Points to Remember When Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa
1. Ties to Your Home Country and Residence Abroad
Under U.S. law, people who apply for nonimmigrant visas, such as TN, E-3 and J-1 visas, are viewed as "intending immigrants" (who want to live permanently in the U.S.) until they can convince the consular officer that they are not. If you have close relatives who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, it may be harder for you to demonstrate that you are not an intending immigrant. However, H-1B status and to some extent O-1 status have Dual Intent. This means that individuals applying for an H or O visa do not need to worry about “immigrant intent”. For further details about this topic, you can visit the State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual at 9 FAM 402.5-5(E), which explains the basics of what consular officers will be looking for in the interview process.
The interview will generally be conducted in English and not in your native language. One suggestion is to practice English conversation with a native speaker before the interview, but do not prepare speeches! Expect to have an interactive conversation with the consular officer about your plans in the United States and beyond, your goals, and your ties to your home country. For further details about this topic, the Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual at 9 FAM 402.5-5(F).
3. Be Brief and Maintain a Positive Attitude
Because of the large number of applications they receive, all consular officers are under considerable time pressure to conduct a quick interview. They must make a decision, for the most part, on the impressions they form during the first minute of the interview. What you say first and the first impression you create are critical to your success. Keep your answers to the officer's questions short and to the point, responding precisely to the consular officer's questions and statements. Do not have an argument with the officer. If you are denied a visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring to overcome the denial and try to get the reason you were denied in writing. For more information about responding to a visa denial, visit the U.S. Department of State's web page explaining visa denials.
4. Supporting Documentation (Know Your Specific Situation or History)
It should be immediately clear to the consular officer what written documents you are presenting and what they mean. Lengthy written explanations cannot be quickly read or evaluated. Remember that you will have 2-3 minutes of interview time. Supporting documentation will depend on your particular situation, so it is best to review the consulate's website. If you will engage in research in the US, consular officials may want a letter from your supervising professor or faculty member that explains your intended research goals. The financial information indicated on your J-1 Form DS-2019 should match the evidence provided to the consular officer.
5. Different Requirements for Different Countries
You should review your country's specific requirements on the U.S. consulate's website. Several U.S. consulates around the globe have created YouTube videos which explain the visa process at their specific posts. Always check your specific U.S. embassy or consulate to see if a new YouTube video is available. Also be sure to check the U.S. State Department's Visa Appointment and Processing Wait Times web page, to find average visa appointment and processing wait times at the consulate where you will be applying for your visa.
6. Other Special Considerations
Tell the truth
A ten-digit fingerprint scan is taken of applicants immediately preceding the visa interview, and applicants must attest to the following under penalty of perjury: "By submitting my fingerprint, I am certifying under penalty of perjury that I have read and understood the questions in my visa application and that all statements that appear in my visa application have been made by me and are true and complete to the best of my knowledge and belief. Furthermore, I certify under penalty of perjury that I will tell the truth during my interview and that all statements made by me during my interview will be complete to the best of my ability."
Social media question on the visa application
Be aware of the "social media" question on Form DS-160, the standard online application used by individuals to apply for a nonimmigrant visa. The item requires applicants to indicate the social media platforms that they have used during the five years preceding their visa application, and to provide any identifiers or handles they used on those platforms.
Administrative processing delays
Some individuals may experience delays in obtaining a visa because of "administrative processing." This commonly occurs if your name is similar to another individual and the consulate needs to check with other government agencies about your status or background. It may also happen if your area of research is thought to be in a field of sensitive or critical technology, or your PI/Supervisor is working with sensitive research materials. Some consular officers may even require additional letters from Temple University explaining the specific type of research the individual will be involved in and what kind of access to sensitive technology they will have. If you are unsure whether this applies to your situation, check with your specific U.S. embassy or consulate. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State's Administrative Processing Information web page.
Past visits to the United States
You may be asked to explain past visits and stays in the United States and/or any prior visa statuses held by you or your family members. If you stayed beyond your authorized stay in the United States or violated an immigration status in the past, be prepared to explain what happened and if available, provide supporting documentation regarding the circumstances. You should consider consulting an experienced immigration lawyer for guidance on whether the Overstay or Unlawful Presence provisions impact your eligibility to return to the United States.
Arrests and convictions
Documentation should accompany any arrests or convictions within the U.S. or abroad, including any arrests or convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Always check with an experienced immigration attorney if you have any current or past legal issues.
Updated July 2019 by members of the NAFSA International Student and Scholar Regulatory Practice (ISS RP) Travel Subcommittee.