The day has finally come. It’s been months and months since you filed the original petition. You’ve been through more paperwork than you can remember. Now, finally, it’s time for your visa interview at the consulate. What can you do to maximize your chances of success?
There are no secrets to a visa interview. But there are common sense steps you can take to be best prepared. I have had the chance to talk to U.S. consular officers from Canada to Thailand, and their feedback is similar. The advice below comes from those officers, as well as the State Department’s published recommendations and my own experience with clients.
Before the day of the interview
At this point you will have received detailed instructions about what documents you are required to bring to the interview. In marriage based cases these instructions are typically sent by the National Visa Center; in fiancé(e) cases they come directly from the consulate. Each consulate has its own specific instructions which can be found here.
Remember that all the items you already filed with your petition (the I-130 or I-129f) will be in the file. This can be confusing, since the checklist you received may indicate items that you already filed. There is no need to re-file a document that you already sent. On the other hand, you may have filed a copy of a document, and the consulate wants an original.
The medical examination is often the last thing an applicant does prior to the interview. Every U.S. consulate has different local guidelines for how medical exams are completed. It’s important to look at your consulate’s website to find out how to complete the medical examination. Do this as early as possible, since advance preparation is sometimes required. You can find a complete list of all consulate websites here.
Here is the basic list of documents you should bring, but please look at your specific appointment instructions.
- Appointment Letter
- Passport valid for at least six months
- Police Certificate(s)
- Birth Certificate(s)
- Court and prison records, if applicable
- Military records, if applicable
- Color photographs
- Marriage Certificate, if applicable
- Evidence of financial support (i.e., Affidavit of Support – I-864 for marriage cases and I-134 for fiance)
- Divorce decree or death certificate of spouse, if applicable
- Documents establishing the bona fide relationship between you and your U.S. petitioner [most of these will already be in the file].
Do not make travel arrangements to the U.S. before your visa interview. Even if the application is successful delays are possible. It is a bad idea, for that reason, to buy tickets before you actually have the visa in your hands.
Getting to the consulate for the interview
On the day of the interview, make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get to the consulate. But know that if you get to the consulate early you may not be allowed in. Some consulates do not allow entry until an hour before your scheduled appointment. You should also plan on a long line, depending on the consulates. There may be many, many other applicants scheduled at the same time. Be prepared to wait outside the consulate for a long time, and dress appropriately for the weather.
Most attorneys recommend you dress formally for the visa interview. I agree, except that you should dress in a way that is also natural to yourself as an individual. If you are a man and don’t own a formal suit, there is no need to go out an buy one for the interview. A simply shirt and tie is sufficient. The point is that you need to dress in a way that shows respect to the consular officer. But you also need to be able to feel like yourself at the interview. If you never ware highly formal clothes, don’t start now.
U.S. consulates are tightly security controlled. Expect armed guards at the entrance and strict security measures. Do not bring anything to the consulate that could be viewed as a weapon. Cell phones are typically not allowed in. Some consulates have boxes where you can leave them at the front door, but many do not. For this reason it is a good idea to bring only your passport, identification, and documents required for the interview.
After you pass through security you will go to an interview waiting room. Usually you will be assigned a numbered ticket and screens in the room show which numbers are being called. The waiting rooms can be as small as a few chairs, or very large.
Who are the interviewing officers?
The officer conducting the interview is a Foreign Service Officer with State Department. Getting in to the Foreign Service is extremely difficult, and you can be guaranteed the officer will be highly intelligent. Foreign Service officers receive extensive legal training, as well as training in the local language and culture. Treat this person like a capable professional because he or she most certainly is.
Understand that visa officers have extraordinarily high case loads. The officer conducting your interview will have had little if any time to review your file.
What to expect at the interview
Visa interviews are usually conducted at windows, like you may have seen in a high-security bank. You will generally stand at the interview window with the officer sitting or standing on the other side. There us usually a microphone system that allows you to talk to the officer through the glass. (Often the microphone is above in in a half-dome). Here are some of the most important things to know about the visa interview itself:
- It will likely be short. You may have likely spent many, many hours preparing your case. You have spent months waiting for this interview. But the interview itself may last as few as 5 minutes. Occasionally visa interviews may last over half an hour, and you may be taken to a separate room for additional questioning. In most cases, however, the interview will seem like it’s over very quickly.
- This is about you not your paperwork. The purpose of the interview is for the officer to interview you, not to read you paperwork. Do not spend your time trying to tell the officer about what is already in the file. Do not spend your time trying to give the officer hundreds of more documents. The officer wants to have an opportunity to talk to you, and will make a judgment largely based on that conversation.
- This is a conversation, not a test. Many visa applicants try to guess what questions they will be ask. Some try to prepare their answers ahead of time. This is not a good idea. Every consular officer I have ever spoken to says the same thing: they want to be able to have a natural conversation with the applicant. This becomes impossible if the applicant has already decided what they are going to tell the officer. If you have a rehearsed speech prepared it only reduces your credibility. It makes the person look like they are trying to ‘fake it’ with the officer.
- There usually are no trick questions. The questions asked at the visa interview are usually not tricky. The officer will generally ask about why you are applying for a visa. They may ask about prior trips to the U.S. They may ask about your background. But none of this is tricky – the questions should all be things you can naturally be expected to answer.
- Stop. Listen. Breath. Answer. You will be nervous at the interview. When the officer asks a question listen carefully to exactly what they are asking. If you don’t understand, ask the officer to clarify. Give a short, clear answer to the question and stop talking when you have.
- Never express anger. No matter what happens at the visa interview, remain respectful to the consular officer. You are never, ever going to win an argument with the officer by getting aggressive. State your answers to questions clearly and respectfully. If you disagree about a statement made by the officer you may express this, but do so with extreme respect. Consular officers have a tremendous amount of authority.
What happens after the interview?
At the conclusion of the interview a few different things can happen. First, the officer may tell you that your visa is going to be approved. In this case they will take your passport so that the visa can be processed and attached to the passport. Time for processing depends on consulate, but ranges from a few days to a couple of weeks, generally. Second, the officer may determine that documents are missing from your file. This does not mean your visa is being denied. You will be issued a ‘221(g)’ notice, listing the missing document. Often this is printed on colored paper. You simply need to get the required document and submit it to the consulate. Third, the officer may take your passport but not tell you whether the visa is being granted. Often the officer wants to review the file before a decision is made. Finally, the officer may tell you that your visa is being denied.
Photo credit: jk1991 @ freedigitalphotos.com