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How To Get The (Seemingly Elusive) US Tourist Visa – Part 1

Applying for a US tourist visa is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences, especially if you’re coming from a country where most people prefer migrating to and when many tend to do anything illegal just to get into the country. Getting all documents ready is one thing, but the day of the interview appointment itself is another story.

I’ve been writing in my blog how I’ve always wanted, yearned and dreamed of visiting New York since childhood. And this year I decided to apply for a visa, and I’m glad to say I got a 10-year multiple entry tourist visa.

Below are my tips on how to get your own US tourist visa, especially when you country is not part of the Visa Waiver Program.

Emotional and Physical Preparation

Gregg Braden, one of Hay House authors, mentioned that the idea of preparing oneself emotionally for writing is not usually mentioned in any of the writing workshops available out there in the world. So now I need to mention this as the first part of the process of getting your US tourist visa. How prepared you are emotionally is important to ensuring the successful outcome and eventually receiving it, whether it’s for few months or 10 years. Not being overconfident, mind you, but feeling confident enough and showing through your external actions that you will get it.

You may have heard of most people being denied for a visa because of certain factors. The most common I heard, at least in The Philippines anyway, was because of a grumpy immigration officer. Another is due to nervousness. Years ago, the “grumpy immigration officer” reason would have been valid. But these days, I don’t buy it anymore. For once, they should look and act professional towards all the applicants. Yes, they don’t have to be friendly towards you because their job is to assess whether you meet the criteria for approval or denial. But that doesn’t mean you have to be nervous about this. Everything in life is about confidence, preparation and taking action. That’s just about it really. Easier said than done, yes, but once you start taking action, you then become more confident. Think about the people who’ve achieved their goals in life. The people you admire, locally or internationally. Even some of your own friends, especially the ones who are successful. How did they view themselves every time you see them? How did they carry themselves? The way they talk, the way they move, the way they go after their goals? Have you  ever wondered how they managed to go through life with confidence and belief they can do anything?

One of the things I’ve learned from attending acting workshops, doing short films and theater productions is that being nervous is VERY, VERY NORMAL. I heard of this same statement before but I never thought until writing this article how very normal this is. Actors, public speakers, musicians, politicians, and other people in the public eye can attest that sometimes they do feel nervous when they get on stage and when they have to speak or sing in front of hundreds or thousands of people. It’s natural to get nervous because psychologically our mind sees that future event (first date, job or visa interview, presentation at work, etc.) as a threat and so our body foolishly reacts accordingly by being nervous or having panic attacks. However, there’s a much better way of facing that future event, in this case the visa interview.

If you’re still a bit intimidated by stories of people who were denied a visa, what you need to do is first practice breathing in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Do this slowly, deeply, and mindfully for a few times. You can close your eyes while doing this breathing exercise. This will help clear your mind and create space to next think of the possible questions the immigration officer will ask you. You can write them down on paper, on a whiteboard if you have one at home, or just form those questions in your head. It’s important to know what these questions might be so you know in advance how to answer them properly. Don’t go overboard by writing your complete response then practicing it word for word, or you will sound rehearsed. Just the same with actors: some do it word for word, others improvise. But all of them do it in a way the character they play would make these words their own. Just get the main points you’d like to mention and you can expand on them during the day of the interview.

Also, start thinking positively that you will face an immigration officer that’s friendly and professional. Practice how you would respond to the possible questions he or she would ask you. Just like when you’re preparing for a job interview, you have to think and speak professionally at the same time be comfortable and confident in how you answer the questions. It’s very, very important to truly believe and feel that you will meet a friendly immigration officer. This way, you train your mind, your heart, and your soul to expect great things to come your way.

At work and at home, start sitting and standing up with your back straight, shoulders relaxed, with a smile on your face even when faced with the grumpiest customer, work colleague, even your partner or children for the day. If you’re not usually smiling, practice putting on a smile in front of the mirror, then smile at the world when you go out. People passing by may either smile back at you or not, but don’t get offended if they don’t. Your smile is for the Universe; your smile is your intention to be happy. When you do that, the Universe will show you situations, people, events, pictures, videos, articles, anything else that will make happy. Besides, smiling is much better than frowning, with lesser muscles used for the former than the latter.

My work colleague mentioned that I should act confident as soon as I walk in the US Consulate because cameras are all around, you’ll never know who’s watching. Show up with a confident stance, standing tall with your face positioned at just the right level, not hunched down or raised too high to be viewed as arrogant. Avoid crossing your arms, biting your nails, shifting your body around, and anything people behind the cameras would view as nervous or questionable behavior. Even if you’re not used to standing up tall and proud of who you are, you should act like one to increase your chances of getting approved. You can practice this with a friend and in front of a mirror if you so wish.

