Wednesday, January 29

Getting a US Visa for Filipinos

WARNING: This post might contain excessive exclamation marks! :))

Hooooray!!!! I already got my US tourist visa last Thursday (January 23). Imagine my excitement!!! My trip to the US in September of 2014 will come true! Another HOOORAAAAY for THURSDAYS or for every day! <3

Let me first share with all of you how on earth did I ever thought of coming to the States side, given that I'm an independent city girl scrimping on a little budget. Currently, I am a happy local traveler, snapping photos here and there, capturing the beauty of what God has gifted the Philippines. However, it seems like life has a grander plan to offer. I was invited by my kindergarten BFF to be one of her bridesmaids at her wedding in California. I told my relatives and other friends who are based there my intention to visit and they too are so thrilled to accommodate me. Isn't that amazing?! That's the birth of my yearning to visit the US of A.

With great conviction, I browsed through the US Embassy website and read the steps carefully. When it is your turn to do this, please do not be intimidated. The words written there are actually it and can totally help you in the process. Click on what type of visa you will be applying for (again, read with a lot of care). You can save your application form, in case you cannot finish it in one sitting. Just take note of the application ID that will be provided - write it down or print it so you won't forget the next time you log in. 

My application form is called DS-160 for non-immigrants. I logged in last January 6 (Monday) and was able to finish completing all my information by January 8 (Wednesday). If you are a "sigurista" or OC like me, you can also start the filling out the form and go through each step. It gives you more time to read all the tips (do's and don'ts) especially on the correct photo to upload. Or you may go ahead and have your photo taken (does not need professionally, as long as it meets the embassy's set standard) and pay for the visa application fee through BPI or Bancnet then start your application form. With this, you will be able to finish the form and schedule your interview in one session. TIP: Read, read, read carefully and make sure you understand. Follow the instructions, as stated. When in doubt, you can always call their hotline and a friendly representative will be happy to assist you. I once called to verify which machine validated number from the deposit slip will be used to schedule an interview. I felt relieved to get an accurate information rather than second guessing myself. 

With the application form, it seeks to know your personal information and your intention to visit the US. TIP: BE HONEST. If you are, then there's no need for you to worry that you might forget what you wrote down or be afraid with the questions thrown by the Consul during the interview. As it will be based on your information, nothing else. If you are not, most likely the Consul will be able to determine, so choose honesty. There was a question asking about who is my point of contact when I arrive. For my case, since I am flying solo to meet relatives and friends there I answered my cousin's information. They say, it is risky to tell the US embassy that you know people in the US - as this may strengthen my ties there and I might opt to migrate. I think otherwise, though. It is true that I'll be living with my cousin when I get there so there is no point in lying. Also, I'm not willing to spend a dime for my hotel accommodation (because I have the privilege of free stay), I'd rather spend my pocket money on food and my quirks. Hehe! If you are truly traveling alone or with family and you plan to book your tours/accommodation, just indicate that fact too. 

As I've mentioned in my previous posts, I was able to get an interview schedule a week after the completion of my application. I chose the earliest available time (January 16, 7.30AM) as I need to know the result before February 14, in time for the travel expo -- see, I'm already claiming it even during the process :) I cannot confirm how many schedules are there in a day but the first is at 6.30AM.

If you already have an interview schedule, the Embassy requests you to be at the gate 15 minutes before the listed time in your appointment letter. As for me, I was excited and heard the advice from friends to go there as early as 5.00AM. However, TIP: you don't need to be that early unless you want to avoid the heavy traffic in that area or you want to relax with beautiful sunrise in front of Manila Bay or you just want to give the bystanders an opportunity to earn (andaming negosyo doon, from monoblock chairs while waiting, human counter - for your mobile phones/electronic devices, food/drinks to passport size photos). I turned my sleepy-because-I-was-TOO-early situation into something fun. I have been able to observe and listen to different stories of every applicant I've met, so sulit pa rin ang paggising ko ng maaga besides kabado din ako and it helps to know na I'm not alone :)

TIP: Before leaving the house for your interview, make sure you have the following documents - interview appointment letter, DS-160 confirmation page, valid passport, one 2” x 2” photo, and all prior passports and U.S. visas, if available. Along with the required documents, I also brought some of my personal documents in case I will be asked (better to be ready than sorry). These are NOT necessary but I  chose to bring them: certificate of employment indicating tenure, current position title, basic salary and that my company is allowing me to have my 3-week vacation leave; 2013 ITR, invitation letter from my bride-to-be friend and itinerary; and photos. I decided to leave my passbook at home as I am not confident to talk about it. 

