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The Internet never runs out of horror stories of people who have failed the US visa interview.
Worse, there’s no precise blueprint that can guarantee anyone an easy pass.
In other words, you can still leave the US Embassy with tears no matter how superior your English speaking skills or how fat your bank account is.
However, by knowing the dos and don’ts of US visa interview, you’ll be one step ahead of everyone who’s clueless about what to expect. This guide should get you started.
Table of Contents
- How does the US visa interview work?
- How to Pass US Visa Interview in the Philippines: 6 Strategies.
- 1. Know the commonly asked US visa interview questions.
- 2. Show proofs of strong ties to the Philippines.
- 3. Wear decent attire.
- 4. Keep your answers short and simple.
- 5. Be honest.
- 6. Be confident.
- (Other) Tips and Warnings.
- About the Author.
How does the US visa interview work?
As some of the past applicants may have already told you, it’s not unusual for a US visa interview to last for just 2 to 5 minutes (sometimes slightly longer).
Consular officers usually review the applicants’ application forms (also known as the DS-160 form) in advance. Come interview time, they already expect the answers they’ll get and only need the applicants to confirm or clarify them.
The applicants, on the other hand, must come to the US Embassy on time (at least 15 to 30 minutes before your appointment schedule).
Located at 1201 Roxas Boulevard, Ermita, Manila, the US Embassy requires the applicants to queue up and go through initial security checks before they get inside.
As much as possible, leave your gadgets at home as they’re not allowed inside the building. Otherwise, bring a companion who will take care of it as you go inside for the interview.
Here’s an overview of the procedures you’ll go through after you make it inside the US Embassy building:
- Pre-screening: You will be welcomed by embassy personnel who will request for your Philippine passport and 2 x 2 picture to be affixed on your DS-160 form. In case you forgot to bring pictures, you can avail of rush ID pictures at the photo booth situated in the waiting area of the US Embassy. You may be asked a few questions like your name, civil status, or citizenship but nothing substantial like what they ask in the US visa interview.
- Fingerprint scanning: Another embassy personnel will guide you to the next station where your fingerprints will be scanned. When the procedure is over, wait for your number to be displayed on the overhead screen. Once it shows up, head towards the interview booth for the US visa interview.
- Interview: The last and the most crucial among the three, the US visa interview determines the fate of your US visa application. Instead of an office, there are several booths designated for the interview. Hand over your passport to the consular officer and prepare to answer the questions that may be fired at you. Most of the questions are based on the data you’ve provided on the DS-160 form so ensure that you provide consistent and honest answers. Present supporting documents only when requested.
If it’s any consolation, the US visa interview is very quick and you’ll get the result right away.
In case you get approved, the Consul will keep your passport and have it delivered to you after five working days. If denied, the Consul will return the passport to you along with a blue slip with an explanation why you got denied.
How to Pass US Visa Interview in the Philippines: 6 Strategies.
To save you a lot of time, we’ve compiled all of the tips given by Filipinos who successfully passed the dreaded US visa interview. Some of them have never been to the United States of America before so if they can do it, so can you!
Note: Almost all of these tips came from people who applied for the B-1/B-2 visa (business/tourist visa). If you’re applying for a different US visa, these tips may also apply to you but expect the Consular officer to ask questions relevant to the visa you’re aiming for.
1. Know the commonly asked US visa interview questions.
This is like a cheat sheet but one that you don’t have to memorize. Remember, you should never sound robotic, rehearsed, or unnatural.
Know the possible questions that might be asked so you will never be caught off guard and end up speechless during the interview.
Based on our research, here are some of the US visa interview questions you should be prepared for:
a. What are you going to do in the US?/What’s the purpose of your travel? /Why are you planning to visit the United States?
This is the first question usually asked by the Consular officer which, more often than not, sets the tone for the rest of the interview. For example, if you answer “to visit a family/friend,” the Consul will ask you a follow-up question to determine who this family/friend is, their occupations, and where they’re located.
Since we’re focusing on B-1/B-2 visa here, make sure to be straight to the point and let the Consul know that you’ll be in the US for business purposes or to simply relax and tour the US.
b. Where are you going to stay in the US?
Be honest with the Consular officer and say that you’ll be staying in a hotel, Airbnb, a friend’s house, or a relative’s house, whichever is applicable. Keep a note of the exact address and provide this information in case the Consul asks for it.
c. How long do you plan to stay in the US?
