Helpful Tips To Ace Your US Tourist VISA Interview

6:29 PM

I'm sure you have read tons of blog posts about what to say and what not to say in your Visa interview but let me just try to add some more information. I read on the screen in the US Embassy that about 80% of US Visa applications in the Philippines have been approved in 2015. However, I felt different the day I applied for mine. While waiting to be called, I heard more sad stories than happy ones. Thus, this post.

I am writing this about two hours after I received my Visa. I am planning to visit the US territory of Guam where a B1/B2 visa is needed just like how it is when entering the mainland. Thank God all the anxiety paid off. 

Let me share how my interview went. 

Consul: Hello! *While looking down, fixing something on her desk*
Me: Good morning. *Looked at my watch and found out that it was already 12:35 PM* Errr... Good afternoon. 
Consul: Yes, It is already afternoon! *She continued fixing something on her desk
Me: Right. *Smiled and slipped my passport with the application form in that small opening at the glass window*
Consul: So, why do you wanna go to the US? *She finally looked at me with a very warm smile... and I smiled more trying to match her, LOL* 
Me: I was invited by the Guam Visitors Bureau to visit the island. They want me to write something about Guam on my blog for tourism. *I totally forgot that I had an invitation letter from Guam Visitors Bureau in my folder. She didn't ask for it either.*
Consul: *While looking at her computer, probably checking by DS-160 profile which I submitted online two weeks earlier (Read about the DS-160 here)* So, this will be your first time in the US? 
Me: Yes. 
Consul: What do you do for work? 
Me: This invite is actually for my blog which I consider my other work. I also have a full-time online job. *I was anticipating she would ask for my blog's URL to check it on her computer but she didn't*
Consul: What is this online job? Can you tell me more about it? 
Me: Oh, I'm a Digital Marketer. Basically, I have companies as clients and I handle their marketing and promotions on social media and other digital platforms.
Consul: How much do you earn from this job? 
Me: At around ****** monthly. *I printed pay slips with me and bank statements with payment forms from the client but again she didn't ask for anything*
Consul: Are you also earning something from your blog?
Me: Yes. It would average at ***** monthly. 
Consul: That's interesting. How old are you? 
Me: 28. 
Consul: But who would pay for this trip? 
Me: Portions of it will be paid by myself. While the Guam Visitors Bureau was able to get some partnership with Cebu Pacific for my flight from Manila to Guam and from Guam back to Manila. *I made sure to mention "Guam back to Manila" to establish my intent to go home and not overstay* They also got me sponsorships from hotels; from Pacific Star Resort for 3 nights and with Outrigger Resort for 2 nights.
Consul: Yeah. I learned that Cebu Pacific is launching a flight to the US and they want people to be talking about that, right? 
Me: Yes. Their first flight is scheduled on March 15th and maybe they want bloggers to be among the first ones to experience and share their stories to everyone. *I realized that I was volunteering an information that wasn't necessary so I reminded myself to not overtalk*
Consul: Where do you live? 
Me: In an apartment here in Pasay. 
Consul: Who's with you at home?
Me: Oh, I live alone. My parents are in the province. *They have to know my family is here in the Philippines.*
Consul: For how long have you been living alone? 
Me: For around 8 years, I would say. 
Consul: I suspect as a blogger you travel often. Which countries have you visited?
Me: Around Asia... Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan... *And I stopped enumerating because she was nodding her head."
Consul: You can add the US in the list. Visa will be ready in a week. 
Me: Oh, really? Thank you! 
Consul: *Still looking at me and smiling*
Me: So are we done here? Are we good? 
Consul: Yup. Have a good day. 

And I left the window. Three days later and I received my US Visa with 10 years multiple entry! 

US Visa Article

Reading the transcript from my interview sounded like I was there for a long time but I timed and we talked for not more than 4 minutes. The key is to sound as relaxed as possible. If you are not hiding anything, you don't have any reasons to be super nervous, right? 

To be honest though, my heart was beating fast when my priority number flashed on the screen. My brains was busy that I didn't notice I arrived at her window from my seat. Maybe because I had seen a lot of people whose applications have been denied before I was called. 

Picking up a few things from my experience and from several others that I overheard that day, here are some tips on how to ace, if not make it through, your Visa interview. I'd like to emphasize that these tips are for B1/ B2 or tourist applications only. I don't know the process for other types of visas. 

1.  Give them enough reasons that you are really going back home

Rehearse it from filling up your DS-160 online to while waiting for your turn in the embassy. Their concern is for you to not overstay so you should provide them reasons why you won't do that. 

In those moments that I heard consuls denying visas, they often said that they have not seen any significant socio-economic ties that would make the person go back to the Philippines. Think of something important here that you don't wanna leave: family, work, school, properties, businesses, an organization, boyfriend/ girlfriend and even a pet.  

