We all have heard not-so-good stories about getting US Visas and how difficult it is. However, last week, we applied for the girls’ US Visas (non-immigrant) and it was hassle-free! Here’s a walk-through of our application process.
Payment of application fee
We paid the $160 fee (Php 7680) applicable to the Visa type we were applying for, through BPI online. I had to click on the link for online paying through BPI and took note of the reference number provided. Please note that for each individual, you need to get a number. You should not pay a lump sum as the reference number for each applicant is required before you can schedule. In our case since both girls and Michael are applying, we had to pay 3 application fees separately.
It was very easy to pay, enroll the biller (US VISA) with the reference number, and pay the fee. Please just do remember to print out a proof of payment as this may be requested from you- in our case I printed out the screenshot of the confirmation and also the email confirmation from BPI.
You can get the list of payment options and information here :http://ustraveldocs.com/ph/ph-niv-paymentinfo.asp
Completing the application form and obtaining requirements
The main requirement is the completion of the DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application – but while filling up the form, you’ll also need your passport and your photo. You can access the DS-160 from the Consular Electronic Application Center website application online (DS-160). We have actually started filling up the application form even if we have not yet paid, but note that you cannot continue with booking an appointment until you have paid the application fee.
When we were filling up the form, we were asked for passport details, other basic information, made to answer security questions, travel plans, and other information needed to process the Visa application. In this step, it’s important for the applicant to complete the form accurately. In our case, we had to complete Michael’s first and then added the girls’ – there’s an option to apply for other family members’. We also had to upload digital 2×2 photos on the online form.
Scheduling the interview
After we completed the application form, we tried looking at the available slots. We chose the schedule that gave us two weeks to get and obtain supporting documents. If you already have bank certificates, birth certificates, and other documents (note these are not required but can support your visa application), you can already choose the earliest slot available. When we were choosing the slot, there were available slots immediately the week after!
Preparing documents for interview
We had more than a week to get bank certificates, certificate of employment, certificate of enrolment for Mia. We also had to organize it so it will be easier to look for it during the interview rather than rummaging through the envelop that we planned to bring. We also made sure that we have my and Michael’s old passports as these are important to bring during the interview. Note that these are all supporting documents only – you can find the list and description of supporting documents for non-immigrant visa here
In the interview though, Michael wasn’t asked to present any of the documents – not even his COE or old passports. It was a surprise that I was the one asked for my passports – the current and all of the old ones – and I was not even an applicant. In my US Visa application last 2014, I was asked for bank statements and bank certificates but those were the only supporting documents that the consul requested. So you have to be prepared really, because you wouldn’t know what they will ask for – it’s better to have them all ready.
Going to the embassy for our interview
Our slot was at 7:15am and since we live far from the US embassy in Manila, we decided to check-in at a nearby hotel so we do not need to get all stressed out very early in the morning. We had a pre-schooler and a baby in tow so preparing and traveling to the embassy would be very challenging if we were to come from our home. We arrived at the embassy at about 6:45am (a bit too early than the recommended 15-minute allowance) so we had to wait outside for about 30 minutes since they were still processing the earlier batches.
When it was our time to line up, the staff told us to line up ahead of the others. Since I was not an applicant and was just there to accompany the kids, I had to fill up a visitors form. Note that for minor applicants, at least one parent should accompany the child – and the non-applicants need to fill up that green form. When we were at the gate, the staff checked the appointment form, DS-160 confirmation printouts, passports. She folded up the DS-160 confirmation, put a barcode sticker on the back of the passports and gave us a yellow laminated cardboard with a big, bold E written on it (I think E is for expedite). We went inside, had the usual bag scans and checks by the security, then we went to the section for step 1.
Upon approaching the section, we were ushered by the some roving staff to the an area with chairs – these are just beside the queue for non-expedited applicants. It was about 7:20 already and the windows were processing the earliest batch. When the batch of sea farers were completed, they started processing the expedited applicants. There were several applicants with kids and we were the 2nd in line. There was another 3yo in the batch, and a family with an 8-month old. When we were assigned to the window, the staff checked our application form, double checked the photos and confirmed that we were applying for the correct visa. At this point, the lady on the window asked us if Mia had another photo since her photo was covering part of her eyebrows. We did not have any, so we had to go to the waiting area where there was a Kodak photo center. It’s good that they have it inside the embassy, otherwise it was very difficult to get a new photo since it was very early. We had to go there and get new photos for Mia which took about 15 minutes. We went back to the processing window to give Mia’s photo and we were ushered to the second step.
Step 2 was all about getting biometrics. For Mia and Mika, they weren’t required to have their finger prints taken, but it was required for Michael. The nice lady, Ms. Winnie, was so friendly and even made small talk that we might be related since Michael’s middle name is the same with her surname.
