Our highest priority is to provide a positive experience and good customer service to our visa applicants. In the visa section, my staff and I process nearly 150 applications every day. We are fortunate because this provides us with a wonderful opportunity to speak with a diverse group of Karachiites and other Pakistanis from Sindh and Balochistan: tourists planning vacations, business people seeking commercial opportunities, students pursuing an American education, workers starting jobs and family members of US residents visiting loved ones.
Here, in Karachi, we process applications for almost every type of nonimmigrant visa. Nonimmigrant visas are for temporary travel to the US. (Immigrant visas are handled only at the US Embassy in Islamabad.) In 2012, we processed more than 30,000 visas, and we foresee a similar number this year. In an effort to provide the same simple and standard process for everyone, the visa application form is now exclusively available online, and there is no charge for filling it out. Applicants can typically book an interview appointment within a day or two of submitting the online form, and pay the visa application fee at the time of booking.
We strive to provide each applicant, no matter what his or her individual circumstances or reasons for travel, with a polite, professional and respectful experience. After a brief interview, the visa officer makes a decision about the applicant’s eligibility and explains it to the applicant. Unfortunately, not all applicants are eligible for visas, a fact driven by immigration law, not the officer’s personal opinion. In the overwhelming majority of cases, such applicants are welcome to reapply for a visa whenever they wish, if they feel there is additional information that should be considered, or there are significant changes in their circumstances. If applicants, who have been refused, choose to reapply, they are guaranteed a fresh and impartial appraisal of their application.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding about the visa application process. I would like to share some facts about our process to help dispel some of the myths.
First, there are no quotas, daily or otherwise, for the number of visas that we issue. We evaluate each case on its own merits: if every applicant, on a given day, qualifies, then we can issue every single visa.
Second, visa issuances are blind to the applicant’s religion, sect, ethnicity, gender or political affiliation. We respect all people and this fact is even written into our laws, which prohibit discrimination of any kind. A visa will only be refused if the visa officer finds that the applicant is not eligible to receive a visa under US law. The most common reason why a visa is refused is because the applicant was unable to demonstrate that he has strong ties to Pakistan which would compel him to leave the US at the end of a temporary stay.
Third, applicant’s language has no effect on his or her eligibility for a visa. Currently, our visa officers speak Urdu, Farsi, Arabic, Italian, French, Russian, Hungarian and English and with the help of our Pakistani colleagues, can also conduct interviews in Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, Pashto, Gujrati and Seraiki. The applicant’s language has no effect on his or her eligibility for a visa (although we have yet to conduct an interview in Hungarian).
I mentioned earlier that customer service is our top priority and we work hard every day to ensure a pleasant experience for our guests, the applicants. We understand that a visa interview may be a new or intimidating experience for the applicant, and the applicant may be nervous. We are here to help you. We encourage everyone to work with us to make this a pleasant experience. You can help us by having any documents well organised, in case you are asked to show them. Listen to the questions carefully and answer them simply and directly. Whether or not the visa officer is able to issue your visa, know that you will always be treated with courtesy and respect.
Some visa applications require administrative processing, which in general means, an additional wait time of anywhere between a few days and a few months. In some cases, however, administrative processing can take significantly longer. We understand that waiting for a visa can be frustrating, especially for travellers who have a definite itinerary: a meeting with a business colleague, a niece’s weddings, or the start of a college semester. I assure such applicants that we have not forgotten them and are diligently working on their cases. Our job is to facilitate legitimate travel to the US and every single delay in visa issuance affects us as well. That is why we encourage all travellers with upcoming trips to apply for visas as early as possible.
Finally, I want to let readers in on the big secret about visa interviews: There is no secret! Visa applicants should just be themselves, answer all questions truthfully and enjoy talking to an American. I know from personal experience that the American on the other side of the interview window enjoys speaking with every applicant and relishes the opportunity to learn more about Pakistan and its wonderful people.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2013.