I have heard many a tales about procuring a US Visa, mostly winding around the long queues. So I tried be as prepared as one could be for this ‘uphill’ task. What I learnt in the process is that it is as easy or difficult as you make it out to be. As long as you have all your paper work in place, there is nothing to fear. The Visa officers are friendly, yet no-nonsense.
Start by reading and familiarising yourself with the procedure, documentation required, eligibility, visa category, payments to be made. Go through the US visa website thoroughly. Sign up on the visa portal and start filling the form.
Check appointment waiting time on the portal. You do not need to sign-up to obtain this information. Appointment waiting times increase during certain times of the year. For example, the months of May and June and even July is peak time for students who apply for student visas. The wait time for an appointment gets longer every two to three days.
Visa fees can be paid by online bank transfer only and needs to be done before applying for the appointment.
One has to avail two different appointments; the first for biometrics and the second for the visa interview in that order. It is better to book the appointments on two different days so as to cover for delays if any that may cause missing an appointment.
Due to high level security you cannot take most things (other than your visa related papers of course!) into the visa office buildings. So take as little as possible. I carried some cash for my commute and kept a credit card on me, just in case, but I didn’t require it at any time. I didn’t even wear a watch (you will need to remove it and keep it in your file). Avoid big handbags, water bottles and things you can do without for a few hours.
For biometrics, get there at least 15-30mins before your appointment time. I remember getting there at 7.30am for an 8am appointment. Doors open by around 7.30-7.40am and they waste no time in sending the 8am people in. You need to have only the Appointment letter, DS 160 and Passport. There are officers who will guide you to queues and counters. Just follow the instructions and get the job done.
In case you have bags that need to be left somewhere, there is a private operator offering lockers for a fee in the basement of the biometrics building. You have to pass them by to get to the first biometrics queue. I didn’t check the locker fee though.
Getting to the Visa Interview too early (prior to the appointment time) does not help. It only adds to the crowds outside the building. The first queuing takes place on the footpath outside the visa office building. Time slots are displayed and ONLY the ones at the valid time can queue.
Keep the passport handy. It is required at every step. The barcode on the sticker that was fixed on your passport at the Biometrics Centre is your key to every queue. For the Visa Interview too there are officers who will guide you to queues and counters.
At the interview, answer their questions with clarity and confidence. Remember that they have to make a decision (and a right one) as quickly as possible. So it is important that the applicant is well prepared. If the applicant is not tech-savvy enough to fill the application form online or make the payment, do take help but be there during every step so you know everything about your application and there are no mistakes.
1) My experience is from the Consulate at Chennai
2) It would be nice to have the queues (there are SEVERAL and takes up a lot of time) in better conditions – probably taken off the roads, with a bit of shade and seating, especially for senior citizens.
3) An early morning appointment for the Visa Interview means lesser time in queues.
4) It is better to carry all documentation and some more and be covered well rather than regret later.