Want some tips on getting a US Visa? Let Diana Velasco help you along the way by sharing her own personal experience in securing a US Visa. This article appeared on SunStar Davao last year and is reprinted here with permission from the author.
For the record, I would like to begin by stating that the United States is not in my list of the top ten countries I would like to visit before I die. One of the biggest reasons for that are the numerous stories from friends and colleagues about the horrors and near-impossibility of obtaining a visa. The alleged reasons range between insufferably arrogant consuls and the mass of documents one has to bring to the embassy. I said I wouldn’t even attempt to go there, as the stress would probably kill me.
Late last year, and with much disbelief, I found myself surfing the Net to secure an appointment at the US Embassy. I was selected by Rotary District 3860 as one of the delegates to the 2007 Group Study Exchange Program, and it was an opportunity I would be foolish to forego.
Some people would say that the first thing to do to secure a US visa is to book an interview. That is a common mistake and something that I would like to correct.
A Purpose Driven Visa
The first thing that one needs to set before even attempting to go to the States is to have a purpose for going there in the first place. That purpose has to be extremely clear at the outset and should answer these four basic questions: 1. What are you going to do in the US? 2. How long will you be staying there? 3. Who is paying for your expenses? And most importantly, 4. When are you coming back?
We probably have a whole gamut of reasons for wanting to set foot on American soil, and they are probably all valid to some degree. Taking a state board exam, wanting to play tourist, going on a business trip or visiting relatives are reasonable to invoke to a poker-faced consul.
Here is a piece of advice though: it is the simplest and most straightforward reasons that get you a visa. Any form of BS, no matter how slight the degree, will be detected and will jeopardize your chances of getting that yellow claim stub. The consuls are very well-trained psychologists, and they can discern little fibs and outright lies in every little sigh, frown, smile and tear that you subject them to.
While I was waiting for my turn to be interviewed, I noticed a pattern of rejection that was not hard to miss. People who gave long answers, those who had no idea about what they were going to do there, those who practiced what they were going to say and most especially those who seemed absolutely desperate to go were not given a visa.
When you are asked “What are you going to do in the US?”, answer in the clearest and straightest terms. State the purpose of the journey without any form of embellishment. You would be surprised that this simple question generates paragraph-long explanations from many applicants, making them prime candidates for rejection.
For the interview, remember this cardinal rule: the longer and more detailed your explanations, the smaller your chances of getting a visa.
A Journey To A Thousand Milesâ€¦ Must Have an Itinerary
I trust that you found my well-meaning advice on the first question sufficient for your needs, so allow me to move on to query number two: How long are you going to stay there?
I will risk the obvious by stating that the length of your stay is a function of your purpose to going to the States in the first place. Of course, common sense has largely been determined to be rather uncommon; and this question has resulted to answers that have been deemed insufficient or insincere by the embassy people, resulting to rejection â€“ and sometimes, tears and pathetic entreaties.
Therefore, in order to answer question number two satisfactorily, my first recommendation is that you must prepare – at least – an indicative itinerary that conforms to the reason why you want to visit the United States.
If you are going there on business, the length of your stay should be commensurate to the professional task at hand. If you are attending a two-week seminar, for instance, a month-long stay may still be deemed acceptable if you have the intention of visiting Ground Zero or Hollywood hotspots after work.
While most single entry visas issued are valid for six months, please do yourself a favor and do not answer “six months” when the consul asks how long you intend to stay. A two-week seminar will never justify a six-month sojourn to the land of milk and honey no matter how loaded you are. And saying so would cast reasonable and significant doubt on two things.
First, it will throw a shadow on your actual career in the Philippines. What employer will allow you to gallivant for half a year in another country? If that employer actually exists, then you are probably dispensable, or more succinctly, walang kwenta sa opisina. That will never bode well.
Second, it will make you bisto on your true intentions of going to the US. Stretching your stay until the last day your visa is valid probably means you intend to make a sideline as a dishwasher or caregiverâ€¦ But if your visa is not a working visa, then you will be working there illegally. So donâ€™t even think about it! The consuls are not human, they will know.
Having an itinerary is a means of establishing credibility. And no, it does not mean you have to provide a detailed account of where you will be spending every hour.
For instance, if you will be going there on business, know at least when and where the major events will be held. When the consul asks question number two, have at least the confidence to say “I will be staying for about a month. I have a two-week seminar in Galveston, Texas and I plan to meet some friends and go around New York for ten days before I head home.” If you are asked to provide more details, expound about the nature of your business trip (“It’s a leadership seminar and an incentive for those of us who had the highest sales”) as well as your incidental travels (“I’d like to see where the Atlas Building is because I’m a fan of Project Runway”).
Keep it short and sweet and, once again, hold the BS. Be sincere. In a world full of lies and deceit, honesty and candor are (surprisingly) the best weapons you can wield in the embassy.
A Question Of Money, Or Is It?
