In my opinion, getting a US visa is one of the more difficult visas to get when you have a Philippine passport. If you are planning to get one for yourself or for your child, here are some steps you can follow to prepare yourself. I am not saying that this will guarantee you a visa or that the steps I took were the right ones, I am just sharing my own experiences. As such, my US visa application experience might be totally different from yours.
I applied for a B1/B2 visa. Other visa types might have different application procedures. Given that, I suggest you properly prepare for your application and research what you can.
Again, an important caveat: I am not an agent, an immigration lawyer or consultant. I do not have any connection with the US embassy or any embassy for that matter. No one but the US embassy can decide on your visa application. What I have outlined here are the steps on how to get it and my own experience.
Technical steps of applying for a US visa:
- Know your visa type. This will depend on the type of visit that you are planning to do to the US. The different visa types are seen here: http://manila.usembassy.gov/nivisatype.html.
- Find out if you do need a visa for the purpose of your trip. This will depend on your citizenship (the country of issue of your passport), being a Philippine citizen, I needed to get a visa for myself and my daughter.
- If this is not your first time to get a visa, find out if you qualify for the Interview Waiver Program. Guidelines are found here: http://manila.usembassy.gov/interview-waiver.html
- Pay the visa application fee: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph/ph-niv-visafeeinfo.asp. This can be done online or through an over-the-counter payment at any BPI branch. Please make sure you print out the deposit slip fee applicable to your visa type. If you are applying for B1/B2, this is the Deposit Slip for the $160 MRV. Print one per applicant (separate fees apply even for children). Make sure you have the passport information when you pay at the bank because they will ask for this. Keep the receipt because they might ask for this at the embassy (although they didn’t really ask me when I got there).
- Complete the Non-immigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160). The form is found here: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/. If you do not finish your application, you can always come back to it. Be as thorough as possible and completely answer all the questions as honestly as you can. Print only the confirmation page. You can print a copy of your application only as a reference for yourself, please do not bring this to the embassy.
- Schedule an appointment here: https://cgifederal.secure.force.com/?language=English&country=Philippines. You can schedule an appointment for just the main applicant and add on the others if you are applying as a family. However, they may not necessarily interview you together, this will be decided by the visa officer when you get there.
- Go to the US Embassy/Consulate’s Manila office along Roxas Boulevard. Bring your appointment letter, your confirmation page, one recent photograph, your current and old passports. All visa applicants, regardless of age, will have to show up to the embassy for an interview.
Things to remember when you get to the embassy:
- Even if you were able to submit a photo through the system, make sure you still bring a hardcopy. Follow the photo guidelines strictly. I was asked to get my photo re-taken because both eyebrows were covered by my hair. If this happens to you, there is a photo booth inside the embassy, you will need to pay P80 for that. So prepare to bring at least P100.
- They do not allow any communication or electronic device inside the embassy. Sharp objects, anything with an on/off switch, lighters and cigarettes are also not allowed. There are cigarette and food vendors outside that will offer to hold your phone for you until after your interview. Or you can just leave your phone at home.
- There is no parking area at the embassy. You can park your car at the other side of Roxas Boulevard. There are restaurants that have parking and there is also street parking that charges exorbitant fees (P100 for an hour or two)
- Get to the embassy early. It says be there at least 15 minutes before your appointment but I booked the 8:30 appointment and got there by 7am and was already allowed to enter. There is often a long line just to enter the embassy, if you are with a baby, they let you cut right to the front of that line.
- Prepare your DS-160 confirmation page and your passport. Make sure that your child also has an appointment and a passport. Take only the first page of the DS-160 (no need for the instruction page), fold it in half with the print showing and place this in the identification page of your passport prior to approaching the entrance area.
- You will need to line up a second time when they give you a number. All applicants of your group will need to line up together. Hand over all your passports to the counter. They will ask for your relationship and decide whether or not you will be interviewed together. In my case, I was with my mom and my daughter, so my mother was given a separate number from us and was asked to sit in the waiting area (where there’s food and drinks you can buy) to wait for her number but I was told I can request that my mother and I be interviewed together. I was asked to go directly into Door 2 and line up there with my child. We were sent to the front of the line because my daughter is only 3 years old.
- The visa officer for the pre-screening will check all your documents, he/she will also assess if your photo passes the guidelines, if you paid the right amount and if used the right visa application. This is where you can request to be interviewed together with other family members. If they see that you have been declined for a visa before and you did not state this in your application, your attention will be called to it as what happened to the guy in front of me. As said earlier, be as honest as possible in your application.
- When everything is okay, you will be asked to line up for finger printing. Those with small children will also go through the express line. My daughter’s finger prints were not taken anymore but they got it for my mom and myself. You will need to put four fingers for scanning first for each hand, then the two thumbs together.
- The visa officer doing the finger printing will tell you whether you are an expedite applicant or if you need to wait for your number to flash on the screen. If you are with a baby or elderly applicants, you will be expedited and you can line up at any free consul counter.
Other tips to help you prepare:
- Unlike other visa applications I’ve done before, the US visa procedure does not have a specific checklist of documents you need to present to get your visa. I suggest reading the supporting documents section here: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph/ph-niv-typeb1b2.asp and their FAQs here: http://manila.usembassy.gov/niv-faq.html
- The only thing you will really need to demonstrate is your ties to the Philippines, which means you have a reason to go back after your trip. This could mean anything from social, economic or family ties.
- Here are the things I brought to the interview:
- Land title – I do not have the original since it is still mortgaged with the bank so I brought only a copy with me
- Transfer title documentation – For one of my properties, the title has not been transferred to me yet, so I had with me the Deed of Absolute Sale and the certification that it is fully paid
- Certification from my daughter’s pre-school that she is enrolled for the upcoming school year
- Bank Certifications plus 3 months bank statements to prove that I have money to travel
- Certificate of employment with ITR and payslip
- Previous records of my stay in the US including extension letters
**Note that of all these, only the letters granting me an extension for my two-year stay in the US 12 years ago was required by the consul.
- Some usual questions the consul asks:
- Purpose of going to the US?
- Where do you plan to go?
- Do you have relatives in the US?
- Are you staying with them for this trip?
- How long do you plan to stay in the US?
- Who is paying for your trip?
- What do you do for a living?
- How long have you been with the company?
- How much do you make?
- Have you travelled to other countries before?
- Are you married?
- Are you travelling with your husband?
- Have you been to the US before? When and how long were you there?
Interviews usually last between 2 minutes to 5 minutes. Consuls process hundreds of applications a day so it is best to set your appointment early in the morning, be well prepared for your interview and have all the necessary documentation with you.
After the interview, the consul will let you know whether you qualify for a visa or not and how long the processing will take. If you do not qualify for a visa, your passport will be returned to you. If you do qualify for one, the consul will tell you how long the processing will take and the visa will be couriered to your chosen address.