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Wondering how to secure a US Tourist Visa?

Have you ever wanted to apply for a US tourist visa, but have been hampered by horror stories of being denied one? Ever wondered what it is the consular officers are looking for in a visa application to actually approve it? Why do very similar (sometimes even identical) applications get different results?

Anyone who wants to travel to the United States (US) as a tourist needs to have a valid US tourist or B1/B2 visa to enter the country.

Sadly, for most people, applying for a US tourist visa has always been shrouded in mystery and fear — what with all the myths, urban legends and half-truths going around about the visa application process.

USA Flag For Tourist Visa
Rumours of a particular consular officer at a particular window at the embassy who never approves any visa application; or consular officers who base their decisions on their mood for that day, day of the week, or the applicant’s nationality, appearance, etc. make applying for a tourist visa more daunting than it should be.

Note: This series is written with Filipino US tourist visa applicants in mind (based in the Philippines), but applicants from other countries may also find these articles useful.

How to apply for US Tourist Visa B1/B2

Basic Requirement – Proving Strong Ties

We’ll tackle the myths about the visa application process in deeper detail in another article, but for now, I think the more important question in your mind is this:

“How do I qualify for a U.S. tourist visa?”

Without the legalese, the important thing to remember is that consular officers decide on visa applications based on this simple question:

“Does the applicant have strong ties to their country of origin?”

If you can prove this point to the consular officer interviewing you at the window, he or she will have to issue you that elusive tourist visa.

For clarity’s sake, “country of origin” is the country that issued your passport. For dual citizens, it’s the country that issued the passport you’ll use to apply for the visa.

You could present tons of bank statements to show that you have enough funds to cover your entire vacation; you can present sworn statements from very influential people and relatives that they’re only inviting you for a short visit;

You can present your first class return flight tickets; but without proof that you have strong ties to your country of origin, your visa application will 100% be denied.

“OK, I get it. I’ll prove to the consular officer that I have very strong ties to my home country and I’ll get that visitor’s visa. But how do I prove this?”

To show that you have strong ties to your country of origin, you’ll have to prove that you have very strong SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, PROFESSIONAL, and FAMILY ties in your country.

These ties have to be so strong that the consular officer will believe you will definitely return to your own country after your short visit to the United States.

Of course, these claims of strong ties will have to be backed up by LEGITIMATE and EASILY VERIFIABLE documentation.

What specific documents should I bring to prove my strong ties to my country?”

No, you don’t have to know your country’s history forwards and backwards. They’ll not quiz you on the lives of your national heroes.

And please… no bank documents showing exorbitant amounts in deposits! If you can’t prove the source of those funds, those “doctored” or borrowed-at-an-interest bank documents will do you more harm than good.

Because each applicant’s circumstances at the time of application are different from another, there’s no specific document list to prove your ties to your country of origin.

However, the following SUPPORTING documents can help the consular officer paint a clearer picture of an applicant’s eligibility for a visa:

  1. Latest proof of income – Certificate of employment, business ownership, and/or assets
  2. Detailed travel itinerary – Explain why you’re going, how you’ll get there, how long you’ll stay, and how you’ll pay for it. If you’ve already paid for it — this is not required or encouraged, but if you’ve already paid for it — show proof of payment
  3. Proof of continuing employment or education in your country of origin – most recent payslips (3-6 months) and/or school records
  4. Proof of residency status for host(s) – Legal Permanent Resident card (“Green Card” / USCIS Form I-551) or proof of U.S. Citizenship (copy of Certificate of Naturalisation or bio page of passport) for your host(s) in the U.S., if applicable
  5. All expired passports, especially if you have travelled or been issued a visa before from any country

“Is that all? Any supporting documents needed for my US Tourist Visa?”

Not at all! It’s really simple when you think about it. But remember that the list above represents only the list of SUPPORTING documents. Those are the documents you’ll present in addition to the REQUIRED documents, which are:

  1. Proof of payment for the visa application
  2. Interview appointment letter
  3. Online Nonimmigrant Visa application form (DS-160) confirmation page
  4. Valid passport
  5. 2” x 2” colour photo with white background

Also, remember that consular officers have a limited time at the window to make a decision about your visa application – it is better to present a few documents that contain pertinent information about your status and intent (see list above) than bury them in random documents that don’t prove anything.

For example, affidavits and letters from individuals other than your host(s).

I must remind everyone to NEVER EVER present fake documentation. I cannot stress this point enough.

The Embassy has investigators and checkers that watch out for fake documentation. Yes, they know what fake documents look like, so don’t even try it. You’ve been warned. There are very serious consequences when you get caught.

Here are the seven easy steps to follow to apply for a US Tourist Visa:

STEP 1

Before anything else, you’ll have to pay the application fee.

You’ll need to print the visa fee deposit slip and bring it to any BPI branch with the appropriate visa fee. As I write this, the current fee for a non-immigrant visa is 160.00 USD. The actual amount in pesos would depend on the current rate at the bank at the time of payment.

For the most current visa fees, see the Embassy’s page on visa fees. If you’re the techie type and like to do everything online, you can also pay your visa fees that way through a BPI Online or a BancNet Online account.

STEP 2

Next, fill out the online application form DS-160. Make sure all the information is accurate, correct, and 100% honest.

TIP: Make sure there’s no need for corrections by the time you print out your DS-160, as you won’t be interviewed if there’s even a little bit of inaccuracy or incorrect information there.

Pay attention to the spelling of names, addresses, and previous travel dates. You’d think nobody would get their own names misspelt, but typos can happen, yes?

Once done, take note of the ten-digit barcode number on your DS-160 confirmation page, as you’ll need it for the next step.

STEP 3

Now you can schedule your visa interview date. You have the option to do this online or through the Embassy’s Call Center.

TIP: Plan to schedule your interview well in advance of your travel date (probably 3 months is enough lead time), as you may have to wait for an available schedule slot that’s also convenient for you.

Remember that summer and Christmas holidays are always “high season” for visa applications.

STEP 4

Attend your visa intervi