The ones mentioned above are the ones you can control. For the things you cannot control (stuttering, saying “Um” or “Ah” so many times in only few sentences, inability to think quickly on your feet, tendency to be unsure of what you say), surrender them to God or the Universe by saying that you need help in these areas. Remember to thank the Heavens for the guidance and tips to help you calm down. Also strive to avoid these tendencies by speaking clearly, loud enough for the immigration officer to hear you through the window, putting your hands together as if in prayer or at the back, and being determined in how you answer the questions. I noticed the differences between how Kiwis and Americans speak. Kiwis tend to have the word “aye” at the end, similar to “eh” or other expressions. And also ending the sentence on what sounded like a question rather than the end of a sentence. I’m glad to have learned the nuances of American English at school in the Philippines to be able to revert back to it easily during the interview.

Apply online or fill up the paper form

Google “Apply for US visa in (current country of residence)” to start your search for info on applying for it. In my case, I was led to the this particular US Travel Docs website page. I’m showing you screenshots of webpages for when applying for US tourist visa in New Zealand.

Next I went to the Nonimmigrant Visa Application webpage, selected the country where I’m lodging the application, then clicked “Start an Application.” The great thing about this online form is that you don’t have to fill in all the details within the day because there’s an option to save and retrieve the same form for later. You just need to write down or save on your computer the application number assigned to you. Upload a passport photo that’s less than 6 months old; otherwise, present a printed one on the day of the interview. Once ready to submit the form, recheck the details you’ve entered at least two or three times, even more than that, to ensure everything is correct and honest to your knowledge. For those applying in the Philippines, here’s how to go about it.

Pay the Application Fee

The application fee varies, depending on where you will submit the application to. In my case, I paid NZ$208 for it, equivalent to US$160. Please refer to the same website when applying for the visa online to know which fees apply to your country.

Register Login Details

Next stage is to register login details as I needed to set an interview appointment with the US Consulate office in Auckland. Here, I also confirmed details of my application, including the best postal address to send the documents. The requirement of whether or not to log in depends on the process of applying for the US tourist visa in other countries, but just check what would apply the most to you.

Prepare Supporting Documents

The supporting documents may vary depending on your circumstances, but the general requirements to present include:

  • Passport (no need to photocopy as they need the original)
  • Confirmation Letter of the Online Application that has been lodged
  • Confirmation Letter of the Interview Appointment
  • New Passport Photo (in case said photo wasn’t included in the online application, must be less than 6 months old)
  • Letter of Employment, with details confirming your weekly or monthly pay, when are you planning to go to the US, and when you’re expected to come back
  • Copies of tenancy agreement, property titles, insurances, businesses, and other assets you personally own and are in your name to show you have investments in the country where you currently live and in your home country (if you live overseas)
  • Financial documents such as savings account for the trip, payslips, sponsor’s bank accounts (if someone in the US sponsors for your trip)
  • Police clearance in each of the countries you’ve lived in for the last ten years. This includes the country where you were born (if you’ve lived there for many years), the current country of residence, and any other countries you’ve stayed in.
  • Birth Certificate
  • Proof of Residential Address (seen in any utilities bills, bank statements, memberships) that’s less than 3 months old
  • A list of names of people you’d like to visit and their contact numbers
  • A letter from the person who’s your first contact when you land in the US, including photocopy of their US passport or permanent resident card signed and seen by the Notary Public or Justice of the Peace representative. If they are sick or in need of care, a letter from a doctor or other qualified medical professional.
  • Any other documents to support your application (photos, marriage or civil union certificate, etc.)

You need to get the documents as soon as possible because appointment dates fill up fast. At this stage, please refrain from booking return flights and accommodations because the companies may not offer refunds if your application is denied. I heard of people reserving the return flights with a low fee or for free. You can print a document showing these details, then present it with the others. You can take that option only if you already have enough money for the duration of your US trip and the rate for the return flights is of the most value for your money.

It took me about two months to finally have almost everything I need for the interview because the NZ police certificate took at least 20 working days to be processed while my US-based aunt was so afraid of me getting denied a visa because I mentioned in the application form her address and contact details and the fact she’s my relative and one of the main reasons for the visit. I was so upset when she mentioned this, I told her, “This is New Zealand, auntie. It’s different.” And that’s when she decided to send the documents I requested and received it few days later.

Schedule the Interview

There’s an option to schedule the interview over the phone or online through your login details. I chose the online option. Luckily, the day I finished filing my documents I scheduled the appointment for few days later.

In Summary

  • Be emotionally and physically prepared for the interview appointment by thinking of possible questions the immigration officer will ask you and practicing in front of the mirror how confident people usually see themselves.
  • Apply online or use the paper form, whichever option applies in the country where you will lodge the application.
  • Prepare all documents, photocopy some of the originals, print the two confirmation letters of the interview appointment and the already lodged application because they will ask for this.
  • Schedule the interview as soon as possible as they fill up very fast.

In Part 2 of the series, I will be talking about how I managed on the day of the visa interview. Until then, feel free to share this article to anyone interested in getting their own US tourist visa and also share your experiences by leaving comments below or through my social media pages at the upper side of this post.

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