Note: I’m a Filipino citizen who’s currently on long-term travel, and I applied for my B1/B2 US visa here in Vancouver, Canada.
My Canadian hosts surprised me with a ticket to a Taylor Swift concert in Seattle, but it turned out they were more surprised when they found out I didn’t have a US visa. (gasp)
Imagine it’s your first week in Vancouver and your happiness has just gone way overboard. Come on, it’s Vancouver after all! But then your hosts buy you a ticket to a Taylor Swift concert and you’re a big fan – except that you don’t have a US visa! How do you go to the US, let alone watch Taylor Swift perform?
Besides, I can stay legally in Canada only until the second week of March. It was already January. Some people waited three to four months to secure an interview schedule. I honestly disliked the fact that I couldn’t see the schedule before I filled out the form and paid the application fee. I didn’t want to shell out $160 for an application I wasn’t sure I could schedule an interview for. It was all a gamble. If the earliest consul availability was in April, that’d essentially be a sorrowful farewell to my $160.
It took me hours to decide to fill out the DS-160 form. It was also the longest form I got my hands on. Then I debated whether to pay for it or not. When I did, I was surprised there were available schedules on January 23rd. I didn’t have to wait long and I had plenty of time to prepare.
I also had my 2×2 picture taken. Two copies of which cost me $13. Like seriously? I felt like a crybaby every time I had to spend more on this tedious visa application process, but $13 is nothing compared to the already costly $160 application fee and the free ticket I might use in the uncertain future.
“You know what? I was totally fine and peaceful when I came here to Vancouver. Then you bought me a concert ticket. Now I’m restless. This is torture!,” I joked.
I arrived near the US consulate at around 8 AM – more than two hours earlier than my scheduled interview at 10:15 AM. I decided I’d stay in a nearby coffee shop for refuge, but the Starbucks next to the consulate was way too busy I felt afraid such busyness would rub off on me. It didn’t help that it was windy and raining at 3 degrees Celsius. I went to Tim Horton’s, instead, which was a bit farther.
I brought the minimum requirements only: the DS-160 form, my passport, my 2×2 photos, and a copy of the Taylor Swift concert ticket. I didn’t bring any supporting documents such as bank statements, income tax records, onward flights, and travel insurance. I wanted to trust that my courage and honesty were enough.
At 9:30, I headed back to the consulate and I was greeted by the first screening team.
Woman: How are you today?
Me: I’m a bit cold but nonetheless fine.
W: Let me just check your belongings to make sure you’re not bringing any restricted item. (Checks my things) Okay, thank you for your cooperation.
Me: Thanks. Where are you from?
Me: (Upon hearing that, I spoke to her in Spanish.) Oh, then it means you speak Spanish.
W: Yes! Wow, your Spanish is perfect. How did you learn it?
Me: I studied it by myself. I used books and podcasts and I met up with Spanish speakers in Manila.
W: Your pronunciation is perfect.
Me: Thank you very much.
Then I excused myself and headed toward the front door when, suddenly, the Argentinian woman turned her head and told me, “Te felicito.” It means “congratulations”. I didn’t know whether she congratulated me for successfully learning Spanish by myself or it was some kind of foreshadowing of my visa application result.
Next was the second screening process that required us to take off our jackets and empty all our pockets. I had a pill of generic acetaminophen (aka paracetamol) in my coat’s small pocket for emergency purposes. I got it from a bottle, so it didn’t come with packaging. Anxious that it might give rise to further questioning, I swallowed the pill without water. Silly me, but I just wanted the entire screening process to end.
Then the security officers asked me to head to window 2 for the biometrics. The guy in charge was a pleasant-looking, mild-mannered Caucasian. I showed him my most cheerful look in preparation for the interview. As I was placing my fingers on the scanner, he uttered something that didn’t make sense. “Don’t worry, you already got it,” he assured me. What it was about I didn’t know but, somehow, it made me get my hopes high. Trust me, when you are in the thick of uncertainties, it’s normal to seek signs.
It was my second time to apply for a US visa. The first time was a J-1 visa when I went to the US back in 2007 as an exchange student but, for some reason, the consul decided to waive the interview process, and I was automatically granted a visa. Suffice it to say that this interview in Canada would be my first and I was trembling! Besides, I was currently unemployed (save for the occasional freelancing gigs), and this made me apprehensive about the consul’s decision. I’ve never been denied a visa before. Could this be the first?
