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How to Excel at a U.S. Visa Interview – Immigration Lawyer New York
Home  » Blog  » Nonimmigrant visas  » How to Excel at a U.S. Visa Interview

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How to Excel at a U.S. Visa Interview

By Michael H. Markovitch, Esq. on January, 08, 2014

A visa is no more than the privilege to (a) be carried on a mode of public transportation such as a plane or a ship, (b) approach the border or other inspection post, and (c) request that an inspecting immigration officer admit the individual to the United States.  The visa interview is designed to elicit information to allow a consular officer to resolve, one way or another, two questions: 

  1. Is the applicant, as a matter of fact, eligible under law, i.e., the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), to be granted formal admission or entry to the United States?; and
  2. Assuming that the individual is theoretically eligible to receive a visa under law, are there any disqualifying grounds that would make the person inadmissible to the U.S. and thus ineligible to receive a visa?


Mostly questions asked at visa interviews are factual rather than legal.  This is significant because of a doctrine known as consular nonreviewability.  That doctrine holds that no court and no Executive Branch official can overrule a decision of a U.S. consular officer to refuse a visa based on a question of fact.  In most cases, the consular officer will be the ultimate arbiter of the facts; hence, the visa applicant's answers to questions posed by the consular officer are critically important.


Of equivalent importance are the legal standards that apply to visa interviews:

  1. The visa applicant bears the burden to establish that s/he is (a) eligible under law to receive the particular visa requested and (b) not legally inadmissible to the United States;
  2. The visa applicant must overcome all legal presumptions found in the INA, such as the presumption of immigrant intent or the "intending-immigrant" presumption, which stacks the cards against the applicant by making the individual ineligible at first blush for visas available, for example, to business visitors, tourists, trainees, students and other classes of applicants who by law must maintain an unrelinquished permanent residence abroad if they are to be found eligible to receive such a visa; and
  3. The visa applicant must establish eligibility for a visa not merely by the more-likely-than-not ("preponderance of the evidence") standard that applies to most decisions in civil (non-criminal) matters, but to the higher and more nebulous and subjective standard, "to the satisfaction of the consular officer."


Pre-Interview Preparation

Learn as much as possible before the interview about the underlying eligibility criteria for the particular visa you seek, and any possible negative factors (grounds of inadmissibility) that might apply to you. For example, visitors for business or pleasure must show that (a) their purpose for entering the U.S. is sincere and lawful, (b) they will enter temporarily and return to their foreign residence abroad (which they have not abandoned), and (c) they have sufficient funds available to avoid the temptation of unauthorized employment.  Published resources, if carefully vetted, may be helpful for background information on visa categories and requirements, but there is no substitute for the counsel of a competent immigration lawyer in understanding visa eligibility and inadmissibility.


Consular officers expect to glean most of the information during the interview from the words uttered by the visa applicant and the applicant's answers on the online visa application (Form DS-160), and only secondarily from printed materials.  Still, visa applicants should bring with them any relevant evidence that may help establish visa eligibility or refute any perceived ground of inadmissibility.  The printed evidence should be well organized and tabbed for ready access and proffer during the interview if a fact brought out from a consular officer's question might be more readily confirmed by presenting a single relevant document to show the officer.


Needless to say, however, the applicant should be fully familiar with the answers to all questions on the Form DS-160 and all documents submitted before the interview (if a petition or other documents were filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or with the consular post) or while it transpires. 


The applicant must always tell the truth but should also be sure that nothing truthfully relayed during the interview conflicts with any answers on the DS-160, or the documentary evidence previously filed or submitted in person.  Consular officers often look for inconsistencies; so if a correction or clarification needs to be made, that should be explained proactively by the applicant before the consular officer has the chance to seize upon any discrepancies.


Review the embassy or consular website to make sure about complying with any security restrictions such as bans on the carrying into the consulate of laptops, smartphones, thumb drives, cameras, etc.  Get a good night's sleep, and then have a filling meal and arrive well before the scheduled time of the interview.  Dress for success  -- wear clothes that show respect -- business attire is usually best.


Try and anticipate the questions posed and practice your responses -- not so that they are scripted but that you are ready to phrase answers in a way that, while always truthful, persuasively demonstrates why the consular officer should find you deserving of the visa you desire.  Applicants should recognize that expressions of anger, frustration or other strong negative emotions will meet with a visa refusal in virtually all instances. Plan to adopt a pleasant expression and to try to convey a confident, modest but worthy attitude, one that is respectful of the consular officer's job.


The Visa Interview

Interviews are rarely conducted in private.  Rather, the applicant must stand at a counter in front of bullet- and bomb-proof glass and speak into a microphone while a multitude of other visa applicants sit or stand nearby, within earshot.  Listening (discreetly) to the questions of consular officers and the answers given may be helpful -- so long as you are not rattled by the frequency of visa refusals.


The consular officer will be seated on the opposite side of the glass at a computer, taking required actions such as reviewing security clearance reports and case-relevant data, while also articulating questions only some of which may pertain to the visa category.  Consular questions may be posed merely out of boredom or curiosity about the applicant's field of endeavor or to develop a beguiling "good cop" appearance.


In any case, visa applicants must speak in a voice that can easily be heard, with clear enunciation (since the consular officer may not understand your accent). Even if the consular officer speaks your language, you should try to respond in English if you are reasonably capable in that tongue.


You should respond to questions posed succinctly but always "stay on message."  You must politely but assertively show reasons why you deserve to receive the visa sought.  Imagine an empty beaker that must be filled by the time the interview ends with good reasons and positive impressions that support issuance of the visa.  If the beaker is empty when the interview concludes or is filled with dross and dirt about you, your application will likely be refused.


The Visa Decision

The consular officer will tell you at the end of the interview if your visa will be issued or refused.


If it is granted, you will learn whether to stay and wait for it, return later or expect to receive it (affixed to your passport) by delivery service.


If it is refused, the consular officer will explain whether it is a "hard" or "soft" refusal.  Although the consular officer  may not use these terms, a hard refusal is one where the officer has decided the facts adversely and found that you are legally ineligible to receive a visa or are found to be inadmissible under the INA.  A soft refusal, one issued under INA Section 221(g), is one that suggests a temporary or tentative basis to refuse the visa, a basis that may be overcome.  For example, a missing document, such as a birth certificate or job verification letter, may be needed.  Or, "administrative processing" for background security screenings must still be conducted.  If Section 221(g) applies, the consular officer will likely explain what action items remain.


If the officer indicates, however, that his or her decision to refuse your visa is final, do not  raise your voice, show anger or express negative emotions.  Instead, politely ask the officer to explain in detail the reasons for the decision and ask if there is any other document, information or evidence that might cause the officer to reconsider.  It is probably not helpful to try and persuade the officer at that point to reverse the decision and issue the visa.


Whether or not the officer suggests other evidence, you should express thanks and leave the building promptly.  Immediately, then, sit down and write a note or email outlining in great detail every question asked, every answer given, all body language observed and any other information that may be helpful to a third party (e.g., a government official or an immigration attorney) in understanding why your visa was refused.  They may be able to help you try again or seek reconsideration.


Good Luck!


For further information or questions you may have, please do not hesitate to contact The Law Offices of Michael H. Markovitch.

Tags:  Visa Interview

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