After the waiting outside the Embassy gate, applicants are called per batch according to their schedule. My batch was called 30 minutes before. There is a scanning facility to detect any electronic device, so double check your bag or pockets before entering. TIP: Do not bring any electronic device with you, no matter how small it is. It was an easy-breezy queue. There were staff everywhere to make sure you are at the correct line and have the needed document. You can take a CR  or coffee break before entering the main hall where the interview is conducted. Again, the batch will be called by the marshals when it is the time. You may have a chit-chat with other applicants too, to ease whatever you are feeling that day. It will also help you and others if you remain in a positive, happy attitude rather than infecting others with negativity and anxiousness. TIP: Follow the marshals. When in doubt, ask!

The time has come when your batch is already called to enter the main hall. Another round of bag checking then you will be asked to fall in line for Step 1 - screening. I was only asked about the purpose of my travel and how long will I be staying in the US. After which, you can take a seat but you cannot relax as you need to watch out for your number on the highly installed monitors. The numbers are flashed randomly. TIP: PAY ATTENTION

Step 2 is the finger scanning. You will be asked to state your name and birthday before the actual finger scanning. If your hands are sweaty like mine, don't worry they will give you tissue paper to dry them first :P TIP: Your DS-160 confirmation page should be stamped with a red "CAPTURED" after this step. If not, tell the staff and they will gladly do so. 

You are now ready for Step 3 - The Interview. This may take a long wait than the usual queues so be patient while fixing your eyes on the monitor for your number. You may hear the interviews of the applicants before you - whether pleasant or unpleasant result. I chose to only hear the pleasant ones to psyched me up and also, to have a grateful heart for others. It helped me calm down as I approach the window where the assigned Consul for me is. As I heard more varied scenarios, I can say that there is no exact formula on how to get a visa approval. I don't think it depends on the Consul's mood or yours, or the answers you gave or how you answered or your capacity to afford your trip. I say, if it's yours then be it. You can only pray and hope for the best. If not it's not yet your time to visit the US of A, it's not the end of the world. You can always save and re-apply :)

You may see below how my interview with the Consul went, in case you are really curious. I tried to remember it as verbatim as possible :P TIP: Just relax. Be yourself and listen to the questions. Provide short but complete answers. Be polite. Enjoy the moment!

         Me: Good morning!
            C: Hi, good morning. How are you today?
         Me: I'm good... and excited!
            C: Oh, wow! That's good. Tell me about the purpose of your travel.
         Me: I was invited by my childhood best friend to be one of her bridesmaids at her wedding and I look forward to attend.
            C: That's nice. In which state?
         Me: California. (pause -- she seems to be scrolling my DS-160 form in her monitor)
            C: What do you do now? Where do you work?
         Me: I work as a Senior Account Manager in (interrupts me)
            C: What again?
         Me: Philippines.
            C: Okay, what's that? Tell me about your job.
         Me: It is an online portal where companies post their job ads. I work with recruitment agencies who help Filipinos find their job overseas.
            C: For how long have you been doing that?
         Me: Going 3 years now.
            C: How much do you earn?
         Me: Every month, I get a salary of xxx plus incentives and commissions of xxx.
            C: So, you get an estimate of xxx per month?
         Me: Yes.
            C: What do you do before that?
         Me: I worked for ABC company where we import candies and chocolates to be sold here in the Philippines.
            C: Do you travel around?
         Me: Yes, locally. And in Singapore for my birthday last year.
            C: What did you do there for your birthday?
         Me: I met with my friends who work there and did all the touristy activities.
            C: Did you travel alone?
         Me: Yes but I've met with several friends when I went there.
            C: What's the occupation of your friend who is about to get married?
         Me: Pharmacist.
            C: What about the husband to be?
         Me: He is a photographer.
            C: Do you have relatives there?
         Me: Yes.
            C: Are you married?
         Me: Not yet.
            C: Do you own a house? Where do you live here?
         Me: No, I rent an apartment in Quezon City.
            C: How long will you stay in the US?
         Me: Just for 3 weeks. My boss did not allow me to extend my vacation.
            C: Okay, you can wait for your visa to be delivered in 5 days.
         Me: Really?!
            C: Yes!!! Congratulations! Thank you, safe travels.
         Me: Wow!!! Thank you very much.

Wow!!! As I find my way out, I'm smiling up to my ears and I can't stop babbling, "thank you God. Praises to You, only You!". I was nearly in tears as I have no one with me to share such precious moment and I don't have my phone to inform my family about the good news. Then, the guard randomly asked how it went and he extended his congratulations. I'm overwhelmed!!! The two female strangers from the queue earlier saw me walking along Roxas Boulevard. We decided to have a little coffee date in celebration of that day. I'm also thankful for the experience. It pushed me to trust and inspire other people too.  

As I've said, there is no known formula in getting a US visa. All we have to do is pray for a grateful heart no matter what the result will be and to trust that God is in control. He is our deliverer!
Here's to inspiring you to overcome your fear (of applying a US visa), to make the experience fun than terrifying and most of all, to remain in faith as you wait for the result.

Faith and love,


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