US visa is the most run-after and thus, the most illusion-ed one in India. They say it’s hard to get one. I say the half-baked narratives going around regarding the US visa application process make things more intimidating.
With a rejection rate so high, applying for US visa certainly brings nervousness and tension but if you have the right documents and the right approach, it’s not quite as hard to get as it has been portrayed. The process, of course, is lengthy and grueling but worth it!
The number of Non-Immigrant US visas issued to Indian Citizens has grown by 4 times over the last two decades.
America remains the most sought-after country for Indians. The number of Indian visitors to the USA increases substantially every year. While 1.17 million Indians visited the States in 2017, the country is expecting around two million Indian visitors in 2018, writes Indian Express.
Despite all that, it’s still a struggle to get a US visa stamp on an Indian passport. Reason? Indian citizens are seen as prospective illegal immigrants. Blame the statistics that say Indians amount to the fastest growing group of illegal immigrants in the USA. Contrarily, in another news, statistics say that India scored 11th position by arrival numbers to the USA in 2016, while it was at a 6th position in terms of the amount spent during their travel to the USA. So, 1.17 million Indians spent USD 13.6 billion. That’s huge!
According to Business Today, Indian travelers top the list of the world’s highest spenders abroad. With the growing number of well-off Indians wanting to travel abroad, the USA needs to device easy visa policies for Indians to seize all those dollars.
POWER OF THE US VISA ON AN INDIAN PASSPORT
Do you know that the US visa on an Indian Passport means much more than just traveling to the United States? One visa stamp on your weak Indian Passport can turn it into a mighty one. How?
US visa application process follows a strict screening. Getting a US visa stamp means you have strong ties to India (your home country), are financially strong, no criminal history, and of course no illegal immigration intentions.
Thus, US visa on an Indian Passport increases its worth many folds. It gives you visa-free access to several gorgeous nations!
Indians who have a valid US visa get visa-free access to many countries like Georgia, Mexico, UAE, Taiwan, Turkey, Colombia, Panama, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, St. Marten, Aruba, Peru, and Columbia. Phew!
Canadian Government introduced the CAN+ Program in 2014 for Indian citizens who hold a valid US non-immigrant visa. The program offers multiple-entry visa for Canada with faster processing time and lesser paper-work (no financial documents) for Indian citizens. The system will itself identify the application as CAN+ once you complete the online Canada visa form.
The list of countries granting visa exemptions to Indian passport holders with a valid US visa is growing per diem.
Why? You may ask. The logic says that If as an Indian with a powerful US visa stamp on your passport you didn’t choose to overstay or move illegally to the USA when you truly had a chance, why would you want to move to any other county. It does make sense.
With a valid US visa, getting a visa to other countries too become easier. Isn’t it a great resource as a traveler?
US Tourist Visa
US tourist/visitor visa/B visa is a non-immigrant US visa issued to people traveling to the USA temporarily for business (B1) or pleasure/tourism/visiting friends or relatives/medical purposes (B2). Mostly, B1 and B2 are combined and stamped as one visa in the passport – the B1-B2 visa.
Duration of the Visa
The US tourist visa is mostly offered for a period ranging from 1 year to 10 years with multiple entries, however, the maximum period of stay during a single trip shouldn’t extend six months. However, it can be extended on request which is subject to approval.
The visitor visa is issued for a period of 6 months and the maximum extension of another 6 months can be given based on the approval of USCIS. You need to fill the I-539 form minimum 45 days before your stay at the USA expires. The cover letter stating the reason for extension requested and other required documents are submitted along with the form. Here’s everything about the US Visitor Visa Extension.
A Step By Step Guide to Securing the US Tourist Visa from India
Step 1 – Documents Required for the Visa Application
Collect all the required documents needed to process the US visa application before you start the whole visa process. Know the process, its requirements and be prepared in advance. Remember, “knowing is half the battle!”
Requirements of the US visa
I guess the only factor that matters or that makes or breaks the US visa process is how you convince the visa officer of your strong ties to your home country through DS-160 and the interview.