Now down to the last and most anticipated process. I lined up for the consul interviews until it was my turn. When the next available window was announced, I quietly walked toward it and cheerfully greeted the consul while looking her in the eye to mask my nervousness. “I know it’s been raining since last night, but please don’t be crabby today,” I muttered to myself.
Me: Good morning. How are you?
Consul: Good. And you?
Me: I’m very well, thank you.
C: What’s your reason for coming here?
Me: I’m sorry. What do you mean by “here”?
C: Oh, Canada, I mean.
Me: I visited my relatives in Manitoba. I was there for four months. Now I’m staying with friends in Vancouver. (My hosts used to be strangers, but they’re now friends.)
C: Okay. So what’s your reason for coming here?
Me: Ahm, you mean to the embassy?
C: I mean, what’s your purpose for visiting the US?
Me: (I think she was trying to catch me off guard by asking vague questions.) My friends surprised me with a ticket to a Taylor Swift concert in Seattle but they were unaware that I needed a visa to enter the US. (I let out a soft giggle.) So I’m here to take my chances because I’ve been a Taylor Swift fan for 11 years now.
C: (She looked away and talked to a colleague while smiling.) Oh, there’s a Taylor Swift fan here. (Her colleague looked at me and waved a hand.) Is this your first time applying for a visa?
Me: No. I had a J-1 visa before. I studied in North Dakota for one year from 2007 to 2008. Here’s my old passport with that visa.
C: Thanks. Do you have family in the US?
C: How about in Canada?
Me: Yes. As I mentioned earlier, I visited my aunt and uncle in Manitoba.
C: How long do you intend to stay in the US?
Me: Just 2 to 3 days. That’s all I need.
C: Who’s paying for it?
Me: I will pay for everything, except for the concert ticket which I got as a present.
C: What’s your job?
Me: (Gosh, I was hoping she wouldn’t ask this!) I don’t have a job right now. I left Manila last July to travel the world. I have a flight back to Manila in March as a safety net should I need to go home after Canada. Otherwise, I’ll continue traveling.
C: (She furrowed her eyebrows, and this made me so nervous. What if I don’t get it? $160 down the drain? No chance to see Taylor Swift?) How much money do you have?
Me: Roughly $XXXX.XX. (I didn’t print my bank statement, so I’d be dead if she asked for it.)
C: So, you don’t have family and friends in the US? (Now she added friends to the question.)
Me: I don’t have family there, but I do have friends since I studied there for a year.
C: Okay. Someone’s lucky he’s going to see Taylor Swift in Seattle. Your visa is approved. I’m taking your passport.
Me: THANK YOU VERY MUCH! (I was ecstatic! I even showed her the Taylor Swift baller I was wearing and she smiled sweetly.)
On my way home, I wanted to dance under the rain. I felt like a crazy foreigner in public. I was hallucinating. I kept on giggling to myself. Then I’d check my envelope periodically to make sure my passport wasn’t there. I was trying to convince myself that I didn’t lose it, that the consul really took it. I just couldn’t believe this wonderful news. I was granted a US visa! I’m gonna meet Taylor Swift! The Argentinian woman was right for congratulating me. The guy behind the biometrics window was also right. I didn’t have to worry. I already got it. There were signs all along!
After just two days, my passport was delivered to the post office I indicated in my application form, and I received a multiple-entry visa valid for 10 years!
Looking back, I realized there were a few things I probably did right.
1) I was honest about my intention to go to the US.
2) I showed that I was confident with my answers to all the questions.
3) I explained when I had to, but I didn’t overdo it lest I’d appear defensive.
4) I showed the consul that I was just taking my chances, that I wasn’t desperate to visit the US.
5) My mind was alert to her bait questions.
I must have been really really blessed. This is no luck. It’s been more than a decade since the last time I went to the US, and I’ve been aching to watch a Taylor Swift concert. None of these were part of my original plans. I was supposed to fly off to Mexico from Vietnam! But it’d be arrogant of me to claim that everything is under my control. Perhaps, detours are blessings in disguise. Perhaps, seeing Taylor Swift this year is a sign of the beautiful things to come.