The safest answer here is probably 3 to 4 weeks or less. Remember, you want to prove to the Consular officer that you never intend to overstay in the United States, especially now that their government is doing a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Never dilly dally with your answer. If you respond with “Ahmmm, I think about 3 weeks or so,” the Consul will take it as a sign that you’re not sure about your length of stay and is probably planning to be an illegal immigrant.
d. How much do you think will it cost you to stay in the US?
Although there’s no specific “show money” requirement in US visa application, you need to prove to the Consul that you’ve done your assignment.
Your budget will depend on the city/state you’ll be visiting and you can get an estimate through a simple Google search. If you’ll be staying with a friend or relative, that will be better because it means fewer expenses on accommodation.
e. What is your job in the Philippines?/What do you do for a living?/How much do you earn in the Philippines?
This one usually follows the previous question as it will help the Consul determine whether you have the means to support yourself during the trip.
If you’re employed, your tenure in the company matters a lot as it will prove that you’re not looking for job opportunities.
If you’re running a business, let the Consular officer know how much net profit you earn each month. Also, the interviewer will most likely wonder what will happen to your business once you’re in the US so show proof that you’ve hired someone to take care of it or you own a business that can be managed remotely.
The bottom line is you need to convince the Consular officer that you’re pretty established here and you have a solid reason to go back to the Philippines. Also, be ready to provide a certificate of employment, business permit, bank statement, and proof of income if requested.
f. Who is sponsoring your travel?/Who will be paying for your trip?
If your monthly income (please refer to the previous question) isn’t enough, then tell the truth that your parents or relatives in the US will be sponsoring your trip.
While your application may not be as strong if you’re not paying for your own trip, the Consular officer may give you a chance as long as you can provide enough proof. For example, if you’re still a student who isn’t employed yet, you can show your parents’ financial documents to prove you have the money to cover the travel expenses.
Meanwhile, if the sponsor is an American boyfriend/girlfriend you only met online, it’s a red flag that may cause your application to be denied almost instantly. Should you decide to meet personally, it’s better to let your special someone visit you in the Philippines first so you can get to know each other better.
g. What’s your travel history?/Have you traveled to another country before?/Where have you been traveling and why?
Applicants with little to no travel history are less likely to get approved. If you haven’t been to any country before, start with countries near the Philippines like Thailand, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.
For frequent travelers, prove that your trip to the US is for pleasure/vacation just like what you’ve always done in other countries before. If requested, enumerate the countries you’ve visited so far and the reason/s why you visited them (e.g., personal or work).
h. Have you been to the US before?
In case you’ve been to the US before, your chances of getting approved may go up. However, the Consul will dig deeper into your answer and ask you additional questions like the exact date/s you traveled to the US, how long the trip was, and the reason/s why you’re there.
i. Do you have any family in the US?/Do you have friends or relatives in the US?
You have to know the difference between a family and a relative. A family consists of your parents and siblings while relatives include your extended families like aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
Therefore, if you’re asked if you have a family in the US, don’t answer with “Yes. My cousins.” Some applicants get denied for this simple mistake so have a presence of mind.
If you’re visiting an American “friend” you only met online, make sure he/she visit you first in the Philippines. Otherwise, the Consular officer might assume the trip is just an excuse to get married in the US. Trust me, they know better.
Depending on your answer to this question, the Consul may give you follow-up questions to ensure you’re telling the truth. These questions could be one or all of the following:
- When was the last time you see your this family/friend/relative? (No need to be specific. Simply say “6 years ago” if that’s what you remember).
- What are their exact addresses in the US? (You’ll be staying with them so the Consular officer expects you have this information with you).
- How long have they been living in the US and what is their current status there? (Through this question, the interviewer will be able to gauge if you really know this friend/family/relative so make sure you’re aware whether they’re US citizens or green card holders).
- What do they do in the US? (If they’re working in the office, the Consular officer will wonder what you’re going to do while they’re at work during office hours. Just be honest and let them know the itinerary and that you’ll be exploring the city alone.
j. Do you have an itinerary for your US trip?/What’s your travel plan?/Which places in the US will you be visiting?
This question is why it’s important to prepare an itinerary prior to the US visa interview. In this itinerary, you should include all the places you plan to visit in the US. The more specific, the better.