They don’t check all the documents maybe because DS-160 already has all the required information. Do you think a visa officer has all the time in the world to check each and every individual’s documents? No. Frankly, with the ever-growing queue at the embassy, they can’t afford to. Average waiting time in a queue at the USA embassy is 30 minutes despite the appointment.
All the questions asked by the consular or visa officer are directed towards the same point – Strong Ties! You have a permanent job in your home country. Check. You have been working with this company for so and so years. Check. You have been sanctioned leave for a month after which you need to report to work. Check. Your kids are going to regular school. Check. You have parents living in the same country. Check.
The documents are usually asked in cases where the immigration officer is doubtful of your intent to travel to the USA. But, everyone needs to carry the asked documents, of course.
The result of the visa is mostly dependent on how confidently and honestly you answer all the questions asked by the visa officer at the embassy.
Here’s a list of documents you would need during the US Visitor visa application process –
- Valid Current Passport with at least 2 blank pages and 6 months validity beyond your duration of stay in the USA.
- Old Passports.
- Print out of DS-160 barcode application confirmation page.
- Visa application (MRV) fee receipt.
- A print out of the visa interview appointment confirmation letter.
You need to gather the relevant supporting documents that establish your strong ties to the home country – India.
- Documents showing proof of enough funds in the account to take the trip to the USA viz. Bank Statements up to 6 months, Salary Slips (3 months), Copy of Passbook, Property papers, FD, Shares, Mutual Funds, NSC, PPF, any other proof of liquid cash.
The bank statements furnished and stamped by your bank are to be attached. Print-outs don’t work.
- Documents showing your intent to return to India (home country) viz. Employment records like Employment Letter on company’s letterhead stating your position, year of joining, and monthly salary, Letter of Leave from the Company (NOC), ITRs up to 3 years for job personnel. Business Ownership Documents like Company registration/Business Permit, Tax Statements, Company’s Bank account statements or financial reports (3 months) for businessmen. School/College ID Card for people traveling with children/minors.
- Detailed Travel Itinerary
- Letter of invitation from a friend or relative living in the United States. To have an invitation letter from someone residing in the USA seems to work in a positive way though it’s not a requirement.
Provide as much proof as you can. Over-delivering isn’t bad at all if the documents are relevant and give evidence of your eligibility for the visa.
Unlike Visa to other countries, you don’t need to show the hotel and flight bookings for the US visa.
The US visa can be applied even if you aren’t planning to visit right away. They don’t ask for particular dates or period of travel here. Tentative dates can be given.
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Step 2 – Fill the Online Visa Application Form
Complete the Non-immigrant visa online/electronic application form DS-160. Before you fill the form, make sure to read the guidelines to fill the DS-160 form to avoid any mistakes or confusion while filling the form.
Practice caution. Mistakes could delay the process or even bring about your application to be denied. Check and re-check the spelling of your name because a small mistake can cost a lot. Been there, done that.
How to Fill Out the DS-160 Form
Let me take you through the DS-160 Form simulation to make the process easy for you. Take a look at the sample preview of DS-160 form before you start filling one.
Here’s a link to the DS-160 Form.
Select the Consulate (country) to which you are applying. Start the application and fill all the mandatory fields clearly and precisely. Don’t leave any question blank. Check Not Applicable when recommended.
The huge amount of information demanded in the form needs patience and preparation. Make sure you have both. You need to keep some documents handy while filling the online form.
Passport – You’ll be asked the name as on the passport, dob as on the passport, passport number, issue date, expiration date and the authority/country that issued the passport.
US Travel History from the past five years – You need to give the details of the last five trips to the USA if you’ve been in the past. Check the dates on your passport to fill in the form.
Travel Itinerary – You are supposed to give the travel itinerary information including flight details if you have. If you haven’t yet planned then give the estimated or rough dates.
Point of Contact -The contact information (name, phone number, email address and the mailing address) of your point of contact in the US.