Step 3 was the interview with the consul. We were asked to line up at one of the windows and I was glad that the consul was a friendly lady too. We waited for our turn since another male applicant was still being interviewed. At this point, Mia and Mika were already showing signs of crankiness – I think both were getting a bit sleepy already. The male applicant’s interview took about 2-4 minutes since the consul was reviewing his application thoroughly. It was unfortunate that his application was denied (this got me a bit nervous!). When it was our turn, the lady consul greeted us cheerfully, and smiled at the kids – she was indeed very nice! She talked with Mia first, asking how old she was and then asked us how old Mika was. She then asked Michael regarding his work, how long he has been in his current job, his income, purpose of our travel. She asked briefly about our travel plans and how long we intend to stay. She then asked me if I already had a visa, where I work, how much my salary is and if we have traveled as a family already. She also asked what countries we have traveled to and asked for all of my passports. Mika was now crying at this point and I stepped aside to look for a breastfeeding station. Unfortunately there was none, and one of the ushers mentioned I could do it in the comfort room (I frowned a bit on this suggestion). So I just decided to go back to Michael and Mia since they were still with the consul. I heard the consul asked Michael regarding a petition for him and if he intends to stay in the US. Since we really do not have any plans staying there, it was all good. The nice consul informed us that they will just send the passports to our address in the next few days.
The whole process just took about more than an hour, I think if it weren’t for the photo issue, we would’ve finished everything in under an hour. We came out of the embassy at 8:20am, it was that fast!
Here are some tips if you will be applying for your kids’ US visa:
Book an early schedule
We scheduled our interview at 7:15 am. Having an early schedule is a must especially if you are bringing kids along. The sun won’t be too scorching at this time, so it won’t be too uncomfortable waiting outside. Also the staff and consuls are still not very tired since the day is just starting. The traffic is still not very heavy along Roxas during the early hours in the morning.
Baby bottles are allowed
There’s a lot of prohibited items in the embassy such as water, food, electronic devices – however, if you are bringing a baby, you can bring in milk or water in a baby bottle. When I was researching, I read somewhere that baby bottles are allowed, but be prepared to taste the milk/water when security asks you to. In our case, since Mikaela is a breastfed baby, we didn’t bring any milk – I just brought a small baby bottle with a few ounces of water. While waiting for our turn though, the family seated beside us brought it a feeding bottle and powdered formula milk and they weren’t prohibited when the mom was making the milk in the waiting area. For Mia, I did not bring her water bottle, instead I just bought bottled water in the waiting area – it just costs about 30 Php. There were some snacks being sold too, there was a Mister Donut stand and the vendor mentioned they had siopao and siomai if you want some warm food.
There is no breastfeeding or nursing area
When I was entering the embassy I asked if there were any breastfeeding station in the area. The lady said there’s actually none, but they can improvise if I needed to feed my child. She told me that I should just approach her if I need to feed my baby. However, when we were at the last step of the process, Mika was becoming very restless and I thought of feeding her already – I looked for the lady I asked previously but she was not in sight – so I asked another staff. The other lady I asked said there’s no breastfeeding room, but I could do it in the comfort room. I frowned but just didn’t want to push the issue – so I just asked if I could sit on one of the areas so I can feed but they seemed to look worried and awkward. Good thing Mika stopped crying and I just went back to Michael and Mia. It’s good that babies are prioritized otherwise I might have had a hard time feeding Mika in the embassy. I’m very used to breastfeeding anywhere but somehow the area was not very conducive to feeding. So if you are breastfeeding your child, plan around on how you are going to feed him or her.
Make sure your photos are valid
When filling up the form, there’s an automated photo checker for the photos to be uploaded. I think it basically checks the quality of the photo, clarity, lighting, etc. However, note that it won’t mean that the photo will be accepted. There are guidelines available on here but make sure that there are no parts in the face that cannot be seen. In the case of Mia, her photo was not accepted because her bangs was covering some part of her eyebrows. Do not worry though if it gets disapproved on the spot since there’s a photo center inside the embassy, it will cost you 80 Php though for a set of 2×2 photos. Be prepared to also wait for your photos to be taken and processed since there might be people already queued to get theirs.
Bring activities, books, toys for your kids
Although we did not wait for a very long time, Mia also got a bit restless and bored. There were other kids in the waiting area and they seemed either a bit sleepy or bored too. Electronic devices like tablets and phone cannot be brought in so there are no easy distractions for bigger kids. For Mia we just brought her favorite books, markers and papers.
Parents or guardians can accompany minors
In the website it mentions that a minor should be accompanied by at least one parent or guardian, but it does not say that it should only be one parent accompanying the child. One mother regretted not taking his husband inside – she was just alone carrying her 1 year-old.
Take note of the prohibited items
Food, drinks (except I guess for infant milk) are not allowed, any electronic and battery operated gadgets cannot be brought in too. Sharp objects, scissors or the like are not allowed as well. To see a list of these prohibited items, you may refer to this link.
Try to take it easy and relax
I know it’s easier said than done, especially with a child or children in tow – but it’s relatively easier and not so stressful when you are having the interview with the kids. The consul was very accommodating and patient, and they were very friendly with the kids. Even when our baby was fussy and crying, she was still patient and gave us time to pacify the child.
After three working days, the kids’ passports with their visas arrived! They all got ten-year multiple entry visas, yey!
Time to plan our next trip!