The date of your visa interview is now just around the corner. As the culmination of a process that has lasted many months, this is a big day. If you are like most of my clients, you are going to be nervous, and that’s okay.
Set yourself up for success on the day of the interview.
- You will be going alone. Your U.S. petitioner spouse/fiance is not required to attend the interview. Moreover, consulates do not have to allow the U.S. spouse/fiance to attend even if she wants to. Only the primary visa applicant and any dependent applicants are permitted to attend the interview.
- Dress for success. Your visa interview is a formal event. You should dress in a manner that signals your respect for the process and the officer with whom you are meeting. Still, you need to be yourself. If you aren’t the sort of person who feels comfortable in a suit, don’t wear one. Authenticity is key to the interview process, so don’t try to recreate your image for the event. Avoid overly revealing clothes – this is not a dance hall.
- Consider your diet. As described below, you may be at the consulate for a long time. Eat healthy breakfast that will sustain your energy and not leave your tummy grumbling at the interview window. Personally, when I have a speaking event or some engagement where I know I will be nervous, my approach is to avoid caffeine ahead of time. You may not be at your finest if you have six espresso before going to the interview.
- Travel. Understand how you will get to the consulate. Plan for traffic and allow yourself plenty of travel time. In advance, see if there is a coffee shop or public place where you can kill time, if needed, before the interview.
- Be prepared to wait outside. All but the smallest U.S. consulates are likely to have a significant line of visa applicants outside. Be prepared to stand outside for an hour or longer. That means comfortable shoes. If you are in Kiev in the winter bring a warm coat; if you are in Bangkok in July bring a good umbrella.
- Be prepared to wait inside. After entering the consulate you may have a wait of one or more hours before your interview. Bring something to read. If you take medication, make sure that you have it.
- Bring nothing except your application papers. Cell phones, keys, and anything that could be viewed as a weapon are prohibited from consulates. Make it easy and bring only your application materials and wallet. Most consulates have a limited number of lockers available for applicants who bring prohibited items, but do not plan on having a locker available.
- Security is tight. Consulates are high-security compounds protected by U.S. Marines and local security contractors. To enter the compound you will need to present valid photo ID and your interview notice. You will pass through a metal detector and may be subject to a pat-down search as at an airport.
What should you bring to the interview?
The interview notification that you received can be confusing, because it often instructs you to bring documents that have already been submitted. First of all, it is important to understand that the consular officer will have in her possession the entire original petition packet that he filed at the beginning of your case. She will also have all of the documents that you have already submitted at the consular stage or previously with the National Visa Center. But as well have been described in your consulate – specific instructions, there are certain original documents that you need to bring with you if you have so far only filed copies of those documents.
- Police certificate. As you know at this point, a police certificate shows your clear criminal background for everyplace you have lived since age 16. If you filed only copies of the police certificates, bring the originals with you to the interview.
- Medical examination. As described in the previous section, you will have had a medical examination with a certified Panel Physician. Normally, the Panel Physician will submit the sealed examination results directly to the consulate. If the doctor has given you the sealed examination results, however, you should bring these with you to the interview.
- Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. If you filed only a copy of your Affidavit of Support, the original should be brought with you to the interview. It needs to bear an original ink signature from the sponsor. If you have an additional joint sponsor Form I-864 of household member I-864A, that should be brought with you as well.
After entering the consulate.
Once you pass through security at the consulate you will be directed to the waiting room for applicants. Layouts for consulates are different, but usually there is a large room with rows of chairs with interview windows on the side. Normally you will be assigned an interview number. There will be digital displays in the waiting room that show which number is being called for interview.
Interviews are conducted with standing up at these windows, which look roughly like a high-security bank. The consular officer will be seated on the opposite side of the widow behind thick glass. There is a small space in the window to pass documents, if needed.
The thing that is often most surprising to my clients is the speed of consular interviews. It is very standard for such interviews to last less than 10 minutes. For such an important process that you have been spending many months and lots of anxiety on, this can seem an anticlimactic conclusion. By contrast, most interviews at USCIS are at least half an hour.
