Hai guys! So part of the reason why I haven’t been blogging is because I’ve been busy working on my year-end stories at the newspaper + I was stressing out about my US Visa interview (which I went for this morning!).
I’m very happy to announce that… I got it! *grin*
Before I forget the tiny details of my experience, I figured I’d write it down and hopefully help others who are applying for a US Visa. The information that I read from some blogs were great for my preparation. I was also freaking out because some forums were talking about how hard it is to get for Malaysians and various scenarios where one can get rejected, so I was kinda worried. >->
Anyway, here it is – how my visa application process went. Pls note that this isn’t a ‘guide’ or anything, it’s just how the process went for me. Hope it helps!
US VISA APPLICATION FOR MALAYSIANS
So you want to travel to the US of the A! For Malaysians, (unfortunately) we are not eligible for the Visa Waiver programme, even though news reports have said that our Home Ministry and government is trying to appeal to get into the VWP before the end of 2015. Honestly, I think it will be hard what with the rising cases of the country being used as a militant training ground, some becoming suicide bombers, etc… but hey – I don’t make the policies here. Rather than wait for that, I decided to apply early and get it first if I could.
STEP 1: Applying for a Visa
All applications and appointment scheduling is done online before the actual interview. So log on to ustraveldocs.com.my and select NON-IMMIGRANT VISA, which will lead you to the DS-160 form. This is a must to fill in and submit before they’ll even consider scheduling an appointment, because it contains all your details and stuff. The instructions on the page are quite clear, so just proceed as told. Remember to select the appropriate visa class! For visitors (business and leisure), it’s B1/B2. Apart from your details, they will also need a 2×2 white background photo of your face, which you can easily get in .jpg form from your local photo shop.
The form can take quite some time to fill in because there are a lot of questions, but you can always save your progress and retrieve it later with a unique number. Everytime you log in after, you’ll also be asked a security question. If you’re done with everything, just submit and print the confirmation page. It has a barcode thingy on it with your unique number. You can print a copy of your own DS-160 form but its only for your reference, it is not required to bring to the embassy.
STEP 2: Pay your Visa fee
Now you need to pay your visa application fee. This can be done at your localStandard Chartered bank, or if you have a SC account online banking, all the more easier. For myself, I physically went to the bank, so I printed out my visa deposit slip from the website, which automatically converts the currency to RM. I paid RM528 for my visa fee (which is non refundable by the way D:) At the bank, present your confirmation page, deposit slip, then they give you a form to fill in. Once paid, there will be a unique ID number which will be needed to schedule your interview online, so don’t dump the receipt!
You can immediately schedule your interview a couple of hours after you have paid.. unless you paid in the afternoon, whereby you’ll have to wait the next day I guess.
STEP 3: Schedule your interview
Create a profile here, then click on ‘schedule appointment’. They’ll ask for the unique ID number you got from the bank, so key that in. Select your date and time(note that they might not always have open slots so it is advisable to do it as early as possible before your travel dates). I would suggest 7.30am. Why so early, you ask? Well if you live in the Klang Valley like me, you’ll know that there is no such thing as ‘arriving on time’ anywhere in KL (where the embassy is) – you’re either really early or really late.
Once you’ve confirmed the interview, there will be an interview confirmation page. Print that and ready the necessary documents.
What to bring:
- Your DS-160 confirmation page
- Your interview confirmation page (yeah, they’re different things ya. Don’t get mixed up)
- a 2×2 photo of yourself on white background. Just ask your local photo shop guy to take the right format
- Your visa fee receipt.
- Your identity card.
What you (should) bring:
Apart from the above, other documents to support your reason to go to the US are also highly helpful. In my case, I brought:
- Letter of employment (with the company’s official letterhead, signed by my HR department, stating that I was working in this organisation since so and so and my position).
- Bank statements from the past three months
- Salary slips from the past three months
- Any proof that you have investments or commitments in Malaysia (to show that you’re gonna come back. For myself, I brought my car hire purchase agreement + my mutual trust fund investment form.)
- Travel itinerary
- A book, coz you’ll be bored in the waiting room.
- Bring a clear folder. You can stuff all your documents in it and not worry about your papers flying all over the place.
- Big backpacks are not allowed in, so bring only what you need. I saw some ladies with handbags though, so idk. My long wallet which I couldn’t keep in my pocket was allowed.
STEP 4: Interview time!
There are no dress codes per se for the visa interview, but I think it’s important to at least dress up nicely. Even so, I saw some people in t-shirt and jeans, so…. idk, It’s still better to give a good impression, no? I wore semi-formal with a long-sleeved shirt, A-line skirt and flats.
I scheduled my interview at 7.45am, left my house at 6.15, and arrived at 6.45 (lel). If I had left just 15 minutes later, I think I would have gotten there at 8am. The plus side was that there was ample parking at the road side since it was early, and I didn’t have to pay for entry to an open car park. Do note that there aren’t any mamaks or restaurants around the area, so you can’t have a cuppa or breakfast.
Since I was early, I was one of the first few ones lining up outside. There were only three people ahead of me. The line slowly started building up after 7am. At around 7.15am, the guards will start lining people up ‘properly’ according to their time slots. Mine was 7.45am, so I asked the guard if I needed to go to the back, but he said it was fine. The guy just in front of me was also in the same time slot and heard it, so he stayed where he was.
