Perhaps one of the most dreaded tourist visas to apply for is the B1/B2 visa to the United States of America, and for a number of reasons.
For one, we keep hearing stories about consuls granting the visa to good-looking applicants, questions being tricky, their accent hard to understand.
And on the other hand, while no other document is required other than your online application, we never know which one they’d ask from you during the interview. Not to mention an expensive visa fee at $160 (latest conversion at PhP 8190).
We may have a good reason to fear it, but there are even more ways to prepare for it.
This is a compiled story of a lot of my friends who have applied, granted or denied visa. Given that, please still conduct your own research and only keep this as your guide. We also want to prove to you that it’s not THAT difficult to get the visa as Mary and I have both been granted 10-year multiple-entry visa under different circumstances.
Please note that I have a 10-year visa as assisted by our company (I work as a trainer and it’s part of what I do), and Mary also has 10 years but on a personal account – meaning no company backing or invitation letter.
WHY DO FILIPINOS WANT TO GET A US (B1B2) VISA?
Not only is it your ticket to enter the land of the free and its territories, it would also allow you visa-free entry to Latin American and Eastern European countries. Talk about hitting a lot of birds with one stone! Think about Hawaii, New York, California, Honduras, Albania, to name a few.
A US Visa also strengthens your Philippine Passport in a way that makes your other visa applications a little easier than when you didn’t have it. Consider me getting an 3-year multiple-entry visa to Australia since I have a US visa, versus those whom I know who were approved single-entry visas to Australia since they didn’t have the elusive US visa on their passport. Again, this is just an observation, it does not necessarily mean the same thing will apply to everyone else.
HOW SHOULD I PREPARE?
A rule of thumb is to always over-prepare. This way, even if the consul ends up just looking at your online application and not the documents you brought with you, you know that you covered your bases.
The documents you might want to bring can vary, and we listed why they’re necessary. For the purpose of this article, we are referring to employees and not business owners, though we can add some thoughts on the matter.
- Financial Capacity
- 6 months of bank statement is ideal – even your payroll account will do (that’s what we did). It doesn’t have to be a huge amount in there, but as long as there is a steady activity and you didn’t just put the money there recently for “show”, you should be good to go. But like I said, it doesn’t hurt to OVER prepare.
i. It shows a steady flow of cash in your account, that you didn’t just put a huge amount right before the application
ii. It also tells them that you’ve maintained the account for a fair amount of time
iii. This works well if your payroll is not your only means of income
- Your previous year’s Income Tax Return – get it from your HR ahead of time
i. This is even better than the bank statement, in my opinion. It shows your earnings for the entire year
- Certificate of Employment – it should show your tenure, position and compensation package
i. The more consistent you are with your earnings, the better.
ii. Tenure with the company is a big deal since it implies some sort of rootedness to the Philippines
iii. The first time I applied for a company-sponsored visa, I got a lot of questions around why is the company sending me to the US if I just joined (like I was really hired for this project)? I got approved for a single entry visa then.
- Credit Card Statement – again this is not required but it can show your ability to settle your bills.
i. Getting approved for a credit card is also a good thing as it means you’ve already provided your proof of income to the bank.
- Proof of Rootedness
- Family ties – admittedly, when you’re married and with kids, they feel that you’d want to go back home to them and not over-stay in their country
i. I know a friend who was denied a visa. He was asked, are you married? He said no. The same friend reapplied, said he’s not married but has 2 kids, got approved for 10 years.
ii. Bring a photo of yourself with family to establish the fact that you have someone / a family to come home to – your kids, parents, heck maybe even your cat if you do live alone.
iii. On my first interview, I was asked a series of questions that I almost fumbled:
- “Are you single?” -yes
- “Do you live alone?” -yes
- “Where are your parents?” (at this point I remembered rootedness) – with me
- “I thought you said you live alone?” -yes, they live next door but technically I live alone in my unit (that was close)
iv. Mary was asked about me in her interview, since she declared that we will be traveling together:
- “You are traveling with ____, does she have a visa?” -yes
- “How many times has she gone to the US?” -once, but she applied for a visa before, granted single entry but didn’t use it as the training didn’t push through
- “Is she always your travel companion?” -yes, except for Australia
- “How long have you been together?” – turning 3 years
- Professional / entrepreneurial ties – this pertains to your work and/or business ventures. Again, proves that you have to go back to them.
i. “I am getting married to my fiancé of 2 years at the end of the year” means you’re definitely coming back home
ii. “I am a candidate for a promotion in the company for Quarter 3” means you have no plans of abandoning your job
iii. “I am due for a significant raise next year” means the same as above
iv. “My buy and sell business has started picking up” means you have to attend to it when you come back
- Family in the US – you can’t hide the truth from them. Not all applicants who have relatives in the US get denied a visa. Just be truthful in filling out the form
i. Mary has an aunt living in the US which she declared in the application
ii. She was asked in the interview, “You have an aunt in the US?” -yes, but oh no, I don’t have their address. We are friends on facebook but haven’t communicated much”
iii. While I waited for my turn, a female applicant was asked, “what is the purpose of travel?” -I will take care of my sister’s newborn baby. DENIED.
