How to apply for visas at embassies under an apprentice president

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CRISPIN R. ARANDA

CRISPIN R. ARANDA

Will the current rules on visa applications change in the next 6 months? Not likely. But do not hold your breath for the remainder of next year.

This week after the assassination of a Russian diplomat in Turkey and the Christmas market truck attack in Berlin, the American President-elect said his proposal to bar Muslims from the United States has been vindicated. At the very least, a spokesman said the “President-elect has been clear that (the incoming administration) will suspend admission of those from countries with a history of extremism.”

While visa laws are passed by Congress, implementation of visa rules lie with the Department of State. The State Department is one of the 15 main departments under the Executive Branch – under the Office of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump.

Nobody knows if the number of departments will increase or be reduced. The most recent count put the total number of employees under the Executive Branch at 4,214,652. Yes, approximately 4 million, 215 thousand.


The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are the two distinct departments separate from each other that are directly involved in the visa petition and issuance process.

Prior to the election, however, the US Embassy website had already changed. The old or previous site was information-laden but not tablet or mobile gadget friendly. Now, the landing page or main page is panelized, with six main panels to choose from if you (1) Are looking for a visa; (2) Are looking for US Citizen services; (3) Want to study in the US; (4) Are looking for a job at the Embassy; (5) Need US policy information and (6) Are looking for the latest news.

If you need to see the latest procedures on visa appointments, for example, this info is immediately available in the previous website. Now, you have to click on Panel No. 1, then select “Nonimmigrant Visa” from the selection that appears and then click on the U.S. Visa Information Service to get the latest news. Warning: no more eyeglasses allowed for visa photos.

[In the following paragraphs don’t be surprised that the dates are 2016 not 2017 dates because they are all from the 2016 website.]

In the previous website lay-out the new procedures are immediately visible such as the one we published in February 2016.

Do not be on time: be 15 minutes – starting feb. 1, 2016!

A new appointment system is now in place by the Embassy’s Immigrant Visa Unit to “ensure the highest level of customer service.” The “staggered appointment system is “designed to minimize applicant wait time.”

“Effective February 01, 2016, Immigrant Visa interviews will be scheduled at 6:45 am, 7:30 am, 8:15 am and 9:00 am. Embassy personnel will facilitate entry of immigrant visa applicants 15 minutes prior to their respective interview time slot.”

The US Embassy emphasizes in its announcement that “All applicants who arrive earlier than 15 minutes before their interview time will be asked to wait outside the Embassy premises.”

Second Increase in Medical Exam Fees starting Oct. 1, 2016; the last increase was on November 1, 2015
Starting October 1, 2016, you would have to add P5, 000 plus more to the already increased medical exam fees. Read the official news from St. Luke’s. And you have to set your interview or register online to ensure examination.

Increase in Medical Examination Fees Effective October 1, 2016

St. Luke’s Medical Center Extension Clinic (SLEC), the Embassy’s accredited panel physician, will begin charging a new medical examination fee of Php 16,042.50 for most immigrant visa applicants effective October 1, 2016. The medical fee increase is based on mandatory gonorrhea testing for all immigrant visa applicants 15 years of age and older as instructed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Please note that the medical fees for children 14 years of age or younger will remain at Php 8,600. However, if SLEC determines that a child applicant must be tested for gonorrhea, SLEC will charge the corresponding gonorrhea test fee separately.

Delivery Address Registration

After the interview and as the next step after visa approval, applicants must register the address where they want the visa packet (passport and visa) to be delivered. Registration is intended to “facilitate a timely processing of immigrant visa applications.” Registration or change of existing delivery address can be made online by clicking the “Select Document Delivery Address” link under the Immigrant Visas section of the U.S. Embassy website (http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph/).

Revised, updated procedures

How to Set Appointments

The US Embassy interviews more than a thousand nonimmigrant visa applicants every day. Each minute you have not set an appointment, somebody would have taken an available slot. How would that happen?

You may get an interview date on your own or by calling the Embassy Call Center but you need to complete the following procedures first.

Payment of Application Fee. You may go to a BPI bank with your printed payment slip to pay the $160.00 application fee (the peso equivalent changes based on the exchange rate). Be sure you have a current and valid passport when you do. After paying and being issued your official receipt number you may then check the earliest date you would want to be interviewed 24 hours after payment.

Online completion of form required to get an appointment date, or call up the Embassy number.

Embassy Manila’s Visa Information and Appointment Service center hotlines are (632) 976-8500, (632) 976-8501 or (632) 976-8502. The call center is open Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Manila time), except on Philippine and US holidays. Callers in the US should call (703) 520-2235 on its Eastern Standard Time equivalent of operation hours.

If you are doing your own schedule checking online, you would be able to access the available dates only after completing the DS 160 application form online. The online system would automatically pause and terminate your application after long periods of inactivity. Therefore, be sure you have the information you need before you start the online form such as passport information, names of relatives in the US if any, date of your first application (if you have had a refusal or issuance of visa) and any trips outside the Philippines within a given period. Only after completing the form would you be able to get an appointment date.

Required Documents. On the interview date, you need to bring evidence of your eligibility for the nonimmigrant visa, usually the B-1/B-21 temporary visitor for business or pleasure category. The most important documents are official records of your economic / financial, family, community, professional ties both here and in the United States. The consul must be convinced that you have a valid, legal and genuine reason to visit and you shall return to the Philippines after that temporary visit. You need to convey to the consul the temporariness of your visit and that you have a comfortable, enjoyable life that you shall return to.

Go for the Interview. In the past, US Embassy personnel (from the guards to the pre-qualifying staff) have not asked for a printed copy of the DS 160 form that you submitted online. However, applicants have been turned away recently for not having the printed form. So be sure to have not just the appointment and confirmation page but the complete DS 160 application as well to be sure. Review the answers you provided and be ready to explain and/or expound on your answers during the interview. Unless a consul decides to probe deeper into your intention and application, you would have anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes then the consul decides whether to issue or refuse you visa application.

Consul Decision. After the interview the applicant is normally given a written notice of refusal. Otherwise, you would be given instructions on how to pay for the visa delivery. Your passport with the U.S. visa (multiple or single entry and the validity period) should be delivered in 5-7 working days.

You’re good to go and get ready for the next step- interview procedures at a US port of entry.

Recurring interview tip: psyche yourself up for that interview. Remember, the consuls are not interviewing documents but you – the applicant. Consular officers are trained to read not just your submitted online application but your face and body language as well.

Good luck and have a great vacation. If you are visiting California (whose previous Governor was Arnold Schwarzenegger is an avid supporter of Mr. Trump. Arnold also took over hosting of the Donald Trump reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”

Hence, the two celebrities’ greeting to you when you get to the Land of the Fee could very well be “Hasta la visa, Baby.”

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