At 7.30am sharp, we readied our IC and Interview confirmation letter before proceeding to the info counter, where a lady will check and stamp your document, hand your ic back and give you a green visitor pass to clip on your shirt. Here is where I got lucky. Remember I told you that the guy in front of me was at 7.45am as well? When he got to the counter, the lady told him that he’d have to return to the back because the 7.30am slots were first. I pushed my luck and handed her my documents anyway and she stamped the approval chop on it, so I actually skipped a long-ass process of having to line-up again Woot! (to be safe, pls line up in the correct time slots!)
With that lucky start, I waited to be ushered in to the building. Before entering the embassy, you have to pass a stringent airport-like clearance, placing all your documents and stuff in a tray for scanning. Since you have to remove your shoes before passing through the detector, it’s best to wear something like flats or shoes instead of boots or lace ups. The guards will safekeep your smartphone and car keys. Into the embassy we go!
Upon entering the building, a guard dressed to the left will press a number on the machine for you, which he will hand along with a green slip. Read the instructions on the slip carefully, as it tells you what documents to present at the counter later. Do not include documents that aren’t asked for. Then I sat and waited in the waiting room on the right. This is your chance to go to the toilet, because the other waiting room doesn’t have one lel.
At about 8am, they started calling numbers. They will call your number three times, so be attentive. Once you hear it, proceed to the opposite room where all the counters are, not unlike a local bank, except that there is a glass counter in between and they are separated by cubicles.
COUNTER 1: submit documents and green slip. The staff will ask you if you have been to the US. In my case, I said no. I was then told to wait for my number to be called again.
COUNTER 2: Fingerprinting time! The male staff asked me to place four fingers of each hand on the scanner, followed by my thumbs. Mine were a little dry, so I squirted some hand sanitiser provided. He told the exact same instructions to every person who went there… and I wondered if he ever got bored of repeating the same thing hundreds of times, every day.
COUNTER 3: THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
It seemed like barely 40 minutes since the first counter and it was already my turn to be interviewed. They have a glass door for privacy – I think it wasn’t like that before because my colleagues who have been to the US told me it used to be just open counters where everyone can hear your answers and whether or not you get rejected .___.
My interviewer was a tall white guy who had curly hair and kinda looked like an older version of Joseph Gordon Levitt. He had my passport and necessary documents with. Since it’s good to create a first impression, I smiled and said good morning even though my voice was a little shaky by then haha.
- Him: Hi, good morning. What is your purpose of travel to the US?
- Me: I’d like to go on a holiday there.
- Him: Where to?
- Me: I plan to visit some cities in California. LA, San Francisco and Sacramento.
*Here is where he plunged straight into my US contact. Some forums I looked up said that they tend to ask more questions if you have relatives/friends in the US because they worry that you might jump aeroplane there, shotgun marriage or never come back.
- Him: Who is EK?
- Me: He is my friend.
- Him: Is he American?
- Me: No, he is a PR of the United States.
- Him: Where is he originally from?
- Me: The Philippines.
- Him: Are you romantically involved?
- Me: No, we’re just friends.
- Him: Okay. Do you have any relatives in the US?
- Me: No.
At this point I felt that I was gonna fail because they might think I don’t wanna come back (I have all intents and purposes to return to Malaysia, thank you very much!), but then he moved on to other questions, like my occupation, what sort of news I covered at the paper, how long I’ve been employed, etc. He didn’t ask for my employment letter though. He also asked about my parents occupations.
- Him: Who is financing your trip?
- Me: I’m paying for my own trip.
- Him: Let me see your bank statements please.
I showed him my salary slips and bank statements. He then starts typing stuff into the computer (they have one right next to the counter).
- His final question: Apart from Singapore, where have you traveled to?
- Me: Indonesia, Vietnam, Hong Kong… I’ve also been to Europe when I was a student.
- Him: Where did you study?
- Me: United Kingdom.
Andddddd that was it. For better or worse, it was over. I was thinking that I’d flunked it, but then he turns to me with a small smile and said,”I’m approving your visa application. You can collect your passport and documents according to the delivery method of your choice….” and some other stuff, but I kind of tuned out a little afterI’m approving your visa, because inner me was like OMAIGAAAAAAAAAADDDDDDDDD while physical me tried to maintain a straight face. I thanked him, then left while I could still hold my excitement in without giggling like an idiot.
Once your visa is approved, you can collect it using the delivery method of your choice, either home/office (but you have to be there when they come) or pickup. I have to wait for a couple of business days (since today is Friday, so I think it should be collectible on Wednesday latest). You need to collect it within 10 business days. Idk what happens if you don’t, but I don’t intend to try lol.
Personally, I think it was the ‘travel’ question that convinced my interviewer, because I love travelling and have been very fortunate that I have had the means + the opportunities to visit many different countries. Now (hopefully!) I can put USA on the list too.
I hope this list helps those who are applying for a visa like me. Just smile, answer politely and be confident (altho that might be a little difficult if you’re nervous, but try your best!) Good luck