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Some useful tips when obtaining a US non-immigrant visa in the Philippines

Applying for a non-immigrant US visa might seem to be daunting but they have streamlined the process so much that it is not at all difficult. I did hit some snags along the way but in retrospect those could have easily been prevented had I took the time to do some research online. Hopefully relating my personal experience will help others in making their application as smooth and painless as possible.

One important thing to note with the US policy on immigration is that the US Consular Office will be assuming by default that you will be wanting to stay in the US beyond the granted temporary stay duration and it will be your burden to prove that you will be coming back to your country of residence by showing strong ties back home (be it relating to work, assets, family, responsibilities and others depending on individual cases). juts make sure that you have collected documented evidences to show the interviewer should the need arise.

Almost everything you need to know about applying for a US visa is detailed in the US Travel Docs website. This website covers the step by step instructions on what fees to pay, what forms to fill out, how to schedule the interview appointment online and what documents you should be bringing during the interview. I will not be going through any of that as the process as I said is very straightforward and instead I will focus on the things that I have learned based on first hand experience and from reading other online forums in preparation for the application.

There is absolutely no reason to purchase a plane ticket before your visa is granted. Not only does this not in any way help in your application but this also prevent you from dealing with the problem of having a ticket with a declined visa. I understand that tickets can be quite cheap depending on the time of the year or how far back you purchase them, but the only solution is to apply way in advance from your planned travel.

The invitation letter for the interview will indicate that you should not go to the US Embassy very early as there is no clear benefit in doing so. That is a very sensible advice considering that you might just end up waiting outside in the sweltering heat. It should be noted however that they do allow applicants to go in ahead of time so that you can wait in the comfortable seating area in the holding room. The holding area is open air but they do have stand fans inside so it isn't so bad.

All electronic devices that can store data, take photos and videos are not allowed inside and it is better if you leave all your devices at home. One thing that I did not anticipate though is that they will not allow my fitness band/tracker inside also. I was advised to leave it with somebody outside as they do not accept storage of personal items at the security screening area. I was in a state of panic since we came by taxi and I didn't have any idea where to leave my watch. As I was contemplating if I should just ditch the watch somewhere when a helpful fellow applicant in the queue suggested that I should talk to one of the vendors outside. True enough, some enterprising vendors have put up a personal gadget "baggage counter" outside (for a fee of course) and they even give out numbered laminated claim cards. 

Forgot to bring your prescribed US Visa sized photo at home? No problem, there is a photo booth inside the holding area. Do take note that usually if you have submitted your application online and have managed to submit a suitable electronic version, they will not ask for the actual physical copy. In case they do ask for it, it is better to have it with you. An embassy employee actually checks for the suitability of the photo's before you go in (I am guessing it is for the paper application or for those who were not able to successfully submit their photo online (I say "successfully" since the site is a bit buggy and it took me several attempts before it allowed me to submit the photo).

Ok this is just a reiteration of the previous point, the online submission of the photo is a little buggy. Just make sure that the image is as per the guidelines and that it meets the size restrictions. Try and try until you succeed. In my experience, I wasn't able to submit it on my first attempt and have read some discussions from online forums describing this problem. I was able to submit the photo the following day. I also had some initial problems with the payment reference code not being accepted by the system (I have paid using the BPI online facility - see the list of payment options here) but a note to the support desk solved it very quickly. The response by the staff was quite fast.

If you have an elderly person in your group, you are handed a yellow laminated card with a big "E" on it. The staff are very accommodating to those needing special assistance such as the elderly. They would ask them to sit in a chair and just call them out when it is their turn. No need for them to stand in line.

There are 3 main steps in applying for a US Visa. Pre-screening of applicants, Fingerprinting, and lastly the Actual Interview. By the end of these steps you will be informed if you have successfully qualified for the issuance of a visa or was denied. Once you have been informed that you have successfully qualified for a visa they will hold on to your passport and the passport with the visa will be sent via courier (2Go) to the address that you have indicated in the interview appointment form. In our particular case it arrived within 5 calendar days (for an address within Metro Manila). Make sure that if the passport holder is not around to personally claim the parcel then he or she should leave an authorization letter with a photocopy of a recognized identification card.

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