|Hand your passport together with your DS-160 form to the visa officer
Call it perfect timing. I felt really lucky to have my interview assigned to a young woman in her 20s, who was noticeably a ray of sunshine. She was really sweet, cheerful and pretty and stood out from the rest of the other intimidating and stern-looking visa adjudicators for B1/B2 visa applications.
Even if the embassy has Tagalog (and other dialect) interpreters, I honestly believe that speaking English fluently and most importantly confidently, can influence your approval.
Smile and maintain it throughout the conversation. Establish rapport with the VA. Answer truthfully, but at the same time casually and confidently. Don’t think of it as an interview; think of it as catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. A good example would be reciprocating their “how are you?” with one of yours (none of the applicants seem to do this, as it’s generally an American thing). (More tips and reminders here.)
Equally important is using foresight, as you prepare days before your interview. Based on the answers you have ready to general questions, what follow-up questions would most likely be asked? Take for example in my case:
VA: So what is the purpose of your trip to the US?
Me: My friends and I are planning a trip to New York. Also, my cousin and I are thinking of going to the San Diego Comic Con.
She responded with a knowing smile.
Me: It must be really popular since you also know about it. (Trying to establish a connection here.)
VA: Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.
(Anticipating that the next question would be what I’ll be doing in New York, I had already prepared which attractions in New York I plan to see, as well as which TV shows, comic-based movies and characters I wanted to see, which would have been a walk in the park. But instead, she asked a different question.)
VA: So where will you be staying?
Me: We will probably book a property on airbnb.com or book a hotel.
(The two underlined answers above are specific and shows I’ve put some thought into the planning of my itinerary. In addition, mentioning a specific event like a convention indicates short-term stay.)
VA: Where did you go for university?
Me: I went to Ateneo de Manila.
(I’m so glad she asked.)
VA: Have you traveled previously to other countries?
Me: Yes, actually I’ve traveled every month of the year in 2014.
(I didn’t elaborate and she checked and probably saw that my passport had all but three pages without stamps or visas. They always first ask WHERE you’ve been, so it would be good to respond with the frequency together with the country. As in, “I’ve been to Korea twice and Japan three times, and Hong Kong four times”. If they ask WHEN those trips were, then elaborate.)
Note that the VA will keep glancing at their computer monitor, cross-checking your responses with the information in your online application form.
VA: Do you have family in the US?
Me: None, they’re all here.
(Lucky for me. This is one of the best answers in my opinion since no one will be “adopting” you in the US.)
VA: What do you do for a living?
Me: I’ve been running my business since 2012. Also, I’m a contributing writer for a number of travel magazines.
(I actually brought the magazines where I’ve been published in case I needed to prove it. Plus, it would have been a good icebreaker.)
I had already anticipated these follow-up questions, to which I was able to respond quickly:
Where is your business located?
Do you have any staff? How many?
How much is your NET income per month?(This is a common question asked from all applicants)
VA: So what are your plans in the next two years?
(Suddenly, the mood changed to that of a job interview.)
Me: In two years I plan to have grown my business further!
(Again, point out that you will have strong ties to your country in the future.)
She excuses herself, which a lot of the VAs seem to do so this didn’t worry me at all. They are probably cross-checking with some other database. While waiting, I fiddled with my requirements. She returned after five minutes, apologetically. I said it was no problem at all. But her next question surprised me.
VA: So are you planning to stay [indefinitely] in the US? (Something to that effect)
I was surprised she asked a point-blank question, to which the correct answer was completely obvious. Answer this wrong and you can kiss your visa goodbye. Instinctively, my face reacted as if that was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.
Me: No, of course not. My entire family’s here. (Dismissively)
She shook her head very slightly as if she snapped out of some trance and responded with a facial expression that seemed to say, “Oh that’s right. What was I thinking? Silly me.” At this point, it’s apparent that my application is ironclad and she has probably exhausted all her questions.
VA: Okay, your visa is approved and you will receive your passport in one week.
Me: Thank you! By the way, how long do I get?
VA: The visa is valid for 10 years.
Me: I see, and how long should each stay be? (At this point I knew it was 6 months, but I just wanted to make sure.)
VA: I wouldn’t exceed more than 6 months.
Me: Oh, that won’t be a problem.
VA: Alright, have fun at Comic Con!
Me: Thank you, I’m really looking forward to it!
As expected, she viewed none of my documents. Remember that any document can be forged, but your lies and body language at the time of interview cannot.
Good luck with your application!