(Information as on December 25, 2006. Data Revised)

Waiting time problem at US Consulates in India gone
Since last couple of years, the waiting time to get appointment for non-immigrant visa interviews simply kept going up. Since November 2006 this waiting time is reduced from 6 months to 6 days, thanks to untiring efforts by US Ambassador Munford and his able team of Consular officers throughout India.

Most applicants are now applying through internet on www.vfs-usa.co.in for their visa requirements. Study this site and you will be equipped with desired information regarding visa you are seeking.

Visa application process.
Visa application process now starts by first paying applicable fees to HDFC Bank, which are designated by the US mission in India. Visit VFS website www.vfs-usa.co.in that will give you listing of HDFC Bank branches closed to your area of living where you can go and deposit appropriate fee and get a bar-coded receipt. This receipt will get activated 48 hours after issued and is valid for a year. You have to show it to the Visa Application Center in person or use the information of the receipt online to seek an appointment.

You also have to submit Form DS-156 and DS-157 to VFS. DS-157 is meant for those in age group 15-55, both males and females. Students have additional Form DS-158 to be filled in. They can be downloaded from website. Fillable forms are also available from this website provided you have certain configuration in your computer.

You must remember that accurate filling up of forms would be half the battle won. Many suffer from visa denial due to incomplete and/or inadequate data in questions asked in the form. Read my book GATEWAY TO AMERICA ( Visit www.arunvakil4usvisas.com for your copy) for more details on this topic. When you actually come to visa window for an interview, the Visa Officer would have studied your forms and would know all about you. He/she then does not need more time to determine if you are eligible for a visa or not

Myth about bank balance amounts
Many have wrong impressions that one has to have a minimum amount of a few lakhs of rupees in bank account to justify liquid assets. This is wrong. Liquid assets consist of bank account/s, fixed deposit with companies/banks; investment in government securities such as National Savings Certificates, Kisan Vikas Patra, RBI bonds etc.; investment in LIC policies; investment in shares and mutual funds, jewellery etc. For students, liquid assets totaling the above from parental property should be enough to take care of first year of your academic study as reflected in your I-20 form and access to more funds for subsequent years. Any last minute deposit of cash or inflow in other forms in bank accounts will raise doubts about bona fides or genuine source of funds and it will be construed as having done to get visa. This should be avoided.

Likewise, many unscrupulous agents or so called visa consultants ‘arrange’ fake documents like bank passbooks and/or fixed deposits to show higher net worth. Such practices should be avoided at all cost. Many students with excellent academic background have suffered by getting permanent rejection for US visas as fake/fraudulent supporting documents were identified by visa officers.

Financial ties in India
It is vital that you show your financial stake in India, either of your own or that of your parents or both to which you will return. Data about liquid (movable) and fixed (non-movable assets) should be summarized on your letterhead and kept handy to show to the Visa Officer if questioned on financial ties in India. If you do not have your home, but live with your parents, then you can show parent's property. For students, you should have liquid assets sufficient to take care of your living and tuition for the first year shown in your I-20 form and you should show accessibility to required fund for subsequent years. Also ensure that by using these funds, your parents are not left with negligible balance, as that will be impractical. There is no fixed amount required by law to be shown to the Visa Officer. It all depends on earning capacity of your parent/s, number of years of service, number of dependents and so on. Again, read GATEWAY TO AMERICA to learn about preparing your financial statements.

Visa Interview
The greatest asset that you can take with you when you go for an interview is CONFIDENCE. Be prepared with your documents which should be properly organized and numbered, remember which document is kept where and answer without showing any sign of nervousness. You must develop positive attitude in your approach, smile and appear friendly in your conversation. These are important attributes to create favorable environment.

We conduct mock-interviews for interested applicants and you may contact me on ask@arunvakil4usvisas.com for an appointment to go through this.

Also, now more emphasis is placed on verbal and non-verbal communication between applicant and Visa Officer to ascertain genuine intentions of applicant and then determine if visa can be given or not. In other words, how you answer questions of Visa Officer and how you present yourself is much more critical and important than documents. Many times, your verbal response leads to decision and documents are not looked at all.

Another important development is that now one can go to any US Consulate (Mumbai, or Chennai) or US Embassy, New Delhi for non-immigrant visa application irrespective of the fact that where you are physically located or where you have your permanent home. Kolkata is not a part of this scheme but people from Kolkata can apply at any of these three offices. This new facility is introduced to clear the huge backlog of visa applicants in the US FY 2006. To avail of this new facility, one has to check the US Embassy website for the visa interview appointment availability.

News for Students
The US Government is making extra efforts to become student-friendly in their visa interview process. Many students fact denial of visas under section 214 (b) which means that the Visa Officer believes that you are an intending immigrant, that is, you will not return to India after you reach the US, and ultimately immigrate there. This they do not wish to happen and hence keep strict vigil on this issue. Nevertheless, recent communication from the Secretary of State has conveyed to all Visa Officers that they should concentrate on the 'intent' of the student at the time of application of student visa and NOT what he/she may do once he/she reaches the US. In short, the seriousness of the purpose of study and genuine attitude has to be ascertained, only at the time of interview at the consulate. This brings some liberal winds into the system.

Moreover, student visa now will be issued 120 days before classes begin, as compared to 90 days so far. While the old regulation will continue for other non-immigrant visas, students will get some benefit through advance planning.

Hints for Students
All students going for education in US schools/universities; after getting entry into the US and settling down, get photocopy done of your I-94 counterfoil stapled in your passport and keep it all the time with you for identification at all times, at all places in America. I-94 is Arrival-Departure Record Form, which is given in the aircraft before landing as disembarkation card. The Immigration Inspector at the port of entry will take away a part of it arrival record and staple the other departure record in your passport indicating the length of authorized stay you have in the US based on interview with you. In view of increased security, any authorized person in America can ask your identification at any time in any place in the US and therefore all students and even visitors should carry photocopy of the part of I-94 stapled in the passport on you for your own safety and security for free movement in America.

Visit rediff.com and click on Get Ahead. Type Arun C. Vakil in search engine of rediff.com and you will find several articles and chats I have done regarding US visas. Read frequently asked questions to learn more about this subject.

I also write a column on US visas and immigration every Thursday in ‘Visa Corner’ on the page ‘World Under Your Feet’ in the Times of India, Hyderabad and answer questions on US visas in ‘Outward Bound’ column in ‘Global Gujarati’ page of the Times of India, Ahmedabad.

Myth about H-1 visa to the US
Many inquire with me as to how one can apply for H-1B visa. It is important to know that you, as applicant, cannot individually apply for H-1B visa. First, you have to locate an employer in the US who is interested in you and is willing to sponsor you for some specialty that you have in your profession, which is not easily available in the US. You could visit websites such as www.nostops.org, www.H1BSponsors.com, www.H1Base.com, and www.dice.com to locate employer. If that works for you, then only your H-1B can be processed if visas are available. H-1B is subject to quota of 65,000 annually for every American fiscal year (October 01 to September 30 of succeeding year). Out of this, 6,800 visas are kept exclusively for Chile and Singapore according to Free Trade Agreement with the US. In other words, only 58,200 visas are actually available every year. Applications for this visa are received effective April 01 every year and after processing, they are given effective October 01 every year. Moreover, 20,000 H1-B visas are available for students graduating from the US universities in the US. This is beneficial to those who have gone for graduate studies in the US and then intend to work if a job is available suitable to his/her qualifications. Lobbying is going on in the US to increase quota but currently this issue is encircled by opposing political groups.

Though the procedure is otherwise simple, it is advisable to consult a professional to make sure that you are on right track for your future.