Complete address of the place (hotel) you’ll stay at in the US. Hotel bookings aren’t necessary. So, you can provide the name and address of the hotel you might choose to stay.
Family Full Information – The form asks for mother’s, father’s, sister’s and brother’s name and DOB as shown on their passport. We were calling our parents in the middle of filling the form and thus session timed out twice. Ensure you have all the info beforehand to save time.
Current and Previous Work History Details – You’ll be asked your current company’s name, address, your work description and the monthly salary. Plus, you need to list out all the companies with their addresses you have worked with in past and the time period (start date and end date), job titles, managers’ names and job responsibilities in all of them.
Education Details – Educational qualifications are required to be filled. Names and addresses of the schools/colleges/universities from where you passed out 10th, 11th, 12th, Bachelors and Masters degrees including the dates attended.
Digital Photo – You are also required to attach a digital photograph online. Make sure the photograph meets all the requirements. Use the photograph taken not more than 3 months before and make sure you’d not used the one for a visa application before.
All the questions in the form are in English except where you are asked to fill your name in the native language. To assist non-native English speakers, translations are available in many languages.
If you are stuck at some point or the session is timed out or you have something urgent to do while filling the DS-160, remember there’s an option to save the application at each step/page. Save the form after each step so you could retrieve the application from where you left it. You have a 30 days window to complete the application.
Make sure to note down the application number at the start to retrieve the form if the technical glitch happens.
Take a print of the completed Visa application form with the BARCODE.
Separate applications are filled for each individual. We filled three different forms under family application for three of us – I, hubby and daughter and got three separate DS-160 Barcodes. Once you get the acknowledgment page after completing the first application, you’ll be asked if you wish to fill a new form for another family or group member.
If you still have questions, all the frequently asked questions regarding DS-160 are answered here.
We (I and hubby) attended the interview together. This isn’t the case always like my sister too filled three forms under family application but she and her hubby were called separately for the interview.
Our 8-year-old daughter didn’t accompany us for the interview. kids below 14 years don’t need to come for the interview.
Step 3 – Pay the US Visitor visa fee/MRV Fee
After completing the online form, it’s mandatory to pay the US visitor visa fee before you make an appointment for the visa interview. The fee for a non-immigrant tourist visa is USD 160 (INR 12,160 as per current consular exchange rate) and it’s non-refundable and non-transferable.
Create your profile here and go to schedule the appointment option. You’ll be guided to the payment options. Choose the option convenient for you.
Fee payment options include NEFT (National Electronic Funds Transfer), IMPS (Mobile Payments), Cash Over the counter at DRUK Bank, AXIS Bank or Citibank. We tried to pay through NEFT but encountered an error. So, we didn’t try it again and preferred to pay cash at AXIS bank over the counter. We took the print out of the fee collection slip to the Axis Bank and paid in cash. After the payment, the bank provided us with the fee receipt.
You will be given 2 days (48 hours) to pay your visa fee once you submit the DS-160 visa form. The visa appointment can be booked within a year from the date of the visa fee payment.
Whatever method you choose to pay the fee, it’s critical to have a proof of payment in order to schedule your visa interview appointment.
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Step 4 – Book the Appointments. Yes, Two In-Person Appointments!
Schedule your appointment for the biometrics at the VAC (Visa Application Centre) and for the visa interview at the US Consulate/Embassy. Appointments can be scheduled online as well as through call center (+912267209400/ +911206602222.)
Plan well in advance. At least 3 to 4 months in advance. You might have to wait longer for the schedule slot because of the high rush of visa applications during summer or holidays.
While I write this, the average appointment wait time in US Embassy at New Delhi is 28 calendar days. Planning ahead is crucial in attaining a desired visa appointment date.
You are allowed to change your visitor visa appointment date only once.
If due to some reason you aren’t able to attend the visa interview, your visa payment receipt gets deactivated and you can take the new appointment after 2 working days from the missed visa interview.
Emergency Appointments are granted in special cases.
