Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Applying for a US Visa in 2015

the header from our online application print out
"The passport serves two purposes: to regain entry to the country of citizenship (i.e. the United States) and is a requirement by many countries to gain entry to the country you are visiting. A travel visa is an official government document that temporarily authorizes you to be in the country you are visiting." - https://www.passportsandvisas.com

When we finally decided to go on another family holiday to the US after more than a decade, I had to ask some friends who have recently applied for a US visa and browse through the US Embassy website for the latest procedure in visa application. The first time we applied for one was in 2002 (Ira wasn't born yet) and had been several changes to the process over the past 10 years.

Since we normally plan 6 to 12 months ahead of travel date and our target date was in December 2015, I started asking around and researching in April. I also emailed and called the US Embassy customer service hotline to confirm the proper procedure especially in our case since only the boys and I were applying as my husband still had a valid visa in his old passport. Based on the visa application link, creation of profile is Step 4 but I was advised to do that as Step 2. Before proceeding with the online application, I suggest that you call customer service for clarifications regarding the instructions. 

I had the time to sit in front of the computer in mid-May to do the online application. It took about 30 minutes to create a profile, complete the application form, attach approved photos and make payment online for the 3 of us taking into consideration double (even triple) checking all entries. The fee was USD160 and we paid SGD224 per person with the prevailing exchange rate. 

Here is the step-by-step non-immigrant visa application process based on our experience (after consulting with the customer service officer):
  1. We determined the type of visa we wanted to apply for using this link: 
  2. We then created a profile in this link http://www.ustraveldocs.com/sg. Since we applied as a family (1 adult, 1 teenager, 1 kid), the addition of members was done after the THANK YOU page upon creation of my profile. 
  3. We completed the Non-immigrant Electronic Visa Application (DS-160) form thru this link: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv. One form for each family member. I recommend going through the DS-160 guidelines to ensure careful completion of the application form. It helped a lot in clarifying some confusing questions.
    • We uploaded the digital photo based on specifications required. It's better to have several different photos on standby just in case. 
  4. We then paid the application fees online via Standard Chartered. That payment option was still available during our time of application. It was a bit tricky though specially if you are paying for multiple persons. The instructions online tell you that you will receive a unique account number per payment per person. That meant for the 3 of us there should be 3 unique numbers and payment should be made separately. As payment is non-transferable and non-refundable, extra caution is necessary. Our payment went through even with some confusion with the account number and we were able to schedule our interview appointment date. Phew!
  5. After payment, we selected our interview appointment date. I didn't want the boys to miss any school day so we opted for the school holiday date, first week of June, 915am slot (not too early but not too late). Preference in passport delivery also had to be indicated at this stage. 
Once done, we saved soft copies of our completed application forms (for personal reference only), DS-160 confirmation pages, interview appointment confirmation and payment receipts. The last 3 documents were printed and brought along to the interview day.

We had a good 2 weeks before the interview. Plenty of time to prepare supporting documents, and mind you, I prepared A LOT! 

Here's a list of what we brought to the interview:
  • Very important 
    • interview appointment letter 
    • DS-160 confirmation page 
    • passports - ALL available old passports (there were 3 of us x 3 passports each, you get the picture)
    • fee receipt from Standard Chartered (very important)
    • one recent photo each with white background only (I brought several different copies, to be safe)
  • Supporting documents (Even though this was already my second time to apply for visa and I was assured by some friends that approval was guaranteed, I didn't want to take the risk. I brought along an envelop-full of documents. You can never be too sure what documents the Consular Officer might look for.)
    • boys' birth certificates
    • my marriage certificate
    • bank account statements and passbooks
    • my husband's IRAS statements (since he was the main financier)
    • HDB flat ownership documents
    • several other financial documents
    • airline e-tickets (we actually booked our tickets a month before our online visa application)
    • itinerary
On the day of interview. The queue was not that long yet when we arrived. We were directed to a covered waiting area at the parking lot. Applicants were called by batch. When it was our turn to go in I felt more nervous than ever while Ira was getting impatient to get to the interview room.

