I recently applied for and have been approved for a US Tourist Visa. I have heard a lot of stories about people getting denied hence I was apprehensive in applying for one. The high visa refusal rate, in fact, isn't true. According to this site, the visa refusal rate for the Philippines is 33.8%, which means you have almost 70% chance of getting approved.
I applied for a B1/B2 Non-Immigrant Visa. B1/B2 is the US visa code for temporary visitor for business & pleasure. Note that this post is written according to my personal experience.
Here are the steps on how to apply for a US Tourist Visa
1. Accomplish the Online Non-Immigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160).
Go to https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/ to fill out your application form. This form will be the basis of the questions that will be asked during your interview. You don't need to complete this form in one sitting (and I highly recommend that you review your form thoroughly). Your application form can be retrieved from the site for one month, you only need to remember your Application ID.
It took me at least 2 weeks to accomplish and submit my form. I had to review and edit several times to make sure I don't overlook any detail. I finally submitted it 3 days before my appointment.
2. Upload a digital ID to complete your application form.
You will need to bring a 2x2 ID photo during your interview, you will also need a digital copy to be uploaded with your application form. Your photo should be not digitally enhanced (not photoshopped) and should comply to the requirements.
I had my photo taken at Photoline with a CD copy for only Php 135. You have to tell them that it's for a US Visa.
3. Pay Visa fee and Schedule your appointment
Create an account at this link to pay for your visa fee. After your visa fee is paid and confirmed, you can already schedule an appointment. A reference number will be given to you for the visa payment, please take note of this reference number. The visa fee for a B1/B2 visa application is $160 or Php 7680 paid via BPI. Instructions for the US Visa Fee are posted here.
I paid via BPI Online on a weekend so my payment got cleared by Monday. I already booked an appointment schedule after my payment for the visa fee was confirmed. At this point, I haven't submitted my application form yet. Yes, you can schedule your appointment even if you haven't submitted your application form. You just have to use the same Application ID you'll be indicating in your scheduled appointment.
My appointment is at 8.45am the next week.
What to bring for the interview:
1. Print out of the Appointment Confirmation (all pages)
2. Print out of the Electronic Application (or DS160) Confirmation
3. 2x2 ID photo
5. Visa Fee Payment Receipt (Deposit Slip or Electronic Receipt if paid via online)
You may bring supporting documents such as old passports, bank certificates, certificate of employments, or whatever you think is relevant, but none of these were asked by the consul during my interview.
What NOT to bring for the interview:
1. Any electronic or battery-operated device or gadget (mobile phones, camera, laptop, ipods, tablets, etc, USB drives, kindle, etc)
2. Any device with an on/off switch
3. Cigarette lighter and any flame-generating device
4. Any kind of sharp object
There will be a security scan before you enter the embassy premises. Should they find any forbidden object in your bag, you will have to reschedule your appointment. Note that they don't have any counter to leave your gadgets, so you should either have someone wait for you outside the embassy, leave it to one of the "ladies" outside the embassy (at your own risk) or leave it inside your car.
The Day of the Appointment...
I arrived at the US Embassy entrance before 8:00AM. I stayed at an inexpensive hotel nearby so I wouldn't have to worry about the traffic and the safety of my gadgets. The embassy only allows applicants to enter 15 minutes before their schedule time, so I was allowed to enter at 8:30AM. My appointment letter was scanned and my passport placed with a sticker before the security scan.
I got ALMOST rescheduled because of my smartwatch (!!!), so I had to run outside and leave it to one of the ladies keeping the gadgets of the applicants (for only Php 200, and I got my smartwatch back). Note that these ladies are not employees of the embassy and leaving your things to them is risky.
There are three lines you have to go through once inside: the Data Encoding, the Fingerprint Scanning and the Interview itself.
Luckily, there were no lines for the data encoding and fingerprint scanning. What took a while was the Interview by the Consul. We weren't asked to sit so I can hear some applicants being interviewed while waiting for my turn.
I was made to stand behind an applicant being interviewed by the consul assigned to me. He was a bit masungit to the applicant before me so I got a little nervous. However, he gave her a single entry visa so it made me relax a bit when it was my turn.
Surprisingly, he was pleasant with me and asked me the purpose of my visit (vacation), length of stay and when I plan to go, my relationship with the US Contact, if I have relatives in the US (I mentioned that my dad has cousins in the US, but he waved me off. Yes, malayong kamag-anak na sa kanila yon so it doesn't matter), what my job is (I mentioned my IT job and my blogging). He sort of focused on my blogging (where's the best food? where's the best place to eat here?). He also asked about the countries I have been to (I told him that I have been to Brunei, Taiwan, Thailand and Cambodia). He then told me, "Ok, your visa is approved. You'll get it in a week."
Then I was speechless.
I went out and claimed my smartwatch from the lady. Time check: 9:33AM. Yes, the whole process took me less than an hour.
True enough, I received my US Visa 5 business days after my interview. And I got a multiple entry visa for 10 years! :)
Here are a few tips that might help you during your visa application:
1. Dress comfortably but decently.
I wore a collared shirt, pants and flats. I have noticed some applicants wore business attire, but this is not required.
2. Review and edit your application form. Repeat 10x.
The sole basis of the consul who interviewed me was my application form. No other document was asked. It is wise to make sure that all the information you put in the application form are consistent and correct.
3. Be confident.
I admit I got a bit nervous at first but you have to remind yourself that the consul will be basing the questions from your application form.
4. Be straight to the point.
No need to elaborate your life story. :P
5. Keep in mind that the interview is to make sure you'll return to PH
Thinking about it, applying for a US Visa is less complicated than applying for a Japan Visa. However, the visa fee for a US Visa application is a bit expensive, so if you're planning to apply for a US Visa, plan it carefully and thoroughly. :P