Book the appointment to VAC a day or two before the visa interview. Take into consideration the travel time if you don’t have VAC and the US embassy in your city.
Choose the Visa Application Centre and the Embassy closest to you. The Visa Application Centres and the US Consulates are located only in five major Indian Cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Kolkata.
Step 5 – Biometrics at Visa Application Center (VAC)
You need to visit the Visa Application Centre for Biometrics. They take your fingerprints and a digital photograph. The process doesn’t take much time. Reach a little before your appointment time. Carry your passport, DS-160 confirmation page, Visa application fee payment receipt, the VAC appointment confirmation page, and one photograph as per US visa specification for the applicant under 14 years.
The DS-160 application is stamped at VAC which has to be shown at the US Consulate.
Kids under 14 years and adults over 79 years are not required to give biometrics.
Step 6 – Attend the Visa Interview at the Consulate
On the day of your appointment, reach 15 minutes before your appointment time at the US Embassy. Don’t forget to carry the original as well as photocopies of all the mandatory and supporting documents required to process your visa application request.
There’s a substantial wait time outside as well as inside the embassy. We stood in a line outside the consulate where three consulate personnel checked our original passport, visa interview appointment letter, and visa fee payment receipt.
Phones, bags, food items, or any other electronic devices like laptops or tablets aren’t allowed inside the embassy. We left our phones in the car and only carried a folder with the documents.
After a security check, we entered the consulate and were guided towards the fingerprinting scan with a token for the interview.
We were made to sit on the benches once the fingerprint verification was done.
A group of people as per the time slots were sent in for the interview.
Once our name was announced, we moved further to be welcomed again by a queue. The queue moved fastly as the immigration officers at different windows were not taking much time. While waiting, our nervousness increased as we observed applicants, some moving out with the sad faces and some with a winning smile.
Applicants talk and listen to the visa officer behind the glass window through a microphone and a speaker. The interviews are short and crisp. Ours, as well as other’s (as I observed), lasted between 3 to 7 minutes.
The consular didn’t even ask for a single document from us. I was happy and sad at the same time. Happy as we got the visa without even showing documents and sad, as I spent a lot of time collecting and arranging the documents in the right order.
The lady officer asked a few quick questions regarding my husband’s job, our purpose of visit and about our friend in the USA. She even asked the address of our friend’s address. So, it’s good to remember the address, phone number and work status of the family member or a friend staying in the USA especially if you have an invitation letter from one. We spoke informally about some of the cities in the States we will be visiting.
She smiled and asked for our passports to be stamped. It felt like a cake-walk. I thought to myself – what’s all the fuss about?
Visitor visa applicants must prove to the consular officer that they have strong ties to their home country and they intend to come back from the USA after their temporary stay.
The interviewer will let you know immediately if your application is accepted or denied. Your passport is retained if the visa is approved and is returned if not.
Visa Interview Questions and their Expected Responses
What do you do? Where are you employed? For how long you are working with a particular company? How much are you earning?
These are the most important questions because the answer to these will convince the officer of your strong ties to your country. Give credible and genuine information about your job.
Why do you want to travel to the United States?
To explore the beauty and diversity the USA has to offer.
Which all places are you planning to visit in the US?
List out the places you want to visit there. It’s always good to research about the places you are planning to visit in the USA so, you could answer this question confidently.
Have you ever thought of working in the USA?
A.BIG.NO. Say I’m happy with my job and life here in my country. Besides, I have my parents to take care of (if suitable) and the extended family here. The point is to show them that you don’t have any intentions to use your tourist visa to look for jobs in the USA.
Who all are traveling with you to the USA?
Relatives/Friends/Family – Give names if asked.
Are hotel or flights booking done?
Flight and hotel ticket bookings are not required for the US visa. Be frank here. Tell them, you’ll book the tickets once you get the visa.
Which all countries have you traveled to?
A well-traveled applicant gets the visa easily. It shows that you’ve been to several countries and have always come back on time. Be honest while you answer this. Your passports show everything.
