As you know, getting a US Visa appointment in India is very hard as the demand far exceeds the supply. There were a few calls organized by the US Embassy and US Consulates in India in recent months outlining the outlook of visa appointments for various visa types. You can check the recent update at the article: H1B/H4, L1, F1, B1/B2, other appointments in India guidance for 2022
Similar to those calls, today there was a Facebook Live organized by the US Embassy in India with Mr. Don Heflin, who is head of the US Consulates in India, as the host outlining how the F1 Visa appointments slots and interviews would work for Fall 2022 applicants, including some info on the B1/B2 Appointments and travel. In this article, we have summarized the key takeaways from the call and their guidance.
General Guidelines on US Consulates Operations, Systems
- Normal Operations of US Consulates in India: US Embassy’s Mr. Don Heflin said that this year 2022 is a rebuilding year for them and they plan to operate at 2/3rd capacity. They plan to return to full capacity by mid to late 2023.
- Do NOT refresh CGI Federal Website too many times: US Embassy said not to refresh the CGI Federal appointment booking pages multiple times as it will lock your account for 72 hours. They say that there will be enough F1 appointments and users should be able to get one of them if they keep looking.
- DS-160 Updates, SEVIS Fee : You are free to do DS-160 form updates before the interview and ensure that you have the latest one completed with the latest current information on it before the interview. Also, you need to have the SEVIS Fee paid before the interview for F1 applicants.
- F1, J, M applicants Guidance: The below guidance in the next sections given for F1 applicants is the same for J and M applicants as well, including F2. There is no specific guidance for J1, all the key topics like when appointments will open, how many, etc. will be same as F1.
- Using Agents to Book Appointments, Guidance: The US Embassy said that it is not illegal to use agents to book visa appointments. But, their suggestion is most of the F1 applicants are well aware of technology and how to use booking sites and should be able to do it on their own and there is no need for using an agent to book visa appointments. They suggest not to listen to them to submit or say false information as it will be considered fraud and impact the applicant and not the agent.
- Adding New Visa Officers : US Consulates across India are adding more Visa officers and increasing capacity to get back to normal and it is on track
- Dropbox Processing times : It should take about 7 days or so for the Dropbox stamping cases.
- Apply for F1 Visa, where you live: You should always apply for F1 visa where you live and reside or your home country.
F1 Visa Appointments guidance for Fall 2022
Below is the key guidance from the US Embassy in India on when the appointment slots would open, and how they would work for first-time applicants.
- In the past years, 2018, and 2019, the F1 Visa Interview rejection rate was high as many students applied many times and slots were open much before. But in 2021, visa slots were opened late and many got only one appointment. All of those good students gave their best shot in one attempt and got approvals. The US Embassy wants to focus on the same idea and give one appointment for every first-time F1 visa applicant.
- F1 Slots Open Dates: US Embassy & Consulates plans to open F1 Visa appointment slots for Fall 2022 students in the next week, which is the week of May 15th ( as indicated before mid-May 2022). They do not want to give a specific date as users have crashed the system in the past and they want to avoid that.
- First Batch of appointments: They will open the first batch of appointments in the next week and then hold some appointments for the second batch until early June or so as some students get I20s later, so do not be worried if you did not get an appointment.
- They do not plan to disclose how many appointments are available as it will make people do the math about approvals and come up with rejection rates. But, in fact, they publish monthly stats on Visa issuances by visa type. You can see the F1 Visa Issuances in India since 2017 by month.
- Enough Number of F1 Interview appointments: They said that they plan to open the highest number of F1 visa appointments ever given in the past for this current year 2022. The key thing they say is that there will not be any shortage of visa appointments for first-time interview applicants. They plan to pen tens of thousands of appointments this year and issue more than 62,000 visa that were issued last year.
- School staring soon and No Appointment Slots : If your school is starting soon, there is not much the US Embassy can do, all they suggest is to find an appointment and book the earliest one. They suggest raising an Emergency appointment request if needed and they will consider it on a case-by-case basis.
- When to raise Emergency Appointment Request : If your start date at the school is within 15 days and you did not manage to get an appointment, then you may apply for an Emergency Appointment Request and they will consider on a case by case basis.
- Request Schools to Issue I20 soon: They suggest that F1 applicants request the Schools to issue the I-20 at the earliest to book and attend F1 visa appointments as it is hard to get an appointment slot.
- Transfer F1 appointment from one location to other : They said that you cannot transfer F1 Visa appointments from one consulate/ embassy to other consulates in India. You can only attend an interview at the location where you got the interview.
- 221g for F1 Applicants: They said that 221g Administrative processing can happen on any application and they cannot say why someone would get it. There is no estimated processing time for the 221g issued cases. If the Visa officers asked you to submit a document, they suggest to submit immediately. They will try to address them by mid-August 2022 for Fall applicants.
- Passport valid only till 2023 – F1 Visa : They said that if you have a passport valid for let’s say one year, you can use that for F1 stamping or renew the passport before the visa interview if you have time. If you get a visa stamped on a passport that expires in 2023, it is not a problem, you can renew your Indian passport in the US when it is close to expiry in the USA itself. In general, you can Travel to the US with a valid visa in an Expired Passport, but need a valid new passport to enter the US in such cases.
- Issuance of Visa before 120 days : They said that they cannot issue the F1 visa before 120 days from the start of the Program and it will end up in administrative processing. So, they suggest not to apply too early and only apply when it is within 120 days from the start of the program.
F1 Visa Dropbox Option Available
- They re-iterated the previous guidance that the dropbox option continue to be available for the F1 Visa applicants if they had any US Visa issued in the past.
