26 May 2010


The other day, I went to the US Embassy in Manila to get my visa renewed. I had to do this as my earlier student visa was already expired, which meant that I cannot get back inside the USA if I had to get out for some reason or another. And there is an impending reason come September. So I planned ahead and went back to Manila in order to renew my visa.

I scheduled an appointment about a month ago, and before the day of the interview, I already took photos, filled in application forms, paid the fees, and so on. Then yesterday, I went to the embassy, and the process was relatively hassle-free.

The whole compound was rather well-signed. First, I had to go register and announce my presence. The person outside the compound asked what time my appointment was, and then found a bar-code sticker and attached it to my passport. I was then told to enter through Gate 3 and submit to security. Once I did that, I then went to a waiting area, and after about 10 minutes, I was called to a window where I had to turn in my confirmation letter, and have my information scanned. This person seemed to be the one checking whether all the required documents were in order. In my case, he wanted to see my I-20, which proves that I am a student that is registered in an American university.

After that, he told me to go inside, and then I went to a window, where I had to tell the person there my name and birth date, and then I had my fingers scanned. This will allow them to enter my fingerprints in a database so when I present myself at a port of entry, they can scan my fingers and then know that the prints have not changed.

Then, I sat in the waiting room, where all the interviews were being held. I waited for about 20 minutes before my number was called. Once my number was called, I was interviewed for 2 minutes. The guy asked what I was doing in the United States, what my field of study was, and that was it. My visa was approved. Now I have a new sticker that is attached in my passport. All I need to do now is wait, as they will be delivering it to my house here by courier service.

Now, due to the fact that the waiting room is also the room where people get interviewed for their visa applications, I heard quite a few interesting things about the people who apply for visas. I heard a few denials, and even when I hear their answers to the questions, no wonder they get denied. I mean, it doesn't seem to be the case that the US Embassy just blanket denies everyone who looks like they're poor and will go undercover, I mean, in the booth where one pays for one's passport to be delivered once one gets issued a visa, there are plenty of people going there as well. That means that there are plenty of people who are issued a visa as well. But here I was hearing urban legends of how unreasonable the visa officers were.

Anyway, there were people who got denied visas, including the person who was interviewed before me. But they weren't somehow prepared in the interview, if I were the officer, I would deny them too. One was asked where she was going, she said she was headed to San Francisco. Does she have friends or family there? No. How long will she be there? 6 months. Where will she stay? She doesn't know. She has a kid here in the Philippines, who will take care of her? She doesn't know. Like, really? Is this your first time to be outside the Philippines? Yes. So you're a travel virgin, and you are coming to the United States unprepared? This sounds fishy.

I haven't had problems getting visas to places I needed to go. Maybe it is just that I have enough traveler IQ to get by, or that the places I have been to aren't security-sensitive. Who knows if I go trekking in the Karakoram, I probably would be grilled by the US border guards when I get back.

(Lievano Building, from my Bogotá, Colombia Series)


  1. Hearing the interview must have been interesting. I heard a few when being interviewed at the Canadian border (when I was still on temporary visa, I had to). One time, I was stuck between an Indian guy who somehow landed in Toronto (from Paris I guess) without a passport. Come on!

    And an Asian lady who apparently had been deported and had come back under another name.

    Needless to say, my own interview was quick and easy :-D

  2. Zhu,

    I know! No wonder they get denied. I still truly believe that if one has all the right papers, then reason will prevail, and one will get the visa.

  3. I think it's the same as these WTF immigration questions I sometimes receive - people think it's their right to go to the UA or work in X country. I wish but... no.

  4. Talk about unpreparedness!
    But just like you, I never had a problem applying for visas and in fact enjoyed the interview process when I was still holding a Pinoy passport - the only hassle I remember was getting an NYPD clearance (it took a week or so)for an Argentinean visa.

  5. TNP,

    Oh I remember that police clearance thing. A couple of years ago, I was shopping around for countries to visit in South America, and I eliminated Argentina for that very reason, that they required a police clearance.