An applicant quoted the wrong travel dates to the officer; passport showed he traveled to this particular country in 2013 but he answered 2015. Not to mention, he was denied the visa.
How are you planning to fund your travel?
Self-funded or sponsored. Make sure you know all the information (address, phone number, the source of living, and other details) about your sponsor by heart.
Do you have any friends or relatives in the US?
Give their details if you have any even when you don’t plan to visit them. If you are planning to visit or have an invitation letter from any one of them, give the exact details. They sometimes even ask for their US visa status (green card holder or H1B).
How long are you planning to stay in the US? When are you coming back to India?
Answer the same as you answered in the DS-160 form and as mentioned in the leave letter from the employer as per your travel itinerary. EXACT DATES/DAYS. Even a little discrepancy can cost you a lot, you know.
When you get right down to it, they just want to know that you have enough funds to travel to the States and you have more than enough reasons to come back to India – like a Permanent job, family obligations, property assets, social involvement and also your travel history to analyze if you have overstayed in any country outside your allowable stay period.
Step 7 – Passport Collection
The passport is available for collection at VAC or delivered at your address in around 3 to 4 days for. You can track the status of passport online or can pick the email or SMS alerts option while filling the form.
You or someone else (a person authorized in a letter) can collect it by showing a valid ID proof within 15 days.
Visa Rejection under 214 (b)
There’s nothing much you can do about it. The US Consulate holds the right to issue the US visa. If the visa officer isn’t convinced with your application, he/she denies the visa. The consular declares the result then and there and issues a refusal letter stating the reason for the visa rejection. Read all about 214 (b) here.
Visa Refusal under 221 (g)
It’s a kind of temporary refusal which can be reversed by providing additional information or documents. The visa officer issues a 221(g) slip if he/she feels the need for the additional screening and isn’t able to take the decision at the time of the interview.
221(g) slips are of different colors viz. blue, pink, green, white, or yellow depending upon the reason of refusal.
There’s no set time period for the processing under 221 (g). It can be resolved in a week or can take months to be settled. Read all about 221 (g) here.
Re-application for the US Visitor Visa
You can reapply for the visa as many times as you wish to. There’s no time restriction on reapplication of the visa after the refusal. You can do it right away if you have the additional documents to demonstrate your eligibility for the visa to the immigration officer.
Tips for Successful US Visa Application
- Research, Know your visa type and be ready with all the required documents before you start the visa process. Arrange them in an organized way. Don’t just rely on the internet. Sometimes the consulate doesn’t update the visa requirements on their website. To be on the safer side, call the Consulate to cross-check.
- Wait times for the visa interview are drawn-out during summer, so apply early. Allow yourself a few buffer days.
- Be on point while answering the questions at the visa interview. Nothing less, nothing more.
- Stick to your answers. I mean, the answers filled in the DS-160 form and answers given to the consulate officer should be same. There should not be any incoherency in the answers. Be honest. My observation says that DS-160 is the most important deciding factor in the US visa process. They counter-scan the information given in the form in their database.
- Show sure-fire evidence to convince them of your strong ties to India.
- Wear something comfortable and presentable for the visa interview.
- Please don’t provide a bank statement showing an immediate transfer of the huge amount of money in your account. Whatever money you have in the account, you should be able to show the source of those transfers. The account should have a decent amount of maintained savings balance for the last few months before you apply for the visa.
- Don’t produce fake documents. DO NOT. The documents should be authentic. Fake documents will not just get you a visa refusal but a ban.
My Top Recommendation to Secure the US visa – Tell the Truth. As they say, “you can never go wrong by telling the truth.”
Disclaimer: The information here is for reference purposes only. It’s to help and ease the US visa process but doesn’t in any way assure the approval of your US tourist visa application. The decision to approve or deny your visa application rests with the U.S. immigration officer.
Have questions regarding the US Tourist visa? Need help with your US Visa Application? Ask me in the comments section.
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