While the process of applying for a U.S. visa at a consulate or embassy is not a secret, most people are not familiar with it, unless they have personally been through the process or maybe heard about someone’s experience with the process.
With some exceptions, U.S. law requires every applicant to make a personal appearance for an interview with a Consular Officer. If there are no national security concerns, Consular Officers may waive the personal appearance requirement for limited categories of applicants, including children less than 14 years of age; persons over 79 years of age; officials of foreign governments and international organizations; and, under certain circumstances, travelers renewing recently expired visas. It’s best to review one’s current situation and the current processing guidelines of the nearest consular post.
While oftentimes, a visit to the Consulate or Embassy can take hours, largely due to waiting times and security checks upon entrry, a typical visa interview lasts just a few minutes and often involves applicants trying to persuade the consular officer that they have firm plans to return to their home country after a visit to the United States, that they do not intend to cause harm to the U.S. or its interests, and that they are otherwise qualified for a visa. The interview is face-to-face although the consular officer is behind a blast resistant window.
Before the interview:
While the exact procedures can vary from Consular Post to Consular Post around the world, essentially all of the following points must be completed (maybe in a different order or sequence) by foreigners wishing to visit the United States:
1) submit a passport and a passport-sized photo;
2) pay the nonrefundable application fee (MRV) and obtain a receipt;
3) obtain an appointment date and time;
4) gather any required and supporting documents; and
5) fill out the visa application form and other required forms.
Getting to the interview window:
After the visa applicant arrives at the embassy or consulate on the appointed day, local consular staffers check the application, passport, photograph and any other documents submitted by the alien. In addition, consular staffers also check that all required data has been correctly entered into the computer system, and initiate a computerized check against a database of foreign nationals who have been denied or are ineligible to receive visas, or for whom other derogatory information is known. Consular employees collect digital fingerprints that are also checked against databases for derogatory information. The passport information is also checked against databases to determine if the passport has been reported lost or stolen.
By the time the visa applicant appears in front of the consular officer for his visa interview, the consular officer will have the applicant’s name check results and other data on a nearby computer screen. Consular officers, also called consuls and vice-consuls, conduct the interview, usually in the language of the foreign country.
Visa denials and ineligibilities:
The most common reason for a consular officer to refuse a visa to a non-immigrant visa applicant is Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This section of the law requires applicants to convince the consular officer that the purpose of their trip is permissible under U.S. visa regulations and that they are true non-immigrants with the intention to return home after a temporary visit to the United States.
Other reasons for denying a visa application include staying longer than permitted during a previous visit to the United States, providing false information to visa or immigration officers, assisting other persons to violate U.S. immigration laws, convictions for certain criminal offenses, or having a communicable disease of public health significance. Except in very rare circumstances defined in regulations, consular officers always provide verbal and written notice and explanation identifying the section of U.S. law under which their application was refused.
Getting the visa to the applicant:
Depending on the procedures in effect at the embassy or consulate, Applicants who succeed in qualifying for a visa may be asked to return in order to pick up their passport with the U.S. visa attached inside, or they may pay a courier company, contracted by the embassy, for home or office delivery of the passport.