Thursday, April 22, 2010
My VISA Story (Not the bank/credit card company, the travel one): Part 1
My VISA story (travel visa): Part 1
Lj T. Salceda
“You’ll never get it!”
“You have a very slim chance of getting approved.”
“You are what they consider a high risk case.” (Me: I beg your pardon???) “Well, you are single, never been out of the Philippines, no fat bank account and you are dating an American. Those things make you a high-risk individual.” (Me: But I’m no terrorist or drug dealer or smuggler! I don’t have any contagious disease that I know of.)
Those were just some of the reactions/comments I’ve heard and tried so hard to dismiss in my head since I’ve informed friends & office mates about my US tourist visa application.
I’ve never expected that applying for a visa would be such a nerve-wracking experience! Restlessness, upset tummy and mind freeze (more like nosebleed) from practicing my English for days (maybe weeks/months for some) for such a coveted stamp. Why would anyone go all these troubles for a piece of paper? I guess you need to read their purpose of visit on the DS 156 form to know their answers.
My online research only escalated my apprehensions. Reading tale after tale after tale of visa denials, inconsiderate consuls, crushed dreams and wasted resources generated nightmares and panic attacks. And I’m the type of person who rarely gets rattled or nervous.
Thank the good Lord for giving me the best boyfriend in the world! He’s been very supportive from day one. He and his friends prayed for me for weeks. Not only that, he also helped me with the expenses and patiently encouraged me during the times that I was ready to back out. He’s been the personification of hope, optimism and faith in the Lord all through out the whole journey. The day before the interview he lovingly assured me with these words, “Honey you will come in and go out of the embassy building blessed.” Is he a prophet or what? :)
So I started the CHALLENGE of US (TOURIST aka B1/B2) VISA APPLICATION.
First I had my old, never been used, green passport renewed to the latest, maroon-colored, electronic one. I chose the 10 days shorter processing option, plus one day delivery service (by Pilipinas TeleServe), but it still took 13 days before I finally got my brand new passport. The delay, according to the DFA personnel I talked to was due to a machine malfunction at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas office (where the passports are being printed) and because of the Holy Week vacation.
What I do love about the new system and venue for the passport application: it was quicker, more organized and efficient. I can still remember the first time I applied for a passport: traumatic, loooong and exhausting.
FTI of those who want to apply (renew) for a PASSPORT:
First, you need to call or apply on-line for an appointment. After a few days or a week the most, you will be given your confirmation/code through e-mail. Prepare all the requirements before the day of your appointment. On the day of your appointment, arrive at least an hour early. You’ll be surprised to learn that lines get long quick.
Only those that have appointments will be allowed inside the DFA building. After showing/telling the guard your code/confirmation, you will be ushered near the main door and handed a form (with your name and initial info) in order to complete the details you’ve given them on the phone/on-line.
At the main door, you will be handed a number and will be told to sit down while waiting for your turn. Your number will be flashed above the window where your documents will be checked and surrendered. You will then be instructed to go upstairs to pay for the visa (there are 10 days and 20 days processing options). After paying the appropriate amount, you will be given another number for the photograph (this will be taken at the DFA office, no need to bring passport pics) and the signature collection. Make sure you’re wearing a blouse/dress/shirt with collar or bring a blazer with you. Fix yourself before going to the DFA office because you will have no time to do this in line (unless you're a magician).
The DFA personnel will take 2 to 3 shots and will allow you to choose. After selecting your best picture and signature, you may prefer to have your passport delivered or picked up. If you opt the former, you will then go to the booth of the assigned courier to fill out another form and leave them your passport receipt so that they can claim it for you on the day of the release. Pay for the delivery fee and keep the receipt that they will give you. Add an extra day or two to the release date of your passport before you can finally claim it. It took me only less than two hours to complete the whole process.
The day my passport arrived I started working on the basic tourist visa requirements such as DS 156 and DS 157 forms (both downloadable online), visa payment at BDO (they will also give you a copy of the DS 157 form at the bank, so you can choose to use it or the one on the website) and visa picture. (Reminder: always visit the US Embassy website for updates and changes on the requirements.)
I also started preparing my “proof of ties,” a collection of documents or materials that will prove you have legitimate or compelling reasons to come back to the Philippines and not stay as a TNT or tago-ng-tago (illegal alien) in the US. For examples of proof of ties go to the embassy’s webpage. I obtained a certificate of employment, my last ITR (Income Tax Return), pictures of my family and with John (my boyfriend), my last 3 pay slips and I also asked John to write a letter to the embassy in case they ask for a proof that we are indeed in a “dating relationship.”
I also called the US embassy visa hotline for an appointment, however I found out that I need to fill out and print the DS 156 form first and get the barcode from the form before they could let me choose from the available dates/times for the interview. I had to go back to the inter-net shop and fill out the form and call the embassy again for the appointment. Once you’ve chosen the date/time, they’ll give you a code as a “password” through e-mail which you will use at the gate of the embassy.
I was really grateful that God didn’t let me go through a long, agonizing “waiting” period. There were available slots just four days from the day I called. So I chose the earliest date and time and prepared for the BIG DAY.
Read Part 2: Interview Day here.