Getting a U.S. visa

The Korean passport

I had been thinking of visiting United States for a while. There were relatives and friends I could visit. I might also attend some trade shows. Alas, my U.S. visa expired over a decade ago, and Korea still isn't under the visa exemption program for United States. After all those years of missing out, I decided to get it over with and get a U.S. visa recently. It was a bit of work, but I decided to do this on my own instead of letting an agency take care of it.

There were quire a few things I needed to prepare first. First of all, I needed a valid passport that had 6 or more months of validity left to it. I did have one, but the expiration date was less than a year away so I decided to get it renewed. Renewal was no longer technically possible, though. If you apply for a renewal you get a new passport with 5 years' validity, although for much less cost ($15; all cost in US dollars as converted at the time of writing) than getting a 5-year passport completely new ($47). It would've been nice to get a 10-year one ($55) still.

I paid $15 and my new passport came out 8 days later. With the new passport number issued, I could schedule an appointment for the visa interview. The interview was required in addition to submitting the paperwork, and an appointment could be set up via internet or phone call. The internet method was cheaper (about $12, as opposed to about $19 for phone) and more convenient for me, so I used that. I was able to schedule for the earliest morning slot (8AM) on a day the week after.

Visa application fee receipt

Unfortunately, that wasn't the only thing I had to pay for to apply for a visa. I needed to pay for the processing fee as well, and this cost $100. The money was paid at Shinhan Bank and they gave me this visa application fee receipt which is supposed to be attached to the visa application form.

Onto the paperwork. The visa application forms required for a general travel visa (the B1/B2 visa) are DS-156 and DS-157. I carefully followed the rules and guidelines to fill the forms. The completed sample form helped a lot. Since I had previous records of visit to United States I checked my old passport to get some required information. Although the act of filling the forms itself was nothing to get excited about, I liked the fact that these could be prepared electronically. In case of DS-156, the prepared document has a barcode embedded for faster processing. This would come in handy later. The receipt was stapled to the page two of DS-156 form.

In addition to the application forms there are a number of documents that are required to illustrate my personal / familial / financial status. Apparently, these are used to determine that I do not intend to immigrate to United States (albeit illegally) using a non-immigrant visa. Since I was a student, I was to bring just my main bank book for the financial side of things, although a salaried worker or business owner would need to bring an appropriate tax certificate as well. For the familial side, I needed to bring a Family Census Register issued from the local office. And for the personal side, a school transcript (scholastic records) and old passports that have previous U.S. visa in them, to cross-reference the information entered in the visa application form.

Whew, that was a lot. With all the documents ready, I waited for the interview day.

Waiting in line

I arrived at the embassy around 7:50AM, ten minutes before the appointment time. There was quite a bit of waiting line around the walls of the building because the embassy wasn't open yet and the people who had the same appointment time had to line up outside.

Handing out delivery forms

There were a handful of people around the line that had business of their own. A couple of old ladies were handing out the delivery forms. This was one remaining document that I needed, as the embassy would use this form to send back the passport (with the visa, if the application was accepted) after the processing was complete. It removes the hassle of having to visit the embassy again just to get the passport. I took one and filled it out while waiting.

Other folks who were trying to get the attention of the people in line included a gentleman handing out flyers and ball-point pens about the services his company offered relating to moving to United States. I just accepted the ball-point pen. Then there was an old man that served hot coffee and tea for a price. I wasn't thirsty or all that cold, so I ignored this one.

Entering the embassy

On 8 o'clock the doors opened and slowly, people started entering the embassy. You would have your passport checked at the window, then go through the entrance one by one. It took about 15 minutes for me to reach the window. After entering, a security check was performed, airport style. Digital cameras and cellphones were confiscated, to be given back later. I removed my camera, PSP, cable pack and cellphone from my belt and handed them over. I got a return slip with number on it.

The delivery form

After passing the security check, I came across a desk with two agents (one from each courier agency) that was processing the delivery forms. Since I had filled one out earlier, I handed it over with my form to the agent. She separated the receipt from the form, ruthlessly stapled the form on the passport, and gave both back to me.

Next up, after going through a brief waiting line, I came to a desk with four people who checked if the applicants brought all the necessary documents, and filled them out correctly. I had everything correctly prepared, and so the check was done quickly. I was told to show the passport and the application form only on the next step.

There were several windows that processed the applications on the next step. I was told to go to window 14 (the last one, by the way), and after the person in front of me was finished, I slipped in my passport and application forms to the person over the window. Now, this was where that barcode became useful. After scanning it and doing a few clicks, the documents were handed back and I was directed to the fingerprint scanning window (windows 3 and 4). Again, I slipped the documents in. My two index fingers were scanned, and this time my documents were given back with a blue plastic folder.

The last leg of the process - the actual interviewing - was now upon me. I went up a floor and came to a room full of colour-coded windows. Apparently the colour indicated the type of visa being applied for. The 'blue' windows matching the colour of my plastic folder were on the far right side of the room, next to the bathrooms. The interviewing must have just started because the number counter was indicating '1' as I was trying to make sense of what to do (correct answer: sit down on a bench and wait for your number - the number slip is in the folder).

There was only one window open at first but after a couple of people were finished the other two windows were open as well and things picked up speed. Each interview window had one interviewer who exclusively spoke in English and one interpreter who bridged the communication in Korean. Curiously, two of the three interviewer looked to be Korean (or at least, Korean-American). My turn came eventually (number 22) and faced two women. After handing in all the documents I brought, it started. The interview kind of rubbed me in the wrong way, though, because I got some unexpected questions that had me confounded. I thought I failed!

After the interview, I went back to the first floor, handed in the return slip to get back my stuff, and exited the embassy. It was around 9:10AM.

The United States visa in my passport

Two days later, in the early morning, the courier had called home to inform me that the passport would arrive later in the day. About two hours later the passport was dropped off at the door. Popping open the envelope revealed my passport with the freshly issued United States visa. It was alright after all. I was pleasantly surprised that the processing took such a short time. It was probably due to the barcoded application forms that I submitted that shortened the processing time, and that there weren't any further considerations regarding the issuing of my visa.

Looks like I better start reserving plane tickets.
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Wesley's Tool-Box on : Renewing my U.S. visa

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The first time I traveled to United States since I left North America in the mid 1990's was back in 2006. South Korea was not on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) at the time. So I, like most of the Korean nationals, first needed to come to the U.S. Embassy i


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์ •์˜๋งŒ on :

๋ชฌํŠธ๋ฆฌ์–ผ ์ตœ์ดˆ ๋ฐœ๊ธ‰๋น„์ž๋„ ๋ณด์—ฌ์ฃผ์ง€ ๊ทธ๋ž˜?

fadare oluwaseyi on :

i want to know how much they are getting us visa...i want to know more better about it.....thanks

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