Allow the consular officer to directly interview. Listen very carefully to what you are being asked. If you do not understand the question then asked the officer to repeat the question. But it is extremely important that you have clear communication with the officer. The officer often begins by asking you to explain the purpose of your application. Your answer does not need to be anything more complex than an explanation that you are applying for a fiancé or marriage based visa.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, you are probably going to be nervous at the interview. That’s okay. The officers get it. This is a big deal for you, and most of the applicants that the officer talks to are similarly nervous. You don’t need to try to hide it, and this does not indicate to the officer that you are untrustworthy. Do your best to remain calm and that you can carefully listen to the officers questions and provide responsive answers. Stop and take a breath before answering.
Eye contact is another thing worth mentioning. In many cultures, it can be a sign of disrespect to make eye contact with a person of authority. There may also be gender issues in a particular country that discourage eye contact with the opposite gender. In the United States, however, I contact is an important indicator of trustworthiness. Do your best to maintain appropriate eye contact with the consular officer. You do not need to stare her down, but try to look her in the eye when you were responding to a question.
I have heard consular officers from many different posts say the same thing. What they are most interested in, is having a natural conversation with the visa applicant. This is not a test, and you will not be getting trick questions. The officer wants to be able to ask you common sense questions about your application and background, and to receive your natural response. For this reason, it is extremely important that you not attempt to memorize answers to the questions that you think you might receive. Doing so is basically the worst preparation you can make for the interview. Your answers will sound rehearsed and fake.
Common areas about which you may be question include the following:
- US immigration and travel history;
- the history of your relationship with the US petitioner;
- your employment history;
- any prior marriage that you have had;
- any criminal history;
- your plans for when you arrive in the United States in terms of where you will live and what your anticipated work situation will be.
It may be helpful to have some idea of who the person is sitting across the interview window from you. The officer will be a member of the Department of State’s Foreign Service. Simply put, these are very smart people. To even be eligible for the Foreign Service, you need to score highly on an eligibility exam that is extremely difficult. You can expect the officer to be a highly trained professional with a deep knowledge of immigration law. Consular officers also have a very high caseload, so the person with whom you are speaking will have conducted hundreds or thousands of these interviews. Address the officer as the well-informed professional that she is.
In limited situations, the consular officer may move the interview to a separate interview room. This is relatively rare, and happens when there is some complexity in the case that the officer needs to figure out. Do not panic if this happens. Take a deep breath, listen to the officers questions, respond truthfully and completely.
What will happen at the end of the interview?
There are essentially three possibilities at the conclusion of the interview. First, the officer may be prepared to approve your visa application. In most cases, the officer will not actually tell you that the visa is approved. But you will likely get a sense of how the officer is likely to rule. Sometimes the officer will say something along the lines of, “I do not see any reason why I cannot approve your application today.”
The officer will take your passport. Visa foils (this is the technical name for the visa sticker that will be placed in your passport) are printed there at the consulate. Normally the file is produced within a couple of business days. The passport will then be delivered to you via method that has previously been arranged. Again, this differs by consulate, but often you will have previously registered with the delivery service and paid for a courier fee.
The second possibility is that the officer will identify further documentation that is needed for your case. This happens relatively frequently, especially for applicants who have prepared their own case. In these scenarios the officer will and you what is called a 221(g) sheet. That number simply refers to the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that requires visa applications to be properly documented. Often the sheet is printed on blue paper. The document will describe both the documentation that is being requested, and also explain how it is to be submitted. Depending on the consulate you may be asked to either mail it to the consulate, hand-deliver it, or send it via email.
If you get one of these requests, do not panic. In many cases it will be relatively simple to comply with the request. A common example is a Police Certificate, showing clear criminal background from a place where the applicant has previously lived. But it could be potentially any number of things that you forgot to submit but the original application.
The officer can also determine that you are inadmissible but potentially qualify for a waiver – basically requesting a pardon. This waiver may be referred to as an I-601 or I-212. If the officer determines that a waiver is required, this will be reflected on the sheet you are given. Preparing a strong waiver application is a very significant and substantial process. If the officer requests that you file a waiver application, you will almost certainly want to consult as soon as possible with an attorney.
The third possibility – and the one that everyone is of course worried about – is a denial. In the event of a denial, the officer is required to issue you a written explanation of why the visa is being denied. It is very important that you obtain this denial notice. Often the notice will be written at a high level of generality, but if you plan to seek review of the denial it is critical to get the written notice. I will explain the options for combating the denial in a further section.