US ‘Visa Hour’


How much does an hour cost?

Put it another way, how much is your hour worth? How much value do you think your hour is?

The cost of visa application per hour is relevant, especially for those seeking to visit, study, work or apply for permanent residency in the United States. Of all the Embassies (in the five countries with permanent migration programs and favorite or popular destination for Filipinos) only the US Embassy requires a personal appearance and a consular interview.

The other four Embassies (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK) accept paper applications after online processing, and interviews are on a per-case or per-need basis.

Preparing for the visa interview will definitely take days, weeks or even months in some cases, although the actual interview could be over in two to three minutes. More than a thousand (anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500) Filipinos apply for US nonimmigrant or tourist visas every day, five days a week.

Assuming 1,200 Filipinos apply at the US Embassy daily that would be 248,214 a year. Not all applicants are issued visas. US Embassy records available to the public confirm a 20-percent refusal ratio. Then not every applicant issued a temporary visitor visa use that B1 or B2 visa on the same year it was issued.

B-1 category is a temporary visitor for business (related to occupation, business); B-2 category is temporary visit for pleasure. Most temporary visit visas are the combined B-1/B-2. A person with a B-1/B-2 visa cannot and will not be admitted into the US for both reasons at the same time. Either a person is seeking to enter the US on business or pleasure.

Quite simply, if you are going to the US related to your business, occupation – such as purchasing equipment, meeting with suppliers, partners or attending a conference, trade fair, then the immigration officer at the port of entry would indicate your admission as temporary visit for business, B-1.

On the other hand, if you are visiting friends or relatives, or seeking medical treatment or need to prequalify as an organ donor, your admission would be the B-2 category.

With more than a thousand applying for visas every day, how much time could a US consul allot for each applicant? About two to five minutes.

All your weeks or months of preparation boil down to the last two minutes, the moments of reckoning within that visa hour.

To lessen the stress of the wait and anxiety, the US Embassy produces videos and conducts interaction forum with the public via Visa Hour on Facebook by invitation. The last one (How to Prepare for Your Immigrant Visa Interview) was held last April 6 and I participated and replied to most of the questions by participants. There were some questions about the time and length of the interview (questions were edited for clarity).

“Why (are consuls) saying that applicant must be honest but consular officers never look at the documents?”

US Consuls interview more than a thousand visa applicants daily and could only talk to each one in a couple or more minutes. Documents are usually asked if there is a need to verify or clarify the answer given to a specific question.

For example, if an applicant is asked about any relatives in the US and there appears to be hesitation or nervousness, then the inquiry becomes a quasi-inquisition. In the DS-160 form, the applicant should indicate if he has any immediate or other relatives in the US. Hints of hesitation would be considered a sign of non-disclosure.

Then the office could check the consular database (available to all US consuls worldwide) for family names similar to that of the applicant. A hit of names issued immigrant visas or refused visas would most likely result in a refusal, particularly if the applicant did not disclose such a relationship.

“How long will it take for someone denied a non-immigrant visa to re-apply?”

There is actually no set time or period to re-apply. As long as you pay the $160 visa fee or the P7,680 equivalent, are able to complete the form and obtain an interview date, you can be interviewed again. However, US consuls advise that if there has been no substantial changes in your personal circumstances, especially your financial, family, professional and community ties, your re-application would also result in refusal.

“Is it true that if I have an ongoing immigrant visa petition, I have no chance of getting a tourist visa?”

No. Provided you are truthful in your application form and disclose any or all immigrant visa petitions (as well as previous visa applications refused) a current immigrant visa petition by a family member or a US employer will not be the reason for the refusal. The interviewing consul checks out your existing immigrant visa petition, determines the likelihood of your being able to apply to change your status if you are already in the United States, whether you are likely to wait for it in the US instead of returning to the Philippines – and, after weighing the facts makes the decision.

“I have an existing family-based sponsorship and I have received a notice of interview. However, the petitioner died. Am I still eligible for it? If not, can I appeal the refusal?”

The death of the petitioner results in the automatic revocation of a petition. However, there are administrative remedies available to the visa applicant, particularly the ability to request that the petition be reinstated (despite the death of the petitioner) for humanitarian considerations. The key factors here are (1) you still have a qualified relative in the US – who must be either a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, and (2) if your request for reinstatement is refused, the denial will result in extreme hardship to your qualified relative in the US.

“If Embassy personnel are using their gut feel in approving visas, why there are a lot of illegal aliens in the US?”

There are 11 to 12 million undocumented aliens in the US, those who are unlawfully present or without legal status. Overstaying Filipinos are commonly referred to as TNTs (Tago nang Tago). The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates the TNTs in 2013 at around 200,000.

Consuls make on-the-spot decisions, using objective data when making a subjective decision. It is called “Consular Absolutism.” Since interviewing consuls are at the frontline of the visa battle, they do not need to consult the Commander in Chief whether the applicant looks qualified, believable and approvable or not. The consuls have to make the on-the-spot decision. However, if a consul gives visas to applicants who turn out to be overstayers or TNTs, his or her record would then haunt him – professionally. We believe that instead of making it hard for them to go up the consular ladder of progression, they would rather make it hard for you to qualify.

As for the millions of illegal aliens in the US, the majority of them are unlawfully present after crossing the border, not overstayers.

The MPI report shows “Mexicans making up about half of all unauthorized immigrants. There were 5.6 million Mexicans unauthorized immigrants living in the US in 2014, down from 6.4 million in 2009, according to preliminary Pew Research Center estimates.”

To reiterate, the official statistics compiled by MPI shows there are just 200,000 TNTs in the US.

What are they waiting for?

Once TNTs, only the Triple “A” solution is available to them: “Asylum, Amnesty or Asawa.” Asylum would be the hardest and longest option to wait for. Amnesty is unlikely – not with the hysteria pumped up by Trump and especially if he becomes the US President. “Asawa” or marriage to a US citizen is the most viable alternative. But what if you are married in the Philippines?

That would be for another column. You can wait for it or check out the Visa Hour of the US Embassy and our annotated version in this link:
The consul would have to be convinced you are getting your money’s worth from this intended trip. Your body language and communication demeanor will show how priceless the expected experience would be.


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