- F1 Applicants, who had any previous US Visa approved or currently living in the US and going to India for stamping, should consider using the F1 Dropbox option.
- You can check Interview Waiver Guidance for F1 Visa Applicants
F1 Visa Appointments for Rejected Applicants
Below is the guidance on getting appointments for F1 applicants, who had their interview rejected in the first round and applying for second or third time.
- US Embassy has seen many students apply for second, and third appointments for interviews after getting rejected in the first attempt. In extreme, one user applied for 8 times for F1 visa interview after rejections everytime.
- Goal of the US Embassy is to provide all first-time F1 applicants one chance to apply for F1 visa interview
- The odds of clearing an F1 interview is very high in the first attempt and it goes down with subsequent attempts, so applicants should aim to give their best shot in the first interview.
- If your F1 visa interview was refused in the last one year, you cannot apply for an appointment during the current first batch of slots that they open next week in mid-May 2022.
- When do Slots Open for Rejected Applicants: They plan to open about 15,000 F1 visa appointments during the period of Aug 15 to Sep 1st, 2022 for applicants, whose F1 Visa was rejected in the first interview either this year or last year.
What do they look at in F1 Visa Interview? Myths?
Below are some key points from the discussion on what the US visa consular officers would look for during an interview and what are some myths.
- STEM Applicants Higher chances : There is a myth that the US takes only STEM applicants for F1 visas and they have higher approval rates. This is not true. The F1 Visa approval does not depend on your degree area or major. You can go to study any degree in the US, the chances are same for all.
- Gaps of one or more years : Gaps of one or more years do not have any impact on the outcome of the F1 visa interview. It is perfectly fine to have gaps.
- Confidence and Honesty : They look for confidence and honesty in the visa applicant when the questions are answered. But, it should not be like you just repeating a script or memorized speech that you practicsed before. It should indicate your real reason.
- Elevator Pitch – No need of Wikipedia data : They want the F1 applicant to say the real reason to study in the US, like what they would say to their father or mother at a kitchen table. They do not want to hear about stats regarding university which is on Wikipedia. The goal is to give an elevator pitch, which is 1 to 1.5 min long that tells why you want to study. It could be even as simple as below. These should not be made up and be real reasons.
- Because your parents wanted you to study at that school for xyz reason
- Because your cousin studied in that school or your aunt lives close by
- Because the program there has xyx and your interest is xyz.
- Double Masters: If you are really going for second masters in the US, then need to have a reason to say that to the Visa officer. There are many who go for double masters and it should be fine. They said an example of someone who had Masters in Engineering and then went for Masters in other Management and it was fine. It is a myth that if you go for second masters in US, your visa would be denied.
- GRE Waived : If the school has waived GRE, there is no need for you to take the test. But, if you have already given the test, carry the scores and you can show to officer if asked. Just because you did not take GRE, they will reject your application. It is more tied to the school admission requirements. Same is the case with English tests as well.
- Previous Rejected F1 Applicant : There is a myth that if you were rejected once, you will get rejected again. This totally depends on case by case. It depends on the reason for rejection. If it is something that can be overcome, it should not have an impact, but in some cases, it may, so hard to say and case specific.
Documents for F1 Visa Interview
Below are the key points around documentation and what they really look for
- List of Documents : They suggest to carry list of key documents like degree certificates, transcripts, test scores, etc. that are key for view interview. They do not expect you carry a big stack of every piece of document you prepared for application.
- Financial Documents : They want to know how you will fund the education, it could be your parents sponsoring, your aunt or uncle sponsoring it. Though it is important, they may or may not check these documents and make decision based on this alone. They believe, most of the Indian applicants can fund their education in one or other way.
- Loans, Funding Letters : If you have taken bank loans, carry that info. If have got funding, you can just carry that details and even I20 has that info too.
- Documents are supporting information and they already have a lot info on the applicant before someone appears for the interview. What they really want to know is why the student is attending a school and understand the real reason.
F1 Visa holder entering US – Port of Entry
After you get your F1 visa approved, you will use that to enter America at a US Port of Entry (PoE). Similar to every other Visa applicants, F1 applicants will go through US Port of Entry Procedures and be interviewed by CBP Officer. The key question is should the port of entry be closer to the city where the F1 student plans to study.
US Embassy said that there is no such requirement that you need to go to the closest port of entry city to your School or University. You are free to land at any US port of entry as in CBP Codes list and then go to your school from there. Many students often visit their family or friends and then go to school, so it is no problem to land anywhere in the US when you enter the US on an F1 visa for the first time.
B1/B2 Appointments, Travel with F1 applicants
Below is the guidance they have given for B1/ B2 applicants, who would like to get visas or who already have visas and plan to travel to the US.
- US Embassy in India plans to open some B1/B2 slots mid to late May 2022 that will be for interviews towards the end of September 2022.
- They say that if you have a B1/B2 visa issued from the past, you can now travel to the US along with your son/daughter who is planning to study in the US.
- They say that slots are very limited for dropbox and if you have a B1/B2, you can try for dropbox and get it renewed so that you can travel along with your kid.
- US Consulates support interpreters across all the languages in both Chennai and Hyderabad as needed, if you do not speak English.
General Information on US Travel Requirements
Below is the general guidance they gave on traveling to the US
- All travelers to the US need to follow the guidelines given by CDC.
- Travelers to the US need to be fully vaccinated with FDA-approved or WHO-approved vaccines and get a PCR test done one day before traveling to the US.
- Travelers need to check the CDC website for latest guidance on the same.
What do you think of the update from US Consulates Head ? Share your thoughts.