Trials and Tribulations of US Visa

In 2019, as the year came to an end, I got to make my first trip to the United States of America and specifically New York & Las Vegas. But this post is not about my trip. It’s about my experience procuring the B1/B2 Visa that I am going to write about.

I’ve been holding onto this blog post for a while, as Arpita (my wife) was also applying for Visa, and I didn’t want this post to flag any concerns. But now that she has got her visa as well, I hope it’s a good idea to share my experience with the US Visa application.

Earlier in 2018, when I was working for Dabble Lab – I had a few client meetings lined up for which I was planning to travel to Florida. My travel plan all set up, I applied for a visa at the Mumbai US Consulate. For the uninitiated (and my dear friends born in First World Countries), as an Indian intending to travel to the United States, you have to :

  1. Fill up a form detailing all your international travels, relatives in US, salary, purpose of travel and social media accounts.
  2. Pay a one time non refundable fee of 160$ to setup an interview with the consulate.
  3. Appear at the consulate office to provide your biometrics
  4. Appear at the given interview date and explain your reason for travel to US to the consulate official (who in most cases is a U.S Citizen). Based on your reasoning, the consulate official decides if you get the visa or not.

Looking for some advice online on how these interviews are conducted, I soon myself found thousands of forum posts looking for explanation on why their visa was rejected. This did not help as I was really hoping it would be a formality, and all the posts suggested anything but so.

On any given day, it’s easy to see at-least 3-4k people apply for the visa. On the day of interview, I reached the consulate and stood outside for almost two hours before I reached the counter for my interview. While there are facilities inside the consulate, the experience can often be jarring and dehumanizing.

For my first interview, The consulate officer took my passport and started his questioning from behind the glass window.

  • Consulate Officer : Your Name
  • Me : Karthik Ragubathy
  • C.O : And you are traveling for <Company Name>
  • Me : That’s right
  • C.O : What’s the purpose of travel?
  • Me : I am meeting clients to <state business purpose>.
  • C.O : Have you ever travelled before internationally for work?
  • Me : No

And after a couple of clicks on his computer, the officer turned to me to inform that my visa application is rejected without sharing any detail. Disheartened, I went back formulating theories on what might have gone wrong with my profile.

Perhaps it was the fact that I was a freelancer? Or that my raspy voice after having no water for a while did not sound soothing? Definitely the fact that I was not married didn’t help either. The trouble is, I could have speculated all I wanted, and yet not know the specific reason on why the officer rejected me.

But more than the visa getting rejected, I was upset about not getting to meet my then clients in-person. Applying for the visa takes a good amount of travel, arranging documents and some considerable time investment, all of which is rendered futile if you don’t get the visa.

A while later, I joined Amazon and my first international travel came in the form of a trip to Australia for a team summit. Having made my first international work trip, I was a bit more hopeful that my visa this time will be approved.

After all, I was now

  1. Married
  2. Working for a reputed company (and hence won’t receive salary, if I am not in India)

This time I had booked an interview at the Chennai US Consulate. The US Consulate here was slightly smaller and I was getting to hear bits and pieces of people’s interviews. Everyone’s personal lives, salaries, problems laid bare in a bureaucratic fashion.

The Lady in front of me had a U.S Visa and was applying for a renewal. Her teenage daughter, who was born and studying in the US was moving schools and she wanted to help her out. But due to the lady staying for a reasonably long amount of time on her visa, although within the visa limits, she was being rejected. She stood there as she debated with the officer, who assured her that daughter will do just fine and take care of herself without her mother being there.

As the lady went back dejected, I walked up to the window just hoping for nothing. The officer took my passport and started his questioning

  • C.O : So you work for Amazon, huh?
  • Me : Yep
  • C.O : What do you work there as?
  • Me : As a Solutions Architect for the Alexa Team
  • C.O : And why do you intend to travel to the U.S
  • Me : Business Meetings
  • C.O : And where will you be flying to?
  • Me : Seattle
  • C.O : And what is your compensation package?
  • Me : $XX
  • C.O : And how much is that in Indian Rupees
  • Me : Rs XX

And then after a couple of clicks, he took the green slip and handed it over to me and informed that my visa application has been accepted. Relieved, I left the consulate and let it sink in, that at least for the next 10 years – I won’t have to face this situation again.

Look, I am all in favor of screening applicants before they enter a foreign country. But it should not be at a loss of productivity and being kept in the dark about rejections. I know of friends who have had their visa rejected thrice and they just ticked the same bar that I ticked.

At the least, for official purposes, the consulate should offer clear reasons on why the evidence is not enough and what the applicant can do to provide more clarity. Otherwise, it all seems to be based on randomness and on which side of the bed the consulate officer woke up on.

Shortly thereafter, I made my first trip to the United States and it was all kinds of awesome. But that’s a story for another day.

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