It’s always a troublesome and a confusing process to apply for international visas and people always have more (and more) questions regarding how to fill the application form, the time it would take for processing of the visa, the amount of money required for the travel, or simply on the eligibility criteria for an urgent processing of the visa.
During the whole process, I often found myself on different blogs to read about specific details on visa. Sometimes they were helpful, most of the times, not so much. So it’s about time I planned to write my version of the whole experience to help anyone who may need the information on any stage of the process. Remember that this does not guarantee you a visa approval and it’s solely based on my experience to help you have a smooth process.
I was invited to the annual Facebook F8 conference for May 1–2 recently and while waiting for all the details from the Facebook team to fill my application, I tried hard not to waste any minute. When I finally had all the information, here are the steps I followed with the specific dates and the mistakes that I learnt from:
Apr 7th: Filled out the DS-160 form at https://ceac.state.gov/. Remember that the location you select before filling the form is the location where you’ll be appearing for the scheduled interview at the US Consulate as this cannot be changed during or after the application is filled. Also, it’s best to have the following with yourself at the time of filling the form to save time:
- Picture of yourself against a white background (600-1200 px ~ 5 x 5 cm ~ 2.5 x 2.5 in). Read more about the requirements here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/photos.html
- Intended Date of Arrival. (Approx.)
- Intended Length of Stay in US (Approx.)
- Address where you will stay in the US.
- US Contact Information (Contact Person Name, Organization Name, US Contact Address, Phone Number, Email Address)
- Family Information (Father and Mother’s Name and Date of Birth)
- Work/Education Information (Protip: If you have a proper LinkedIn profile, this shouldn’t take long to fill 🙂)
Apr 7th: Signed up at https://cgifederal.secure.force.com/ to receive my CGI Reference Number/Receipt Number (needed at the time of payment for visa), filled out my profile, reached the payment page to pay for the visa (You can either pay online if you have a SAMBA Bank Account, or download a PDF of the the US Visa Application Fee Deposit Slip to pay at the bank). You can schedule your appointment after you’ve paid and your payment gets processed (Usually after 11am the next day of your payment’s day)
Apr 8th: Visited the nearest SAMBA branch, filled out a Collection Deposit Form (which has an Account Number and US Visa Fee CGI already printed) and paid 608 SAR (160 USD) by cash.
Apr 9th: Waited for the payment to get processed (It takes one day for the payment to get processed and you can schedule the interview after 11 am; though I received an email at 7:03 am letting me know that I’m ready to schedule my appointment ), signed in to https://cgifederal.secure.force.com/, scheduled the appointment and saved the Appointment Confirmation page as PDF. (Remember that you need to select the same city for the interview as you have at the start of the DS-160 Application).
Here’s a mistake I made that day that I learnt a lesson (Lesson # 1) from: I was half way through my DS-160 when I paid my visa fee and scheduled an appointment in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The latest date I could schedule an appointment in Riyadh was Apr 30th and I needed a date sooner than that (I did try to email USTravelDocs if I could be eligible for an expedited appointment but turns out, it’s only available for applicants with medical emergencies or urgent business travel (not including summits/conferences). Read more here).
There are limited number of times you can reschedule your appointment to other cities without paying the visa fee again. Luckily, I could reschedule my appointment to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on Apr 18th but unluckily, I had to wait one more day since I was suspended to view the appointment dates. (Make sure you do not use the dropdown menu to find the appropriate dates for each city over and over again as you may get “You are approaching the maximum number of times you may view this page. Please complete your transaction at this time.” and get suspended from the page for a day). But here’s a thing, once you reschedule the appointment to another city, you have to start your DS-160 Application all over again if your appointment city and DS-160 city do not match. And that’s why I had to fill out another DS-160, starting by selecting Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and receiving another Application ID that I needed to update in the CGIFederal Profile. To summarize the lesson:
You can fill out DS-160, CGIFederal Profile, and pay for the visa all in one day. But before you do, make sure to follow the following steps:
- Sign up to CGI Federal profile. Fill out your profile (Skip the Application ID for now since you’ve not started your DS–160 Application), move to the payment page.
- Pay the visa fee.
- When the visa fee is processed, look for the date suitable for your needs in any of the city and schedule an appointment. That is when you start to,
- Fill out the DS-160 Application by selecting the location you’ve selected for the appointment and submit the application.
- Update your CGI Federal Profile by adding the missing DS-160 Application ID.
Apr 11th: Submitted DS-160 Application and saved the Confirmation Page as PDF.
Apr 18th: Visited US Consulate in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia for the interview. Remember to avoid taking any electronic devices, flash drives, or keys with yourselves (including your mobile phone). Though the security may keep them with theirselves at the gate and give you a card with a unique number for you to collect later but as far as I’ve heard, it’s best to leave any of those things at home. Also, remember to bring all these documents printed for your appointment:
- 5x5 cm Photo
- DS-160 Confirmation Page
- Appointment Confirmation Letter
- Visa Fee Receipt
- Employment Letter (Employment Contract will work, too)
- Bank Statement for the last 3 months
- Visa Request Letter (Received from Facebook for F8; you may not have this but other supporting documents)
- F8 Conference Ticket (Received from Facebook for F8; you may not have this but other supporting documents)
- Hotel Reservation (Not really required)
- Flight Reservation (Not really required)
It’s best to visit the consulate as early as possible as it’s often crowded but you may get finished with all the formalities and interview before your scheduled time. You don’t need to come prepared for the interview as it’s fairly easy and they typically ask you the same questions you might’ve already filled in your application. Consider yourself very lucky if they take your passport at the end of the interview! 🙂
Here’s another mistake I made that day and learnt a good lesson (Lesson # 2) from: Considering the whole traveling was paid for by Facebook that was mentioned in the Visa Request Letter, I forgot to print and/or collect my Bank Statement from bank and bring for the interview. I had no idea if that would be necessary in my case but if you can’t provide enough proof about your financial statement and your strong ties with the country you’ll returning back to (often considered by looking at the Employment Letter, Vacation Letter, Bank Statement), you may fall into the category of Section 221(g) (Basically meaning that an essential information is missing in your application). And so, I was provided with an instruction page and suggested to visit the nearest Aramex branch and drop my Bank Statement along with the Passport so that they deliver it to the consulate to continue with the process.