Print it out and bring it on the day of your interview to prove that you’re not traveling to the United States on a whim.
k. When do you plan to travel?/Have you already booked your flight?
Ideally, you should apply for a US tourist visa 2 to 3 months before your intended travel date.
Because there’s no guarantee that you’ll be approved to get a US visa, don’t book plane tickets yet. Remember, international airlines don’t issue refunds for applicants whose US visa applications have been rejected.
l. How can you assure me that you’ll come back from the US?/ What would make you go back to the Philippines?
Whether it’s a business, career, property, or continuing education, explain to the Consular officer that you have strong ties to the Philippines because of something important you left behind.
Provide as much supporting documents as needed. In case you won’t be returning to the Philippines anytime soon, be honest about it and give a valid reason like your desire to travel to more countries after your US trip.
m. Other possible questions:
- What’s your highest educational attainment? (Consular officers may give extra points to those who are candidates for a Bachelor’s or Masters degree since they have a reason to go back to the Philippines).
- Have you been denied a visa earlier? (If you have applied for any foreign visa in the past, rest assured the Consular officer knows about it. Be honest).
- Why have you chosen the US over other countries? (This is in line with the purpose of your trip so make sure you have a valid reason to be there).
- When will you come back to the Philippines? (Your answer here must not contradict what’s on your itinerary).
- Will you be traveling with a companion? (If yes, expect the Consul to ask additional questions pertaining to that companion’s status, source of income, etc.).
- Who will take care of your property while you’re in the US? (In case you include some properties as proof of your solid ties to the country, explain to the interviewer that a family or friend will look after it while you’re in the US).
2. Show proofs of strong ties to the Philippines.
The purpose of the interview is to weed out applicants who may have the intention to hide in the US as illegal immigrants. And now that there’s a president using all means to keep immigrant workers out and increase jobs for US citizens, expect a more meticulous screening process.
So how can you beat the odds and increase your chances of getting a US visa?
According to the US Embassy and based on the data we’ve gathered so far, the following factors can increase the likelihood of your US visa application getting approved:
a. Travel experience/history.
The more countries you’ve visited prior to US visa application, the better your chances of getting approved.
Extensive travel experience is an indication that you never overstayed your welcome in any country in the past, and that you’ll most likely do the same thing in the US.
In case you have a newly released passport and the Consul asks for your travel history, present your old passport with stamps to prove that you have indeed traveled to several countries already.
b. Financial stability/capability.
A trip to the US is expensive so you have to prove to the Consul that either you can support yourself or someone else (a sponsor) will cover your expenses.
You need to back this up by showing your bank certificate/s (only if requested).
The Consul doesn’t only look at your financial status to ensure you can afford your US trip, they also review it to ensure you have enough assets to compel you to return to the Philippines.
Therefore, if you have little to no money in your bank account and zero property under your name, the Consular officer will see you as someone who got nothing to lose and can potentially stay in the US as an illegal immigrant.
However, as long as you can prove that you have enough income and can specify the source of this income, you still have the chance to be approved.
Meanwhile, applicants from rich families are not immune to rejection. They can still be denied if they can’t pinpoint where their money comes from or if they’re fresh graduates who only rely on their parents’ money.
c. Established career/tenure in the company.
A stable job is one of the strongest proofs that you will return to the Philippines as soon as your US trip is over.
If requested, show your certificate of employment and other documents that can attest to how many years you’ve been working in your current company.
- Applying with a family. Those who are applying for a US visa (especially a tourist visa) with their family are more likely to be approved because applicants with the potential to be illegal immigrants usually apply alone.
- Properties/assets in the Philippines.
- Enrollment in a school/university (for students).
- An employer sponsoring the visa (for US work visas).
3. Wear decent attire.
The US Embassy doesn’t impose any dress code to US visa applicants but that doesn’t mean you can go to your interview wearing anything you like.
Just treat it as your usual job interview.
No need to wear suits or formal attire but don’t go there with a simple T-shirt and short either. Smart casual is enough.
Avoid wearing excessive pieces of jewelry just to impress. If you’re a student, lawyer, or employee, you can also wear what you usually wear every day in your occupation.
Look presentable. Never overdress.
4. Keep your answers short and simple.
Remember one important rule when answering the interviewer’s questions: Less talk, less mistake.
Only provide the information requested and never volunteer information that isn’t being asked. This isn’t a speech contest or a beauty pageant so you will never be judged by the length of your answers.
