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Ex-US Visa Counsel Explains How COVID-19 has Impacted the US Visa Process

Ex-US Visa Counsel Explains How COVID-19 has Impacted the US Visa Process

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Find what an ex-US Visa Counsel says about the impact of coronavirus on the US Visa process. Read what to expect in the near future of the US student visa process.

vishakha Bhagia
Updated on:  05 Sep 2023  | Reviewed By: 
| 7.62K | 7  min read

Abroad education has gone for a toss ever since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a global pandemic. With many countries issuing travel restrictions, study abroad plans for the upcoming sessions have gone awry. 

To address this uncertainty seeping in the students’ minds, MPower Financing, in association with GyanDhan, conducted a webinar on ‘How COVID-19 has Impacted US Visa Process’ informing students about the probable course of action till everything gets normal... The speaker of the webinar, Ms. Mandy Feuerbacher, is a former US Visa Consul. She shared valuable information about the visa process in the coming month and also provided general tips for visa interviews. 

Starting the webinar, Ms. Feuerbacher introduced herself and narrated her journey as a US Visa officer. Having worked in many high-volume places like China and Mexico, she has an experience of more than a decade as a visa officer. She currently works as a student visa consultant. 

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What Does A Visa Officer Observe In An Applicant?

Discussing high-volume places such as India, China, Mexico, she narrated that a visa officer interviews almost 150 visa applicants in a day and usually has to make a decision within 5 minutes whether or not to grant the visa. They make quick decisions and so, it is advisable to students to present their case as coherently as possible. According to her, Visa officers observe these applicants even before they come to their window. It implies that they observe the behavior of the applicant in the line and how they are treating the people around them. These are few of the many observations that go into their decision-making process. 


Unusual Suspension of Routine Visa Services Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Discussing the COVID-19 situation, she reiterated that these are special circumstances, and unprecedented steps were taken to tackle the situation. Talking about the timeline of events, she mentioned that in January, the US Government realized that the outbreak was bigger and therefore, gave an option to all the US diplomats in China to depart. Following this announcement, about two-thirds of the US Diplomats left China. It is important to note that there are still one-third of US diplomats left in China. 

By the middle of March, the US government gave authorized departure orders to all the US diplomats around the world. According to her, this was an unprecedented decision made by the government. By March 20, 2020, all routine visa services were suspended. This is again unusual as these visa services are the main source of the department's funding and budget. 

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What Does This Mean For The Students Applying For Fall 2020? 

Answering this question, she said that usually, a student visa is issued only 120 days before school starts. It is the earliest any student visa can be issued. Another student visa requirement dictates that the student can enter the US only 30 days before the classes commence. But this year, since there are no visa appointments, or services available, this duration of 120 days and 30 days might be removed. According to her, the process might be quicker this time around and will have a tight turnaround. 


What’s The Near Future of US Visa Service?

Ms. Feuerbacher said that some visa appointments opened up in China. But since the workforce is less, the appointments are less as well. Visa appointments opened up in only three districts and got booked till November. From this, she drew the conclusion that visa services will open sooner than later and advised that students should keep checking the website to see if any possible slots get opened. 
She mentioned that these visa appointments in China are a sign that the US government is anticipating opening the visa service. But since the workforce is less, the operations, if opened, will not be at full capacity. She speculated that student visa applicants will be prioritized above other applicants. 


What Are The Important Visa Interview Tips Shared By The Ex-Visa Officer?

As a visa officer turned visa counselor, Ms. Feuerbacher also gave several useful tips for visa interviews.

  • list items Carry-All The Documents - According to her, every student should carry a passport, DS-160, passport-size photograph, and I-20. Since this year, because of the outbreak, universities are issuing electronic I-20 (which will be valid)... Apart from these documents, there are several other documents related to proof of funds, etc that a student should carry to their interviews. She recommended that a student must carry all the necessary documents. However, it is likely that a visa officer might not even ask for the said documents but it would be wise to go prepared. She also recommended that the student must present these documents only when asked by the officer. Additionally, she mentioned that during the question/answer round, no document verification happens. 
  • list items Dress Properly - She put great emphasis on the fact that the actual interview process is incredibly important. As mentioned earlier, a visa officer observes the applicant even before they come to the window. Thus, the students must dress properly for the interview. 
  • list items Give Answers in Detail - During the interview, the student should give proper answers to the questions asked by the officer and should avoid giving one-word answers. One should be coherent in the reply and give prompt and detailed answers. According to her, a major point of the interview is that the officer wants to understand why the student wants to go to the US. The students should try and answer this question as clearly as possible. 
  • list items Try To Get It In The First Attempt - She also emphasized that it is important to get the visa in the first attempt as it gets difficult in subsequent ones. Visa officer has absolute authority over the decision, which cannot be overturned even by the ambassador. She reasoned that every time an applicant gets rejected, the visa officer adds the reason in their file. So the next time you apply for the visa, your visa officer will have the whole record along with the reasons you were rejected and will build on that. If you get rejected the first time, it is imperative that you try to improve your profile. If you know the reason for your rejection for the first time, try to work on that and have a good explanation as to why that is not a negative factor in your case. However, she mentioned that the same visa officer will not take your interview again as they have already taken a decision on your case. They will most likely get some other officer to interview you. 
  • list items Prefer Early Morning Slots - Another important tip that she shared was that students should try to get early morning visa slots. 

Additional Useful Q&As For Students

(From The Excerpts Of The Webinar)

Q - Will the rank of the university have any effect on the decisions? 
A - Not as long as it makes sense why you are going there or why you chose the school. 

Q - Now that the process will start anytime, will there be any leniency provided to the students for the appointments or slots? Will there be any preference for an F1 student visa? 
A - It's hard to say what the govt will do but I think they will give preference to student visa applications. This is just speculation. They did tend to prioritize it in spring and summer for the student visa.  

Q - A student got his F1 visa in India but due to travel restrictions, he had to defer the date to next year? Does he need to apply for the F1 visa or the same one would work? 
A - The same visa should work assuming that the underlying I-20 is valid. 

Q - For the F1 visa application, is it seen as a negative if a portion of the proof of funds is provided by a sibling currently living in the US? 
A - Not necessarily. Depending on the sibling situation, like if he is a Ph.D. student working to become a professor with the rest of the family back in the home country, it would be fine. But if the sibling is working part-time with no fixed source of income, it might be a red flag. 

Q - My current university has sent me a SEVIS ID and number. Should we register the DS-160 now? Would this impact if any deferral happens? 
A - Wait until you have your I-20 before you register. I’d recommend you have all your documents before you sign up for an appointment. 

For more information regarding the impact of COVID-19 on abroad education, keep following GyanDhan. We have published blogs on the topic such as GRE and TOEFL Special Home Test Editions. Students can also get more information on the updates by various universities for the upcoming batch by following GyanDhan’s Discussion Forum

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