There was this lady, in her late 60's I suppose, who wanted to go to the US to visit her son. She said her son is a doctor at a hospital in Seattle. If you would think about it, she would be approved easily since her son is paid very well and he would be able to support her financially. But what she applied for is a tourist Visa, not permanent residency. She would still be required to go back. 

When she was asked how long will she stay in the US, she said for 3 weeks and would depend on her son if he would want her to stay longer. That's a red flag right there. You have to be certain about your length of stay. She left the counter with a blue slip and her passport. If you are approved, the embassy will keep your passport so they can put your visa. Sad. :'( 

2. Be consistent. If you are not comfortable with your English, speak slow. 

If you think you can breathe fresh air now that you have completed your DS-160 and can forget everything you've entered there, don't be very comfortable. The consul will be asking you those questions again and they are so concerned about consistency. If you did not enter false information, you won't be mixing up things supposedly. But I know that sometimes our nervousness gets the best of us so just relax and try to keep your details on top of your head. 

Areas of high concern would be length of stay, date of return to home country, who would spend for the trip, purpose of travel and if there are family/ relatives in the US and in the Philippines. 

The consul in window 8 knows how to speak Tagalog and so she tried to be clear with her question with one applicant. "You said in English that you don't have grandchildren left in the Philippines and all migrated in the US. May apo pa kayo dito sa Pilipinas, tama?" Her English accent was very obvious but what's more obvious was she becoming impatient. Her question was misleading too. The woman, who was also looking uncomfortable, said "tama". 

You should know what happened next. Unfortunately, you have to speak English in the embassy and you can't request for a translator of some sort. Be honest and tell the consul right away that you're not so proficient in speaking English. The consul should understand. 

3. Don't overprice 

One of the very important concerns in applying for a tourist visa is your financial standing. It make sense because you need resources to fund your trip. But like anything else, be honest. You don't need to try so hard to impress the consul. 

One lady, who I assume belongs to the same age group as I am, said that she is earning 300,000 pesos monthly. It's not impossible for people in their 20's to earn that money but she said she is an online English teacher. Her quoted salary is quite high for that kind of job. "Do you have any other source of income where you could be getting the rest of that big money?", the consul asked. Being an ESL instructor is her only job she replied. "What are you doing with all this money?"All the other kids your age would be spending them on gadgets," said the consul. 

There is already a cloud of doubt in their conversation. Don't overprice. You don't need one million pesos to visit Los Angeles for a week. 

US Visa Article

4. Previous international travel/s is an advantage but not always 

A 20-ish guy was so excited sharing to the consul how her mom agreed to sponsor his trip to the US as a gift for finishing college as magna cum laude. He said her mom and dad went to the US for vacation when they were still boyfriend-girlfriend but never had the chance to go back. He said that his favorite city in the world is New York and has been begging for his mom to send him there since he was in high school. 

The deal started two years before he graduated from college. He mentioned about doing summer jobs to save up for this trip. "Are you not afraid to be travelling alone for the first time outside the country?", the consul asked. "A little bit", he said. "But I am more excited than afraid."

What a free-spirited jerk I told myself. LOL. But I wish I talked to the guy while he was sitting two seats away from me. Although the consuls have microphones and everything they say can be heard at that side of the building, I was so excited to hear more about the interview that I moved two rows in front of me. LOL. He got his VISA and told the consul that his mom would be extremely happy. Lucky guy! 

5. Don't bring too much paperwork

I was told by friends that most consuls would not even bother to look at your documents. Your DS-160 and your answers to their questions are more important. Despite getting the advise, I printed payslips, photocopied by 2015 BIR 2316 form and printed the email exchanges between me and my sponsors: Cebu Pacific, Pacific Resort Hotel and Outrigger Resort. I also brought my old passport and of course, the invitation letter from Guam Visitors Bureau. None of these documents were checked by the consul. 

One lady had three very thick plastic envelopes with her when she approached window 9. The consul greeted her. "Good thing the security let you in with all those things ma'm." She wasn't applying for a spouse visa which as I understood, would need photos and other documents to establish your relationship with an American. She will be attending her sister's wedding in Florida. 

In the course of their interview, the lady did not use a single page of document from her envelopes. Good thing she was approved. :) 

6. On the other hand, bring the necessary documents if your situation is specific 

A boy is being sent by his school to the US for a math conference. The kid was ready with his school's endorsement, the invitation letter from the conference organizers, his parents' signed waiver, a photocopy of his school ID and schedule of enrollment with class schedules. His was the fastest interview. 

I wish I listened to more interviews but in the 2 interesting hours that I was sitting there, these were the interviews that stood out. No matter what I will share here though, there will always be unique situations. But what's constant is, be honest and stick to the truth. 

Let's also help each other. This process would not be here if the other Filipinos who went abroad did not abuse the opportunity given to them. If you are granted a Visa, do not overstay! There's always a legal and safe way to do things. 

Good luck! 

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