Visa to the USA (Part 1)
Last Thursday was my girlfriend’s appointment with a State Department official here in Shanghai about getting a tourist visa to the United States. Fortunately, she got it. For the benefit of others who might be in a similar situation, I’ll describe the process we went through.
My girlfriend had a pretty big advantage from the start: she has been to the United States quite a few times on business. Every time it was to L.A. for a few days. The fact that she has never run off and become an underpaid dishwasher when she had the chance is a big plus.
Still, that’s far from a guarantee. Preparing for this interview in the past few months I’ve heard quite a few horror stories. It seems nothing guarantees a visa.
But let me start from the beginning.
When we decided we wanted to try for a visa, we went straight to the Visa Services page of the US Consulate in Shanghai’s webpage. The page is available in both English and in Chinese, but it’s not well organized at all. It’s downright confusing. After reading through the different sections several times, we got the gist of what we needed to do:
Obviously, Chinese citizens will need a personal passport. There is a fairly simple application procedure to get one issued by the Chinese government.
Buy a CITIC Industrial Bank pre-paid PIN card for 54 rmb, good for a measly 12 minutes of titillating conversation with the Visa Information Call Center.
Use the card to schedule a visa interview appointment with the US Consulate. Expect the interview to be about a month from when you call.
In the meantime you have some things to get together. Download the four forms (DS-156 English, DS-156 Chinese, DS-157 English, DS-157 Chinese) you need from the Visa Services page in PDF form. To make the process go as smoothly as possible at the Consulate, the four forms should be filled out in three different ways:
DS-156 English: Fill it out online and submit it to the system. It will process the form, generate an image file with a bar code, and insert it all into a handy PDF file. Download this PDF file right away. (If you wait too long it’ll expire and go away and you’ll have to do it all over again.) Print it out. Don’t forget to sign it.
DS-157 English: Download to your computer, open (Adobe Acrobat required), and fill out. Save and print out. Don’t forget to fill in the Chinese name by hand (the form doesn’t support Chinese) and to sign it.
DS-156 Chinese and DS-157 Chinese: Print out and fill out by hand. The PDF form doesn’t support Chinese input yet.
Note that if you don’t have a printer, you may have a little trouble finding a place to print it for you that (1) has Adobe Acrobat installed, and (2) can print out a quality copy. I ended up at the Portman Ritz-Carlton on Nanjing Xi Road paying an outrageous 10 rmb per page because I had already failed at about five print shops. Most didn’t have Adobe Acrobat and couldn’t even download it because they had no internet connection. I’m not sure if they would have been willing to install it if I had thought to bring the install file. The one shop that was able to print out the form produced such poor quality that I couldn’t use it.
Attach a 2 inch by 2 inch passport photograph to both the DS-156 English form and the DS-156 Chinese form.
“Each applicant must pay a non-refundable 830 rmb application fee at an authorized branch of the CITIC Industrial Bank before coming to apply at the Consular Section.”
You will also need to get together proof of employment. “Every applicant must be able to prove that he or she works in and/or is a resident of our Shanghai consular district, which includes the Shanghai Municipality, and the provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.”
Finally, the really important extra credit: “In addition to the above requirements, you are advised to present documentation and other evidence establishing social, economic, and other ties that would compel your departure from the United States after a temporary and lawful stay.“
It’s pretty much impossible to prove that you’ll come back, but you’ve got to give it your best. The way I saw it, we had to demonstrate three things:
- Our relationship was real.
- My girlfriend had good reason to return to Shanghai.
- I had good reason to return to Shanghai (i.e. the two of us hadn’t decided to go live in the USA).
In order to “prove” these three points, we put together a big thick file:
With all that information, good organization was essential. The visa officer wouldn’t have long to do the interview, and he’s certainly not going to sift through a big mess of loose papers. The file contained the following:
0. Handy table of contents, in both English and Chinese.
1. Letter of Invitation from me on behalf of the Pasden family, and three pictures: (1) the two of us, (2) her with my sister Amy, (3) my family picture (“proving” that the girl in picture #2 was, in fact, my sister).
2. My girlfriend’s proof of employment, proof of decent income, and employer’s written permission to make a short trip to the United States.
3. Proof of her Shanghai home ownership and mortgage.
4. Proof of her car ownership and driver’s license.
5. Proof of her prior trips to the United States and other Western countries in the form of visa photocopies.
6. Proof of her financial security in Shanghai (certificate of deposit).
7. Proof of her ongoing pursuit of higher education.
8. Proof of my long-term residence in China (photocopies of passport, visas, work permit).
9. Proof of my residence in Shanghai (lease lasting through the end of 2005).
10. Proof of my financial security in Shanghai (account statement).
11. Proof of my Chinese ability (HSK certificate).
12. Letter from the administration attesting that I am currently finalizing enrollment in a graduate program in Applied Linguistics at East China Normal University.
Whew! That’s a big heap of information! The thing is, none of it guarantees anything. In fact, we knew from the beginning that the visa officer would probably not look at much of it at all. But we still had to take it to strengthen our case. So with all that going for us, we still didn’t feel confident going into the interview.
P.S. I declare this entry the listiest Sinosplice entry ever!
Note: This is my last entry published with Movable Type. I should have the new WordPress blog up in the next 24 hours, after which comments will be back! The weblog URL will not change, but the RSS URL will change.