We passed by the security screening, showed our interview appointment, then were ushered into the interview room. We had to wait for our number to be called. To pass time, applicants could watch the interview guide being screened on the overhead TVs. Ira paid careful attention to what was shown on TV - possible questions during the interview - and prepared himself for the answers. He also listened to the conversations between Consular Officers and applicants. Some of the questions were:
  • How long have you been in Singapore?
  • Are you working? How long have you been with your company?
  • Where are you going and what are you going to do there?
  • Will you be visiting a relative?
  • Who is going to pay for your trip?
There were several other follow up questions depending on the replies of the applicants. Some applicants had it easy and got their visas approved within a minute or so while others were grilled with follow up questions which lasted for several minutes. It was nerve-wrecking listening to the interviews of other applicants. And so my anxiety grew. 

Our number was finally called and we submitted our interview appointment confirmation forms. We had to wait again to be called for finger printing. Ira was a bit disappointed that he didn't get to test the machine for himself because only Kelvin and I got to go for it. I had to explain that finger printing was only for a certain age group. 

We had to wait for a few minutes more to be called for the actual interview in another counter/window. There were so many things running through my mind the whole time we were waiting for our turn. Hearing application rejections was not helping. When our number was called again Ira came front and center, quite confident and ready to answer questions. 

We were greeted with a smile by a cheerful Consular Officer (thank goodness!). I placed my envelop by the counter prepared to bring out supporting documents. To my surprise though, I was only asked a few questions - our length of stay in Singapore, if I had any other children, what's my husband's job, who were we going to visit, am I working, and the expiration date of our previous visa. Then the Consular Officer said with a smile, "Okay, your visas are approved. Your passports will be delivered to your home in a few days." That was it, no supporting documents required. We were done in less than 5 minutes. And I breathed a sigh of relief. Ira, on the other hand, was so disappointed for waiting in line for 2 hours or so and not being able to answer any questions or have his finger print taken. 

Fast forward 2 days after our interview, we got another surprise as we received our passports from the mail. We didn't expect them till the week after but were thankful the wait was finally over. We got 10-year multiple entry visas. 

That was our visa application journey. I was ready to start my detailed day-to-day itinerary planning for our trip.




For more information about US Visa application, below are there U.S. Embassy Contact Details:

  


6 comments:

  1. Hi, Thanks for sharing!

    I am applying the US visa with my wife. We have both completed our own DS-160 form. When scheduling for appointment, I realized one of us can add another as dependent who will be travelling along. We are prompted to key in 2 receipt number for the visa payment. May I ask if we have to schedule the appointment separately? or just one appointment will do provided I have added my other half as the dependent.

    Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I remember it correctly, when you book an appointment you can see how many slots per appointment time, I think there was a max of 4 slots per appointment time. We registered for our preferred time slot which was 915am and entered the receipt number one by one. That means I made an appointment for each one of us. Our confirmation receipt however, is only addressed to me (main applicant) and indicated 3 applicants for the specified time slot.

      For further clarification, you can actually call the embassy hotline or email them as there may be some changes in their processes. Here's their number +6531585400 and their email support-singapore@ustraveldocs.com

      Hope this helps.

      Good luck in your application!

      Delete
    2. Thanks Karen!

      May i ask how long did the whole process took apart from the interview?

      Delete
    3. Our interview day was on a Wednesday morning. I received an email notification Friday that our passports were on the way to be delivered. So it was only 2 days after our interview when we got our passports with visas back.

      Delete
  2. Hi Karen,
    May I ask if you paid for each of you separately (having separate receipt)? And for the sgd convertion of the usd160, did you follow whatever is there in the US visa website? Thanks for answering.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi! Sorry for the late reply. Yes, we did have separate receipts which was used in booking the appointment. And yes, we had to follow the conversion rate as stated in the US Embassy website.

      Hope your application will go smoothly. Happy New Year!

      Delete

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