deny Visa.

1. At the Visa Application Center

As you may already know, US Visa application is a two-day process now. Previously it was a one-day process. 

On the first day you are supposed to be at this place and on the second day you are supposed to be at a US Consulate office were consular officers will be doing real face to face interview.

There won’t be any interview at this place. Here the purpose is just to get your finger prints and your photo to their database. Gentleman at Photo/Fingerprint counter might ask you random questions such as the number of your Passport.  What I felt is that it is just a question for the sake of a question and nothing else. It doesn't matter whether you correctly remember your Passport number. They just want to hear your voice, that’s all!

Please note that both Visa Application Center and US Consulate office are located at two different locations. They are not at all same or located at the same premise.
  • When arranging your conveyance, do remember a good landmark so that both centers will be identified without any mistake.

As far as the Chennai Visa Application center is concerned, Apollo Hospital is a very good landmark. Chennai Visa Application center is just diagonally opposite to Apollo Hospital.

2. Three Golden Questions

Here are the three important questions to which you should give carefully chosen words as its answers. Please don’t expect consular officer to ask you exactly same question as written here. Words used in a question can vary but idea behind the question will be same.

Keep in mind that you are going to apply for a Non-immigrant Visa to US. As you might have noticed, US consulate websites clearly mention that they see every non-immigrant applicant, a potential immigrant to their country and you need to prove otherwise.

In order to prove that you will not attempt to be an immigrant on a non-immigrant Visa, your answer to any such related questions should somehow reflect that you have strong ties back at home.

2.1 Purpose of Visit

This is the most important question.

This question can be as plain as “What is the purpose of your visit” or “Why do you want to go to US” or “Why are you going to US” etc.

  • You are not all expected to tell a story here! 
  • You are expected to prepare a well articulated 2 to 4 sentences answer.
Answer should be tricky that it should address following concerns of US, in granting you a non-immigrant Visa.

2.1.1 You Are On a Business Visit

Yes, you are on a business visit and not for work.

Since you are applying for a business visa, you should never use the word “work” in your answer. Officer may ask tricky questions such as “What kind of work you will do in US”. 

Your answer should be in such a way that it should reflect your business intention of the visit. This intention can be Training, Requirement Gathering, Project Discussions etc.
  • Closely go through your Invitation letter to understand the business intention of the visit.
Related to a business visit, one can expect questions such as “Who will take care of you in US”, “Who will bear your expense in US” etc.

2.1.2 You Will Stay Only a Few Weeks

Your business visit will last for only a few weeks. “Two weeks” is the ‘standard’ US business visit duration. 
  • Check whether your Invitation Letter contains any reference to the period of stay including the exact date From and To. If so, mention as it is.

Be prepared to answer questions such as “Where do you stay”, “Who will arrange your stay”. You should by heart Hotel name, City and State.
  • Check whether your Invitation Letter contains any references to stay. If so, mention the Hotel name specified there.
  • Do by heart the name & designation of the person who invited you. 

2.1.3 You Are Bound to Return

You are bound to return from US because you have close binding to your Company and to your family.

Before we go to next question, I would like to give a sample answer for the question related to The Purpose of Visit.

My company ABC Technologies has a long term relationship with US based company XYZ. XYZ organizes routine training sessions for their worldwide business associates. I have been invited to take part in this year’s training session that is scheduled to begin on the coming July 28th. It is my responsibility to give the training back to offshore team, once training is over. To fulfill this responsibility, I would like to travel to US.

This is just an example and you must have your own.
  • Use words that are quite comfortable to you, when framing answers.

2.2 Where Are You Going?

I have heard from one of my colleagues that during his Visa interview, one of the other guys was asked this question. Then he answered “America”! The officer repeated the question “Where in US you want to go?” He repeated the same answer! Finally, he was denied Visa!

So, you should clearly know at least the name of City followed by State name. For example your answer to this question should be like “I would like to go to Chicago in the state of Illinois”. 

The answer can also be more specific such as “I would like to go Naperville, near Chicago in the state of Illinois”. Since city such as Naperville would be little known to a consular officer, it would be better to add a nearby famous city such as Chicago followed by the state name Illinois to which Chicago belongs to.

3.3 Duration of Your Visit

It is already mentioned above. “Two weeks” is the ‘standard’ US business visit duration.
  • Ensure that you have a printed copy of a 'real' schedule of your two weeks Training/Business Meeting.
4. At the US Consular Office

Do expect a huge but professional crowd at the consular office!

It would be better for you to reach at least 2 hours before your scheduled interview time. It will allow you to get into a comfortable position in the queue, by the time you reach your scheduled time.

Please note that the queue will contain candidates who are yet to reach their scheduled time. So you must ask somebody in the queue, their scheduled time. If his/her time is later to your time, then stand just in front of him. Don’t think that you are breaking the queue because his time is later to your time. Rest of the things at the Consular office is just common sense.

Once you get into the consular office, you will be given a token from the front desk. Consequently you will be entering a hall that has enough interview counters. 

Yes, it is a counter and not an interview cabin! It is a counter inside which US Consular officer will be sitting and there will be up to 4 to 6 people in a queue in front of each counter, waiting for their token number.

You are not supposed to go to the queue directly. The queue will contain only those candidates whose token number have already displayed on the screens.
  • Be watchful on the Display Screen. It will show your Token number and the Counter Number to which it is assigned. Till then, be seated comfortably.
There are 10 to 14 counters at the Chennai US Consulate.
  • Keep in mind that, it is your Right to meet a US Consular Officer and it is NOT a mercy of Consulate.

