The US visa debacle

 

Obtaining and / or extending a US visa is unfathomably complicated and expensive. The total cost of our US visas was $900 (£720); $160 each for the initial 6 month visa, and $290 (now $370!!) each for the extension. The ‘real’ cost was closer to $1,000 (£800), as we had to travel to the US Embassy in the UK, pay a courier to send the visas to us (this is the only option they offer!), and pay various absurd postage and photocopying costs in the US for the extension.

Process-wise the original visa was not too complicated. We spent about four hours completing the form, submitted this and then attended an ‘interview’ at the US Embassy, which was more of a formality than a real vetting process. One thing to bear in mind though; leave plenty of time when you go to the US Embassy. The queue – despite having a timed appointment – is massive. You then get through and take a timed ticket so you can speak to someone and confirmed what you already told them on your application. Then you take another timed ticket to have your interview. It’s a farce, but it’s not intimidating at all and your visas arrive in the post soon after.

The extension process is a joke. When you enter the States the Border Patrol Officer decides how long to give you. So even though you have a six month visa agreed and paid for, you could be given two weeks! You get a slip in your passport called an I-94 with the date the Border Patrol Officer deems you can stay. If you want to stay longer than this date, each person has to complete a nine page form (an I-539) and submit oodles of evidence such as bank statements, utility bills etc. We knew this, so we came prepared. You then have a small window when you can submit your application; it can’t be too far ahead of the expiry date, or too close to it. The Department for Homeland Security (DoHS) then has until seven calendar days before the expiry date on your I-94 to give you the yes / no verdict on your extension application.

Our expiry date was 15 January 2015. The 8th January came and went and we hadn’t heard from DoHS, so we called them. We were told ‘not to worry about it’ because they were over 30 days behind with application processing. And to stay in the country until we heard further. We sat tight and a few weeks later our friend (our nominated US contact) received a letter saying we both needed to submit loads of extra evidence for the extension. We were unable to provide much of there requests because we’d already submitted much of the original evidence with our original extension application. And many of the other things requested – such as ‘proof of US residence – were irrelevant / erroneous. So we sent a letter telling them such!

On 11th March 2015 – almost two months after our I-94’s expired, and eight months after first entering the US – we received a letter saying our extensions had been approved. Our advice would be to try and complete any US leg within the original 6 month visa period. The extension process was extremely stressful, unnecessarily complicated and is now even more expensive.