I recently applied for a US visitor visa (B1/B2) that allows for short trips to the US. If you plan to visit the US for a business or pleasure trip, you will require a non-immigrant visa B1 (business) or B2 (Pleasure). Usually Indians are given the combined B1/B2 multiple entry visa with a 10 year validity. This means you can use the visa for both business and pleasure trips.
A US visa not only allows you to travel to the US but also gives visa free entry to 30+ countries. The process to apply for the visa is long drawn but not as difficult as it is made out to be.
Visa Form DS-160 and the Fees
You will need to visit the CEAC website and choose the location where you will be applying for the visa. Make sure to fill up all the details in the application. If your travel dates are not fixed, mention tentative start date and duration. It is recommended to not have a trip duration of more than 2 weeks for business and 3-4 weeks for pleasure. For the address where you will be staying in the US, you can mention the address of a hotel in the city you will be traveling to. If you will be visiting multiple places, mention the address where you will be staying the most or the first city you will be visiting.
You will need sign the DS-160 form electronically by clicking the sign and submit button. A confirmation page with a barcode is generated. It is a good idea to print both the DS-160 form and the confirmation page. You will only need to bring the confirmation page and the not the DS-160 form to the embassy/consulate.
The visa fee is $160 and can be paid in equivalent Indian currency on the USTravelDocs website while seeking an appointment. The exchange rate is predetermined by the US Embassy/Consulate.
Appointments for Biometric & Interview
You will need to take two appointments, one for Biometric and another for the actual visa interview. These must be taken on two separate dates and there must be at least 1 day gap between the two appointments.
For the Biometric appointment, you just need to carry your passports (current and old ones), the DS-160 confirmation page, and the appointment/MRV fee receipt copy.
The biometric appointment for me took less than 5 minutes. They took a photograph (mug shot) and all 10 finger prints. Once this is done, they stamp your DS-160 confirmation page and put a barcode sticker at the back of your passport. You will need both of these for the second more important appointment at the Embassy/Consulate.
For the visa interview, arrive 15 minutes prior to the appointment slot. Once at the embassy/consulate, the security staff will scan the barcode on the sticker and let you in. You will have to undergo a security check (similar to airport security check). Do not carry any electronic items, cell phones or bags as these are not allowed and there is no storage facility to store these items. I wanted to carry my car keys with me (non-remote ones) but wasn’t sure if they will be allowed. At the security check though I found that non-electronic keys were being allowed (at least Mumbai consulate). Digital watches are a no-no too however regular battery operated watches are allowed inside.
Once you clear the security, there is an open area (shaded) where the applicants are seated based on the appointment slot. I had to wait for over 90 minutes here before we were allowed inside the interview room. Once inside, your passport is scanned again and you must provide your fingerprints in front of a visa officer. You will then have to stand in another queue to be assigned a window.
At the window, the visa officer will likely ask for the purpose of your visit, what do you do, trip duration, any other countries you may have visited. The result of the interview is told to you then and there. If your visa is approved, the visa officer will keep your passport which will be usually returned to you in 24-48 hours through the visa application centre or courier (depending on what you opted for at the time of booking your appointment)
Documents and tips
Unlike many other countries, the US embassy/consulate does not require you to have confirmed air tickets or hotel bookings. In fact they advice not to book your tickets until your visa is approved.
I applied for a business visa and carried with me the following documents (none of which were checked/asked)
- Invite letter from US partner company.
- Detailed itinerary for the entire duration of the trip.
- Last 3 years ITRs
- Six months bank statement
- Company incorporation documents (in case you are employed, then salary slips)
Tips to get a favourable decision:
- Fill up the DS-160 form correctly. Answer all questions carefully including any prior visa refusals, past travels etc.
- Tell the truth. Don’t make stories. But at the same time, don’t bombard the visa officer with unnecessary information.
- Dress appropriately. If you are seeking a business visa, it is best to dress formally (suit up if you can).
- Keep the trip duration to under 2 weeks for business travel.
- Do not mention about your distant uncles/aunts/cousins in your application form. Only if you have blood relatives in the US, mention those in the application form.
Once your visa is approved, the embassy/consulate will keep your current passport. It usually takes 2-3 days for your passport to be ready for pickup. You will receive an email once your passport is ready for pickup. You can also track your passport at UStraveldoc website. I got mine in less than 24 hours of my interview. If you opted for a courier, the passport will be delivered to you at the address mentioned for an additional fee.