4.1 On The Line

Once your token number is displayed on the screen, you can calmly walk and join the queue that is in front of the counter to which your token number is assigned.

4.1.1 Don’t Bother Results Right in Front of You

When you are on the line and waiting your turn to face a consular officer, you will witness results of fellow candidates who are right in front of you.

Some of the candidates will be out-rightly rejected Visa.
Some of the candidates will be given Visa in a cool manner.
Some of the candidates will be questioned more and their fate can vary.

Whatever be the results of candidates in front of you –
  • You are NOT supposed to bother those results, be it negative or positive.
  • Remember that your case will be Unique to a Consular officer. This is an assurance from US Consulate and it is mentioned in their website.

4.1.2 Keep Important Documents Out of the Cover

Definitely you will have important document with you, probably inside a transparent cover. It would be very helpful for you to keep two or three important documents outside the cover, when you are on-the-line. It will help you to quickly handover such documents. It includes, your Invitation Letter, Employment Letter etc.
  • Don’t show/handover any document to an officer unless and until you are asked.
Passport will be the first document that you are supposed to handover. Even if the officer didn't ask, you should be in a position to handover it by default. This is because, without the passport you are an unknown person to the officer.

4.2 Face It

You are not supposed to be in haste to face the officer, once your turn is up.

When the candidate who is just in front of you has finished his/her turn, do wait there to get a nod from the officer. The officer might require some time to finish their post interview activities, if any. What you have to do is keep a cool eye on the officer and watch for the nod.

4.2.1 Pre Requisites

Before you embark for interview, do ensure that certain things are in-place. If not, it might affect the fate of your interview. Following are some of the pre-requisites. Ensure that Mic is ON

Since the consular officer will be sitting behind a glass covered cabin, they have setup a Mic so that candidate’s voice can be heard to consular officer, clearly. When you are on-the-line and waiting for your turn, do clearly identify Mic position. At the Chennai consulate, it was on the right side of the cabin.

Please also notice that, the officer will also be speaking through a Mic so that his/her voice can be clearly heard to the candidate being interviewed.

After interviewing a candidate, the officer might switch OFF the Mic. Hence it is possible that you might start your interview without Mic. This should never happen because your voice will not be properly heard by the officer and hence it can negatively affect your interview.

  • You need to ensure that the Mic is ON. If it is in OFF position, you should politely ask the officer to turn it ON. They will be quite happy to do that.
  • Try to position your mouth towards the Mic and at the same time, your eyes should be focused on the officer and NOT on the Mic!
  • Be loud in your voice and never mind that your voice is audible to next candidates in queue. Maintain Proper Eye Contact

Note to mention, you should properly maintain your eye contact with the officer. 

  • Don’t look at your documents, when you speak. Don’t be in Haste

You are never supposed to be in haste while you talk to the officer. Put adequate pause between each sentence. 

If you have prepared three sentences to a question related to “Purpose of Visit”, just after finishing the second sentence, it is possible that the officer might ask the next question. This happens because your case is convincible to the officer, after hearing two sentences. In such case, you don’t have to tell them the third sentence. Instead, just listen to the next question and answer it. Don’t Try to Imitate US Accent

US consular officers are well experienced professionals. They can easily understand the (English) language of any candidate. So you don’t need to bother whether your accent is understandable to an officer or not.
  • Simply speak in your own style. Be Truthful

You should expect questions such as “Do you own a Car”, “Do you have property” etc. Just be truthful in all such cases. Ask for Repetition

You must ask for repetition, if you don’t understand what he/she said. This is in sharp contrast to typical Indian attitude!

US consular officers really like if you ask for repetition. You don’t have to have any negative feeling in asking the officer to repeat what he/she asked/talked to you.

5. Questions I Faced

This section could be the most interesting to you. What were the questions I faced during the interview?

1. Where are you going?
2. What is the purpose of visit?
3. Have you been there before?
4. Have you been to any other countries?
5. For what company you were working previously?
6. Are you married?
7. What is your income?
    a. Please specify in Lakhs
8. What is the duration of your visit?

Your Visa is approved”!!!

6. Your Visa Application is Rejected

It is not the end of the road. This world and its affairs will continue. As someone said, failure is a pathway to success. You can apply for Visa again. Try to rectify any mistakes you might have done during the interview. I have heard of persons who obtained their Visa on third and fourth appearance!

7. Conviction Doesn't Matter!

This is the last but not the least point I would like to convey. 

One person told me that your name starts with "Mohammed" and they have an "anti Muslim" attitude... He told me that Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan was detained by US authorities... Another person told me that your beard could be a problem... etc.

I really appreciate all persons who truly shared concerns that they thought genuine. These are the people who are professionally very close to me and so I am, to them.

I responded to all such concerns with one answer. That is, I don't think that it could be a problem for a common man like me and that I believe, this is all about politics and business, nothing else.

This kind of business game was quite evident when US started an emigration Pre-Clearance Facility in Abu Dhabi on Jan 2014 which is outside US and for the first time in the Middle East. Spat between American airline companies and US CBP (Customs and Boarder Protection) officials shows the business aspect of such a deal.

I have read somewhere in their official website, in their photo requirement specification section that it is okay for US to wear uniform cloths or hats if they are part of religious purpose and worn daily. So I conclude that conviction doesn't matter. 

And if something matters, then also conviction doesn't matter!!

I would like to conclude this note by expressing my sincere gratitude to those who really helped me to prepare and attend the Visa interview. It goes to my colleague Prasanth MV who gave me very good inputs and it was Manoj Rajan, one of our managers who conducted an elegant mock interview.

I wish you a well-prepared and successful interview.