Apr 18th at 12:18 pm: Visited the nearest bank to collect my Bank Statement for the recent 4 months (3 months would be enough)
Apr 18th at 1:05 pm: Visited the nearest Aramex to drop the documents asked (this is free of charge). It doesn’t matter where your pickup location for the passport is. It’s best to drop the documents at the Aramex in the same city where you interviewed for quick delivery.
Apr 18th at 7:25 pm: Got back home to track my delivery with the Tracking Number from Aramex at https://www.aramex.com/track/shipments. They usually take one day to deliver the missing documents to the consulate. Also started to check my visa status at https://ceac.state.gov/CEACStatTracker which displayed “Administrative Processing”:
“Your visa case is currently undergoing necessary administrative processing. This processing can take several weeks. Please follow any instructions provided by the Consular Officer at the time of your interview. If further information is needed, you will be contacted. If your visa application is approved, it will be processed and mailed/available within two business days.”
You could also track your passport at: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/sa/sa-niv-passporttrack.asp.
Apr 19th: Here’s the detail of how long it took for the documents to get delivered on this day:
12:25 am: Departed Operations Facility — In Transit
4:29 am: Under Processing at Operations Facility
7:24 am: Out for Delivery
9:12 am: Delivered to US Embassy
The visa status displayed “Administrative Processing” but the case was updated for Apr 19th (Correct me if I’m wrong but that usually updates when your case is last opened or modified), while upon tracking my passport, USTravelDocs displayed “Your passport is still at the US Embassy/Consulate”
Some of the visa statuses that I read about on different forums could help you more regarding what each of the statuses mean but I’d personally recommend you taking a look at the Visa Status Check page at the US Embassy & Consulate in Japan here: https://jp.usembassy.gov/visas/nonimmigrant-visas/visa-status-check/
Apr 20th: Visa status didn’t change. Case Last Updated date didn’t change. Passport status didn’t change.
Apr 21st: Visa status didn’t change but the case was updated for Apr 21st (I wonder how it was updated on a Saturday when the Consulate is closed). Passport status at USTravelDocs didn’t change.
Apr 22nd — Apr 28th: Visa status didn’t change. Case Last Updated date didn’t change. Passport status didn’t change. Though, I tried calling the consulate and email DhahranNIV@state.gov several times to process my visa application case urgently since I couldn’t afford to waste any day before the conference but none of it helped much.
Apr 29th: On day 7 after the required documents were delivered to the consulate, visa status didn’t change, Cast Last Updated date didn’t change. However, the passport status at USTravelDocs displayed “Passport has been received from the consular section, and is currently being processed for delivery”. Upon emailing my passport number to email@example.com, I received an automated reply with the status: The current status of your passport is Origination Scan. That’s when I realized that the CEAC Visa Status Check and USTravelDocs are not in sync and their statuses may differ or update at different timings. So, it’s best to check the statuses at both these websites:
Apr 30th: Visa status didn’t change, Cast Last Updated date didn’t change. Passport status didn’t change. However, at 11:26 AM, I received an SMS from Aramex informing that my package is now ready to be picked up from the branch I selected in my profile. I rushed to collect the envelope and noticed that the Print Date on Aramex was April 26th. So it makes sense that even though the package was sent earlier, one shouldn’t rely on the visa and passport status online since they’re not really very actively updated.
I opened the envelope, only to see that my passport wasn’t stamped, and found an additional letter from the Embassy saying that my visa has been refused due to Section 214(b) and I could reapply anytime. Though the specific reasons for refusal wasn’t mentioned, I started researching online and found the many reasons one could be rejected due to 214(b) at: http://visarefusal.com/214b/
Though any of these situations might not be the same for you, here are some of the strong reasons (and this makes it Lession # 3 that you can very well learn from) that I think my visa got refused for:
- New job. I joined the company in February and the interviewer did notice that, asking me to confirm if I was recently hired.
- Inadequate finances to support the purpose of the trip. Considering the new job, I did provide my bank statement for the last 4 months (though my bank account was new as well), I only had one-month’s salary to show.
- Lack of travel to Europe. In some consulates, holding a UK or Schengen visa may be deemed a prerequisite to “graduating” to an American visa. Such travel to Europe may reflect the availability of discretionary income; a return to the home country after having the opportunity to stay in a European country may evidence ties to the home country. Travel to beach resorts such as Thailand or Cyprus may not address this second concern because an individual would be less likely to live and work in that beach resort country.
I might apply for a US visa later this year again and write a new blog post as I have more information regarding the process. Nevertheless, you can still take advantage of the whole process and remember to avoid any mistakes that I’ve made by reading Lesson # 1, Lesson # 2, and Lesson # 3.
Like always, if this post helped you at any step of the process at all or if there’s anything further that you need clarification on, do write to me on instagram.com/waseefakhtar or twitter.com/waseefakhtar.
Happy traveling! ✈️