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Monday, September 19, 2011

How Hard to Get a US Visa?

Did you know that for every 10 tourist or business visa applications filed with the United States embassy in Manila, about seven get approved? “It’s a 70 percent approval rate, which is pretty good,” according to Consul General Michael R. Schimmel. He says “it’s a reasonable rate” though he would like it to go higher.
“We very much want to see Filipinos visit the US. It’s in everybody’s interest for Filipinos to travel to the US,” Schimmel, who assumed his post in October, tells the Inquirer. He says international travel is the best way to promote a solid bilateral relationship. He adds, “We want to promote American businesses. Travel is a huge American business. We want to see Philippine nationals come to the US for a wide range of reasons.”
Last year, the embassy received some 210,000 nonimmigrant visa applications, about 700-1,000 applications a day. Close to 30 percent were disapproved for various reasons.
Arbitrary?
Many applicants who get turned down complain that the disapproval is arbitrary. Retired Army Col. Justino A. Padiernos’ application was denied four successive times between 2008 and 2009. In April, the 77-year-old Padiernos of Gapan, Nueva Ecija filed a formal protest with the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Office of American Affairs (OAA). DFA Assistant Secretary Patricia Ann Paez referred the  protest to Schimmel.
Former Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Padiernos had criticized former Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo for not acting on his older brother’s request for assistance in securing a visa. The older Padiernos studied and worked in the US and was a  permanent resident (green card holder) in 1982-1992. He gave up his green card and returned home, becoming the  chair and chief executive officer of the cooperative Agricultural Productivity Development Corp.
He returned several times to the US as a tourist between 1993 and 2008. Padiernos, who said he wanted to go to the US again to visit his family and attend to a civil court case involving a family property, said the denial of his visa application was arbitrary. The US Embassy said applications were decided based on “individual merits,” consistent with immigration laws.
In a letter to Padiernos, embassy official Richard Swart explained that consular officers were trained   “to presume that visa applicants intend to immigrate unless they can demonstrate that their familial, social, professional, and economic ties to the Philippines are compelling enough for them to return after a temporary stay in the US.”
Swart said applicants should not only show a good and legitimate reason to go to the US, but an even better reason to return home. Padiernos’ wife and daughter live in the US but he cites “strong economic ties” in the Philippines as head of a coop, including a coop for Philippine Military Academy alumni.
Interview is crucial
Schimmel says “there’s nothing mysterious about obtaining a US visa.” But he says everything depends on the interview. He says somebody who is truthful and honest and needs a visa only for a visit will get it. He stresses, “Avoid fixers. There’s no need for an intermediary.”
Schimmel says the US embassy web site explains the procedure. He says because there are about 11 million undocumented foreign nationals in the US, many of them arriving legitimately with visas, they have to scrutinize carefully applications.
No visa waiver for PH
The Philippines is not among 36 countries covered by the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Nationals of countries covered by VWP can travel to the US for tourism or business purposes without a visa and stay for not more than  90 days. Only four Asian countries are in the VWP: Brunei Darussalam, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
To be admitted to the program, a country “must meet various security and other requirements, such as enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the US.” The US State Department says VWP members must also “maintain high counter-terrorism, border control and document security standards.” For a country to qualify, the rate of visa application refusal must be less than two percent. The Philippines’ is around 30 percent.
In the top three
As for immigrant visas, Schimmel says they get 50,000-70,000 applications each year. He says the number places the Philippines in the top three, with Mexico in the number one spot, followed by China.
Last year, the embassy got 52,000 applications. Schimmel says most immigrant visas get approved. Although some applications may get deferred for one reason or another,  “most people in the category eventually—if they’re transparent individuals—will be approved.”
For nonimmigrant visa applications, the fees are: $140 for visitor or business, $150 for temporary worker, $350 for fiance/fiancee, and $390 for investor or trader. For immigrant visas, immediate relative and family preference applicants are charged $330 each. Employment-based application fee is $720.

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