The process for getting the H-1B visa, even after your petition getting selected through the lottery can be quite daunting. You can even think that the real process has just started, as till now, it was your employer and their attorneys doing all the work (well, at least hopefully).
Being an Indian passport holder, who had never been to USA before, getting my Visa application selected in the process felt like great news to me.
I falsely assumed that every thing was done now and I just need to pack my bags and leave. As was revealed by quick google searches and an email from my employer, there were next steps. I also happened to be travelling to Singapore during this period, and intended to stay there for some time.
I decided to complete the rest of my visa process in Singapore itself. I intend to record my experience below, and share the process details. First of all, yes, it is possible to give your visa interview in any US Embassy all over the world, your Indian passport has nothing to do with it. The following are the steps:
The first step is to fill a form known as DS-160. It’s a pretty long form, and needs patience to be filled. The form needs a photo of yours, and it checks if the photo you uploaded meets their standards.
I was trying to upload mobile scan versions of an old pic of mine which got rejected. That was me being plain lazy! Ultimately, photo shoot at a digital studio got the job done.
My most of the needed documents were in India which I got delivered. Indian speed post is reliable after all, and much cheaper than courier services. This is the list of documents I took to the interview:
- I-797B Notice of Action (Evidence of approved I-129 )
- Official transcripts and degree
- Appointment Confirmation Letter (you get this after the next step)
- Application Confirmation Page
- Labor Condition Application Form
- Employment Offer Letter
- Bank account statement (of my Indian student back account)
- Copy of H-1B Petition (The I-129)
- Singapore Visa (It was a temporary work visa, so its proof of approval)
- Payment Receipt for the Visa interview
- Recent 2×2 pics on white background (although they had a photo booth inside embassy)
Scheduling the Interview
The US Embassy in SG has much shorter wait times (1 day) than embassies in India. Also, instead of booking two appointments (one for bio-metrics and other for interview), the embassy in SG requires booking of only one appointment.
After all the documents were gathered, I booked the interview. Slots were available from next day onward, so I went ahead and booked the morning slot of the following day.
Preparing for the Interview
At this point, there were less than twenty four hours left for the interview. I was trying to calm my nerves, and decided that reading some past experiences of the embassy might help. It was a mistake.
Online forums were littered with how unfriendly/strict the officials were in the SG office of US embassy, and how they rejected visa applications in an eye blink. By this time, panic had gripped me and I was contemplating a no show on my interview.
I thought of restarting the process in an embassy/consulate in India. I heard they were more friendly, and also there were much more resources and testimonials available online for embassies in India. Although, this would have caused me a month or more of delay, as I was scheduled to leave Singapore not before that.
By midnight, I was scrounging my network of friends for anyone who has given an interview in SG office. I talked to interviewees for F-1, J-1 and all the gazillion types of Visas one can have an interview for. The conclusion was that, yes, they grill harder and are more strict. If your case is genuine, they will eventually approve your visa.
I decided to go ahead with my plan of appearing for interview. I decided that the all-night out I just spent wasn’t going to be wasted.
The interview was at 10:30 AM. I grabbed a Grab and reached by 10:15 AM. It was lonely there, and after greetings with the guard and depositing my mobile (don’t take your laptop, they don’t have facility to store that), I went in the embassy. I would suggest you to take all documents in a plastic folder in a plastic bag or something similar.
After a second security check, I was guided to a counter where a official greeted me and asked my purpose of visit to the embassy. After mentioning the purpose to be H-1B interview, he asked for a recent photo, passport, and appointment confirmation page. He also scanned my finger prints. Next, he told me to proceed to any of the two available counters for the interview. I saw his finger pointing to the two counters and found my gaze following it.
The whole place was scary, and I was the only one in queue (does it even count as a queue?).
Both the counters had different officers, and I had read multiple stories that how interviews are also dependent on the mood the officer is experiencing that day. I went to the younger one, hoping we would connect on some common ground and then together bash the tweet guy in US. I was so wrong.
My interviewer asked what will be my role in the organization supporting my petition, what is my highest qualification, and asked me to submit a copy of my resume, and my offer letter. After that, I was told that they will let me know the status in a few weeks, and gave me back my passport, and I-797 receipt. That was it, and they asked me to leave.
I asked them if my visa is approved, the officer said “tentatively approved”. I asked them how much time it would take, and if I need to leave SG, can the case be transferred India? They answered 2-3 weeks, and No. There was no other receipt given to me or any other information shared. I came back and checked the status of my application online.
They put my case on administrative processing. No amount of being tensed up will help me, I thought. The process is opaque and can’t be expedited.
For the uninitiated, “Administrative processing” is the general term used when visa applications are subjected to a delay as a result of a security background check.
Administrative Processing took exactly 28 days. I received an email from embassy saying my processing is completed and they now need my passport for stamping.
My flight was scheduled for the next day. I cancelled it. Luckily, my SG visa had enough breathing room to allow a few days of extension.
I submitted my passport on a Friday afternoon, and picked it up on the next Thursday’s morning. I booked a flight for the next day, and was out of SG.
My passport had the H1B visa stamp on it. Mission accomplished.
Here are some resources, in addition to all the googling, that I used during this process: