The H-1B visa US Embassy or Consulate interview will differ depending on where in the world you are and also your nationality. If you are a Canadian applying in Canada you will probably find the process a lot more straightforward than an Indian applying in India or an Egyptian applying in Egypt.
That is not to say that you can’t apply in another country different to your own nationality as many foreigners who study in the US on an F-1 visa do after completing their OPT work period they may opt to go to Canada across the border to get an actual H-1B visa stamp in the passport. You can transfer from an F-1 or J-1 visa among others to an H-1B visa within the US but sometimes due to your dates not matching correctly between one visa ending and the H-1B visa earliest start time of October 1 or the fact that unless you have an actual H-1B visa stamp from a US consulate abroad you can’t travel in and out of the US just remain legally within.
So for the first time we will write about the H-1B Visa US Consulate interview process as told from an Australian’s perspective, applying in Australia and this not being the first ever US non-immigrant visa they held. This process constantly evolves but at least in theory of the mechanics of documents required and questions asked should be the same the world over. In practice more exhaustive proof, higher scrutiny on your background and that of the job and company sponsoring may be applied depending on your history, nationality and where you are applying relative to who you are. One of the major differences in process lie with where and how you book your Interview appointment, how you pay the application fees and then how you receive/collect your passport with the new E3 visa. Generally this is done online and payments made at a Postal Office or nominated bank in the country but some US Consulates allow phone bookings and accept payments directly.
So assuming you have secured an Employer who has sponsored you and hired you, the first and main thing they will need to do is file with the Depart of Labor, Form ETA-9035(e). This form documents the company information, information about you as the candidate, the role for which you are applying and its responsibilities and how much you will be paid with a couple of other miscallaneous bits of information. It is relative straightforward form for the most part and is completely FREE to file. It can be filed electronically or sent via mail to the Department of Labor.
The most important thing to note with this form is that the definition of the role has to show that a bachelors degree is necessary to fulfill this task and also the salary you are paid is commensurate with the average salary for that same role in that area of the country. This information is all on the Department of Labor site.
It usually takes the Department of Labor a 1 – 2 weeks to process this once they receive it and the approved version they send back to you is called the Labor Condition Application (LCA). You need the original version of this form to take to the US Consulate interview.
The next thing you will need is the approved I-797 form from the USCIS which comes as a result of your I-129 filing to them which contains your LCA as well as lot of proof information about the company, yourself and the role.
The only 3 locations in Australia you can apply for non-immigrant visas like the H-1B visa are the US Consulates in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. So this may mean you need to travel if you live in other locales of the country. To schedule an appointment you need to do it online via the VisaPoint site. Generally you want to do this at least 4 weeks prior to get the date you ideally want as these fill up very quickly. It costs $14 AUD to schedule an interview (you get a pin which lasts for 90 days and login and reschedule this interview up to a maximum of 3 times). You have to schedule an appoint for all Passport holders who will be an issued visas. So if you have a spouse and or kid(s) who will be on the dependent H4 visa you need to pay $14 each for them as well. This is also a good reason why you want to book this in advance as you want to book all the interviews at the same time for all members of the family so doing this further in advance will help you.
Insider Tip: The booking system books multiple people for timeslots so just because your interview time is 9:00am doesn’t mean that is when you will actually be interviewed as there is a lot of waiting. In most cases to ensure you have the shortest wait time book your interview for the earliest time in the day which is usually 8:00am and arrive early. This means you will hopefully get an early number in the cue on the day and have your actual interviews without out too much waiting. The US Consulates in Australia in recent times are also more particular about the time you booked for. Where as in the past you could often turn up early to your scheduled time on a day and they would let you go through security and to the main interview area, now they seem to be not letting people until closer to their allotted time.
What to bring to the Interview itself?
1. The Labor Condition Application and I-797 Form
2. Signed letter from the company (usually by HR or your department head) on official letterhead with job offer description addressed to you
3. NEW: Printed DS-160 online form confirmation page (includes a barcode and your picture you upload during the form process)
4. Printed VisaPoint interview time confirmation sheet (not usually necessary but doesn’t hurt to have)
5. A self addressed envelope with postage paid (I generally recommend the Australia Post Express envelope which is about $4.50 and has tracking code)
6. Confirmation receipt of application fee(s) paid for all visas at Australia Post (this has to be paid with a debit/atm card or cash NOT a credit card). Due to the current good exchange rate this is currently $190 AUD. (this is per person so for each H4 dependent visa that is an extra $190)
7. If you have Australian University degrees then usually just a printed copy of this will suffice. (it doesn’t hurt to have an academic transcript but is not usually asked for)
8. Supporting documentation (this can include business titles, mortgage titles, bank account statements, etc. to show good standing in home country)
9. If you don’t have a University Degree or either an Australian/US based degree and are proving that your experience, degree and other qualifications is suitable for the role then you definitely need to bring evidence of all of this like documented letters from former managers about your roles and descriptions and tenure as well as transcripts and course descriptions for other qualifications. It can really help in these cases to get a US organization to do a degree/experience equivalency to a US Bachelors degree assessment that you can also present. This a big area where additional Administrative Processing may be required and to avoid these long and ad hoc delays, it is best to be over prepared.
10. There are other lesser documents that are listed here and may be more suitable to you depending on your individual circumstance. If in doubt you may as well take it.
11. Just in case take 2 additional US sized (larger than Australian standard size) passport photos. This is in case the uploaded photo for your DS-160 online form is not deemed suitable. The US consulate websites in Australia mention a couple of places nearby that do US style passport photos.
12. Your Passport
Insider Tip: I recommend bring a magazine and/or books to read as you can’t take anything electronic up there with you (you have to leave things like phones, mp3 players, etc. with security) and even in the best cases you will usually be waiting for at least 30 mins and usually for at least an hour or more for the 2 parts and usually more and there is nothing to do up there. The repetitive US Intro video on the TV can drive you insane so you will definitely be the envy of everyone in the room if you have something like a book to occupy yourself with.
The DS-160 form you have to complete online prior to attending the interview and you can complete this anytime after you have made your interview time and received your LCA confirmation number. You can complete this form in part and save it and enter in other information later. This form details things like all your personal information, recent world travels and travels to the US, complete work and education history as well as planned US itinerary and places to stay. You also upload a digital photo during this process which is basically a head shot on a white background. (an online validator will validate this photo when you upload and criteria is mentioned on the site) This is all done in the VisaPoint area where your originally made your interview. As mentioned follow completion you print out the confirmation form and at this point you cannot edit any form details. One of these has to complete for each visa recipient.
When you arrive at the US consulate you may have to line up before security calls you in small groups to register on a computer to get a printed badge. (have your passport number handy as this along with your name is entered at this point). All things you will take to the main room are put through an airport style xray machine and you have to walk through a meta detector. Any electronic items and things like keys are taken at this point and they will give you a number to collect these upon your return.
Insider Tip: Because of the long wait for this process plan ahead throughly with parking as if you are in the main area for 1-3 hours which is common this may cause havoc with parking fines and require you to go out to parking meters and then be reprocessed at security. If your number is called while you are out this can cause you to go to the back of the queue.
The interview itself is in 2 parts. The first time you are called you are essentially handing over most of the documentation to the person. He/She will collect most of the documents listed above and maybe ask you a couple of basic questions about the information you are providing. You will then be asked to sit down. The next time you are called will be the main interview and this is where you will be asked questions about some or all of the company, your role, your experience and your dependent(s) if applicable. How much you will be asked is very arbitrary and is often a combination who you happen to get on a particular day and what your circumstance is. Some people report getting asked one or two very basic questions where as others go through a full degree about all apsects of the application. Generally those doing H-1B visa renewals at the same company with their original H-1B visa will probably have a simple interview for example compared to those changing employers on their H-1B visa.
In general the people at most risk of a more in depth interview session are those without University degrees, those who are applying to roles not normally associated with Bachelors Degrees, those applying to smaller companies who may have never hired a foreigner before, those with a lot of dependents and those who are Australian citizens but not natives and thus without extensive family ties locally. However as mentioned this is very arbitrary.
The wait times before and between each of these parts are usually extensive which is why I said to both bring something to read but also to be fully prepared as so often you see unprepared people who constantly have to leave to get letters or to pay fees and they end up wasting a whole day there or even coming back on other days which is an issue like I said because of how quickly the Interview slots fill up.
You will also give electronic fingerprints during this process.
At the immediate conclusion of Part 2 you will be told if your H-1B visa is issued, denied or if administrative processing is required. In most cases where you are approved and you have them an Express Post letter you will probably receive your passport 2-3 working days later in the mail. If denied of course you will get everything back immediately with the reason for your denial. If you are going through administrative processing, you will just be told what they are going to review further and that they will be in touch. At this point you are at the complete mercy of the system as this can take weeks or months to complete and you really can’t find out anything meaningful about an ETA or what they are doing until they contact you.
I know a lot of this sounds daunting and scary but for most people they get an H-1B visa at the end of this. If you are prepared completely and you follow some of the suggested tips I have outlined you should have a straightforward process and your Passport back with H-1B visa inside in a couple of days.