On applying for a US visa from Delhi
By Abhijit Menon-Sen <email@example.com>
Speaking of renewing passports and the horrors of international travel,
1999 was also the last time I applied for a US visa (and, I hope, the
last time I'll ever need to).
On that occasion, I queued up at dawn (behind a hundred-odd people!) and
was denied a visa many hours later because I didn't have "strong enough
ties" to my country. When I needed to travel to Europe some years later,
most embassies took one look at the US "application received" stamp in
my passport and matched it with one of their own ("application received"
sounds innocuous, but it might as well say "VISA FAIL"). It took a long
time to get that sorted out.
Things have changed a lot since then. Hassath, who wanted to attend the
Grace Hopper Conference this
A few years ago, the embassy outsourced the initial paperwork, which is
now done online. The dawn queue is also gone: the web site displays an
appointment schedule, and you can book a convenient free slot and turn
up at the embassy at that time. But one of the biggest changes is in the
handling of the application fee.
When I applied, the non-refundable visa application fee was some INR1200
(about USD25). Now the fee is USD131 at the "consular exchange rate" of
INR50/USD (which conveniently favours the USD by about INR3/USD), which
makes it INR6550. That is a substantial portion (>70%) of a month's rent
If money is important to you, as
casually puts it, you will be happy to learn that
Nonimmigrant visa fees are based on "reciprocity," (what another country
charges a United States citizen for a similar-type of visa). The United
States strives to eliminate visa issuance fees whenever possible; […but…]
you need to understand the distinction between a visa "issuance" fee and
a visa "application" fee. Most non-diplomatic and non-official visas
issued by United States consular officers abroad require a visa
"application" (machine-readable visa - MRV) fee that recovers for the
United States the costs associated with manufacturing, processing, and
printing the visa. The current visa "application" fee is $131.00.
I had to pay the fee by demand draft at the embassy, but now one has to
pay it (plus the INR374 service charge for VFS, the company that handles
the online application process) at any of about a dozen select branches
of the HDFC bank and obtain a receipt before you can book an appointment
online. If you find that no appointments are available before you
travel, you lose the money. If you misplace the receipt, you lose the
money. If you manage to apply and are denied a visa, you lose the money
(but perhaps the distinction between "issuance" and "application" fees
will be a source of comfort, if money is important to you).
You still need to produce scads of personal and financial information
(for example, tax returns and bank statements for the past few years),
of course, but much more thought has been put into the rules for the
visa photo. "Passport-sized" used to be a sufficient description, but
now there is a special size (larger than anyone else asks for), and
number of rules to spell out what is expected of the background,
foreground, clothing, and direction of the applicant's gaze. Everyone is
fingerprinted these days, so you are also instructed to arrive for your
appointment with clean hands.
For people who are refused a visa, the embassy now has this
that begins with the heart-wrenching tale of Sanjay and Anil—friends who
will not see each other because one could not obtain a visa to visit the
US. It has soothing answers to a number of questions the distressed
applicant may have.
Q. Why is there a visa requirement?
A. The U.S. is an open society. […]
Our immigration law requires
consular officers to view every visa applicant as an intending immigrant
until the applicant proves otherwise.
Ten years ago, the Consular Officer helpfully told me at the end of my
visa interview that I would have to wait three days before I could apply
again, but I have somehow contained my enthusiasm to reapply ever since.
Based on the current application process, I think I can hold out a while