Before I attempted to secure entry into the United States, I was advised by several, well-meaning individuals to secure at least three months of bank statements that would prove I had money. It is also not an uncommon practice for some people to borrow thousands of dollars to “sit” in their accounts; with the money to be returned after the visa interview of course. The common mindset is that when you are asked question number three, all you had to show was that you had money in the bank and this would be satisfactory.
Alas â€“ and sorry to burst your bubble; this is not the case.
First of all, I find the practice of “financial misrepresentation” very deceitful; or at the very least, it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. Such a practice is also obviously very unnecessary if somebody is sponsoring your trip â€“ whether that sponsor is your company (for official business) or institutions such as the Rotary. If that is case, what you need to emphasize is that you have a sponsor for your trip and to bring official documents to prove your claim. Your personal finances will most probably not even be scrutinized if this is the case, unless you go on a prolonged holiday after your official travel and tell the consul of your grand plans.
Ergo, another tip: if somebody is paying for your travel, then that is the best way to hurdle question number three. A word of caution, though; do not make claims to that effect if a sponsor does not actually exist. The embassy requires that you put detailed contact information of your supposed financier and if the consul decides to verify your claim by calling the organization, patay ka. You might even be blacklisted if your deceit is revealed.
Nevertheless, most of the people who apply for a visa are un-sponsored, and therefore have to prove that they have the means to travel to the US and back. This is the reason why the fatten-up-your-bank-account-before-the-interview urban legend has festered all these years.
The best advice I could probably give at this point would be this: take a long, good, brutally honest look at yourself, your motivations for wanting to go to the US and â€“ most importantly – your finances. Are you paying for your trip and do you have enough? If the answer is yes to both questions, then those bank statements will definitely come in handy.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the people at the embassy will not discriminate against those who have just a little. You don’t need thousands of dollars to “miraculously” appear on your account just to get a visa. Remember, the resources that you need to make that trip do not necessarily need to be reflected on one piece of paper.
The true story of the means with which you intend to make your travel a reality is all you need to answer question number three. This could be the slow but steady accumulation of assets through the years, assets that you may liquidate in order to finance your trip. It could also be a sudden windfall that spurred you to consider going to the US for one reason or the other. Whatever your tale, just make sure it is not a tall one. Make sure you also bring enough documentary evidence to back it up. Youâ€™ll never know when these things could be needed during your interview.
Babalik Ka Rin
Suppose that you have a valid reason for needing to go to the United States and you have the resources to make the trip. The thing that you have to establish to consul, then, would be your reasons for coming back to our beloved Philippines. This is extremely important for those who seek to secure a tourist/business visa and those who state that they have no intention of migrating to the US.
Among the most compelling reasons you may invoke for returning to the country are the following: a stable, steady and satisfying professional career, strong family ties, an established business that needs your presence and (surprise!) love for your homeland.
Establishing your career base may be ascertained by providing a certificate of employment with your remuneration. If the position you hold is a permanent one (as with civil servants), then so much the better. This establishes your sense of purpose here in the Philippines, and if you come across the interview as being genuinely and sincerely passionate about your job, then this will definitely work to your advantage.
Strong family ties would be another factor that consuls scrutinize and consider in their decision whether to grant you a visa or not. If the purpose of your trip is to visit family members in the US, then you have the burden of proving that the ties that bind you here in the Philippines are stronger than those that bind you to the US. Simple arithmetic may be used. Three children and seven grandchildren in the States will cast doubts on your intention to return if you have just one unmarried child in the country. Pictures of your loved ones here may be of use, just in case the interviewer wants to take a peek at your version of Pinoy domestic bliss.
A business here in the Philippines could also be a good is an indicator of your intention to go back after your travel, because it is no laughing matter to invest your time, effort and resources to nurturing your entrepreneurial spirit in your very own country. If you have bravely taken the plunge and run your own business, then use this to answer “how are you going to pay for your trip?” Bring your business documents, just in case the interviewer asks for them. And while we’re at the topic, make sure you’re properly registered and that you pay your taxes too.
I know of one person who has two multicabs running the downtown route here in the city. She only had ten thousand pesos in her account, which seems paltry compared to the cost of a self-financed US trip, but she had her own business. She got a visa.
A lot of people want to go to the States to escape, maybe permanently, from what they feel is a hopeless Philippine situation. They may claim to love our country, but then they are absolutely itching to leave it behind. Not good. My unsolicited advice in this situation is to try to get an Immigrant Visa instead. At least, there will be no pretenses about your reasons for leaving at the outset.
As I have stated previously, the consuls are trained psychologists and know how to analyze every single gesture, tone and facial expression. If you do truly love the Philippines and therefore intend to return, it will be manifested during your interview.
If it is difficult to find even just a smidgen of nationalistic fervor in your body, may I recommend this little exercise? At least two weeks before your interview, say this little mantra twenty times upon waking and before going to sleep: “Babalik ako ng Pilipinas, babalik ako ng Pilipinas!” Who knows? Even if you donâ€™t convince yourself, you just might convince the consul to give you a way out.