If you’re talkative by nature, this is the time to hold back. Giving long answers to simple questions will make you appear desperate and even suggest to the Consular officer that you may be hiding something.
So for example, if you’re being asked what you will do in the US, just give a short response like “To have a vacation” or “To visit my relatives.” Only provide additional information when you’re asked to.
The interviewer doesn’t care if your relatives are sick, who your cousins are, and what family history you have, no matter how enthralling it is.
More importantly, don’t be too naive and say that “you’ll be looking for opportunities in the US.” At this point, you’re probably aware already that it’s one of the sure ways to ruin your chances of getting a US visa.
Don’t argue with the interviewer either. If you’re unable to hear the question properly or if you need clarifications, simply ask him/her to repeat or clarify it for you.
Regardless of the result of the interview, treat the Consular officer with the utmost respect.
5. Be honest.
This one’s common sense but you’ll be surprised by how many applicants are denied of a US visa by lying through their teeth.
Always remember that the Consul officers are trained to spot liars and they’ve been doing it for years so it’s almost impossible to fool them.
In other words, don’t even make an attempt to make up stories. The interviewers are trained to expose fabricated stories down to the smallest details.
They’re also keeping a record of every information you share. So in case you fail the interview the first time and come back for a second chance, there’s no way you can peddle the same lies all over again.
To put it simply, don’t lie to the Consular officer’s face because it will backfire faster than you’ve ever imagined.
6. Be confident.
Don’t ever think that the US visa interview is a life-or-death situation.
For one, it’s just a visa and getting denied isn’t the end of the world. It will also put undue pressure on yourself to “perform” and in so doing look desperate to get a US visa.
You can’t fake confidence. It will come naturally if you trust yourself and know deep inside that you’re not hiding anything.
If you’re not planning on becoming an illegal immigrant, why feel nervous?
So the best that you can do is to remain calm and just be yourself. Don’t pay attention to other nervous applicants or those who come out of the Embassy with “denied” stamps.
Listen to your favorite music, read a book, do positive self-talk or try anything to keep your composure until it’s your turn to be interviewed.
Most importantly, don’t let the Consul officers intimidate you. Remember, they’re just doing the interview because it’s part of their job.
Look at them as a co-equal. Otherwise, it will get on your nerves and run the risk of becoming speechless in the middle of the interview.
(Other) Tips and Warnings.
In addition to the strategies discussed above, also keep in mind the following reminders:
- We already mentioned this at the beginning of this article but it’s worth repeating: Gadgets (phones, laptop, etc.) aren’t allowed inside the US Embassy. If you can’t leave them at home, bring a companion with you who will take care of your stuff while you’re inside. There are plenty of convenience stores or cafes nearby where your companion can stay while waiting.
- Arrive at the Embassy at least 15 minutes before your appointment schedule so you can have time to prepare yourself and ensure you brought all the needed documents.
- The Consular officers seldom request for supporting documents during the interview but be prepared in case the one assigned to you will. The documents requested differ from one applicant to another. It ultimately depends on the circumstances surrounding your application. If you run a business, for example, be ready to present your business permit and proof of income.
- If you’re planning to go shopping or play at casinos in the US, feel free to mention it whenever appropriate and without sounding too desperate. Consul officers prefer tourists who will spend money during their trip.
- The US Embassy doesn’t set a quota for how many people they can interview per day.
- Brush up on your communication skills. Since you’ll be traveling to an English-speaking country, the Consular officer expects that you’re able to use their language well. If the interviewer can’t understand you, how are you supposed to survive your trip to the United States? Avoid using slang and “Carabao English.”
- Just because the Consul approved your US visa after the interview doesn’t mean the scrutiny is over. The US Embassy also conducts background checks before releasing passports to applicants. If they find a discrepancy in your application, you will receive your passport along with a refusal letter.
About the Author.
Luisito E. Batongbakal Jr. is the founder and chief content strategist of FilipiKnow, a leading online portal for free educational, Filipino-centric content. His curiosity and passion for learning have helped millions of Filipinos around the world get access to free insightful and practical information at the touch of their fingertips. With him at the helm, FilipiKnow has won numerous awards including the Top 10 Emerging Influential Blogs 2013, the 2015 Globe Tatt Awards, and the 2015 Philippine Bloggys Awards (nomination). Connect with him on Linkedin.