- Purpose of Travel
- Tourism definitely wins this. You are bringing money that you can spend in their country.
- Attend a seminar – careful with this. An invitation letter is not always a guarantee
i. “What is your purpose of travel?” -I am attending a symposium in Guam (she’s dressed in a nurse’s uniform). DENIED
ii. “What is your purpose of travel?” -I am attending a training in North Carolina. GRANTED
iii. “What is your purpose of travel?” -It’s my birthday. GRANTED
iv. “What is your purpose of travel?” -I am attending my cousin’s wedding and I am the maid of honor”. DENIED
- Travel History
- This proves that you have not overstayed in any country before
i. “Which countries have you traveled to before?” -none yet, but I am scheduled to fly in July to ____. The consul smirked. GRANTED
iii. “Which countries have you traveled to before?” -I went to HK and Macau in 2015, Japan and China in 2016. For this year, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia and just last month I was in Australia”. GRANTED
- This also goes to show you can afford your travels
i. “Who is funding your travel?” -I am. GRANTED.
ii. “Who is funding your travel?” -my fiancé (applicant hands the fiancé’s bank records). GRANTED
iii. “Who is funding your travel?” -my fiancé (applicant hands the invite letter). DENIED
WHAT ARE THE STEPS TO GET A VISA?
It is pretty straightforward. To begin, please go to this website: http://www.ustraveldocs.com (select Pacific – Philippines – YES, first time – Nonimmigrant)
- Pay the $160 fee (yes, that’s why the form is called D-160) with cash at a BPI branch (no other means of payment accepted)
- Create an account and fill out the D-160 form here (please select non-immigrant)
- Schedule your interview on the website (HINT: get a morning schedule, the consuls are not too tired yet)
- Show up and bring all your supporting documents, and please. Don’t forget the print out of your appointment confirmation. You won’t be entertained if you don’t have it. You’ll be forced to print it somewhere at a rip-off price of PhP 300.
IF I GOT DENIED, WHAT SHOULD I DO NEXT?
This is going to be depressing, but you have to move on, girl. Do better, travel more, prepare more meticulously. Yes, the possibility of getting denied again is there, but I know someone who got denied once and got approved 10 years when he re-tried. Improve your financial state, show them that you earn more the next time you apply, or that you’ve traveled more, gotten married perhaps, got promoted, from the last time you applied.
IF I GOT APPROVED, WHAT NOW?
Use it! Although that’s easier said than done given that the fare from Manila to any part of the continental US may cost you an arm and a leg. But hey, here are a few tips:
- Book a ticket to Guam via Cebupacific – that’s the cheapest I know. I will update this blog when we come back from Guam for Mary’s birthday.
- Sign up for travel fairs where you may get a 30 thousand pesos RT Manila-New York-Manila ticket. Alternatively, download the Skyscanner mobile app and get updated with prices on tickets.
- Why not try Hawaii?
- For starters, enter Taiwan without a visa (perks of having a US visa)
- If you plan on pursuing a Schengen visa too, then I think you have a stronger chance now, so why don’t you strike whilst the iron is hot?
While in the US Embassy, remember not to listen to the interviews going on, who was granted and denied a visa otherwise, you will be overly conscious of your answers when it’s your turn. When that happens, your answers aren’t authentic anymore. I went there with a book on hand, a James Patterson, to distract myself from whatever heartbreak or celebration is going on around me.
Do not forget to leave your phones at home, or with your waiting companions because they are not allowed inside the embassy. As well as flash drives, ear phones, anything that turns on or off, gums, water and food. Mints are allowed and there are stalls inside when you feel the need for food or water.
Anything that the vendors outside offer, take it with a grain of salt. They offer you a chair while you wait in line? There’s a charge for that. They offer you a black pen? You won’t need that.
What other US Visa questions would you like to ask? We are not “experts” but we can share our opinion and experiences. Thank you again for reading, you awesome people!