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As the date of your E3 visa interview looms, there’s no need to get nervous or worried about what’s in store. Lots of Australian expats looking for work in the US have been there before you and have a good idea of what to expect.
We detailed everything you need to do to get your E3 visa renewal up and running in a previous post so jump over there and catch up. Even if it’s just for the sake of peace of mind and ticking bits and bobs off your checklist.
You’ve filled out your DS-160 and booked your E3 visa interview appointment. So what do you need to take with you? What should you leave at home? What can you expect from Consulate staff and how long with the process take?
E3 VISA INTERVIEW
This post is based on my experience of visiting Ottawa, Canada to renew my E3 visa to work in the United States.
I had previously gotten an E3 extension and needed to clear the US Embassy interview in order to have the visa page entered into my passport.
It would allow me to travel out of the US and back in without any worries. Leaving and returning to the US may not be a priority for everyone, but I like to know that I can go back to Australia for a few weeks in case of illness or tragedy.
Booking Your E3 Visa Interview Trip
Now that you have your visa interview date and time, you can book flights and accommodation. There are a few things to keep in mind while planning your trip:
Before you book
- If visiting in winter, it’s wise to book a flight a few days before your interview in case snow, fog or other adverse weather conditions delay your flight.
- Remember that you have to wait for your passport to be mailed back to you so don’t book a flight straight back to the US. Leave at least five days after your interview.
- Don’t forget to meet the visa requirements of the country you’re going to. I went to Ottawa, Canada, so I had to apply and pay for an Electronic Travel Visa. It costs $7 Canadian and you should get an approval to your email within a few days.
- Make it part of your travels. You have to visit another country, so you might as well make it worth your while and add in some sight seeing.
With those decisions made you can start looking for flight and accommodation deals. I recommend comparison websites such as Kayak and JustFly for flights and either AirBnB or Bookings.com for accommodation. They’re just my personal preferences though.
A few extra tips
- Some companies will pay your travel expenses for a visa run, which could save you some serious money.
- Mid-week flights tend to be cheaper than those on Thursdays-Sundays.
- If money’s not a big deal, try to book over a long weekend so that you don’t have to spend too much of your precious Paid Time Off on the trip.
- Check that your phone plan allows international roaming or have a plan for when you arrive, but don’t depend on Google Maps (as you’ll soon see).
What You Can’t Bring to the Interview
The list of things you can’t take with you to the US Consulate is longer than the list of things that you need to take with you. And some of it isn’t self-explanatory.
Turn up with any of these prohibited items and you’ll be turned away at the door. Or, in the case of the gentleman in line in front of me, before you even get through the front door of the building.
So here’s the list of prohibited items courtesy of the US Embassy and Consulates of Canada:
- Backpacks, bags, luggage, or large purses (purses 12 x 10 x 6 in. and smaller will be permitted)
- Food and beverages
- Weapons, including mace or pepper spray
- Tools, including any sharp or bladed objects
- Any oils, aerosols or pump sprays, liquids, lotions and powders
- Any type of fire starter
- Helmets of any type
- Strollers will be determined on a case-by-case basis
- Electronic or recording equipment of any kind, including, but not limited to:
- Laptop computers
- Mobile phones
- MP3, CD, or cassette players
- Keyless remotes
Strollers seem to be a point of contention. The email sent prior to my email stated that no strollers would be allowed inside the building, though the website says they may be given the go-ahead.
I don’t think it’s worth the risk of being turned away at the door. And while there were plenty of families with babies and toddlers, I didn’t see one stroller inside the Ottawa Embassy.
It seems electronic equipment also stretches to smart watches, which I learnt when I arrived at the US Embassy. They were able to store my Fitbit until my interview was finished and they may just ask you to turn your watch off. Before you try, it seems some Fitbits don’t have that capacity.
You may have noticed mobile phones are front-and-centre of this list. I recommend working out your route to the Embassy in advance, print out a map and make a list of trains or buses you might need to use in case of emergency. Or just visit from your accommodation the day before so you know where you’re going and how long it’ll take to get there.
What You Need to Bring to the Interview
It’s always better to have more and need less than vice versa, but for the sake of being able to find the paperwork you’ll be asked for, here’s a list of documents and items you’ll need for your E3 visa interview.
- Passport: With more than six months left before it expires. If your previous visa is in an old passport, bring that too.
- I-797A: Don’t panic, this isn’t necessary for everyone. The Extension of Stay document is issued by the Department of Homeland Security and acts as a bridge for an expired E3 until you can leave the country and properly renew the visa.
- DS-160 Confirmation Page: Don’t bring the entire hefty document. You just need the confirmation page with your confirmation number and personal details printed.
- Electronic Travel Visa: (see Before you Book section) Proof that you’re a legal visitor to the country you’re in to apply for your visa. In Canada’s case, bring a copy of the Electronic Travel Visa approval email.
- Proof of Visa Interview Payment: The receipt of payment should be emailed to you from firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Credit cards or cash: Just in case extra fees come up or there’s an issue with your previous payment.
- Passport photo: One colour passport photograph taken in the past six months. It needs to be 2 inches square on a white background. Glasses aren’t permitted.
Pre-Interview: What to Expect
Try not to get to the Embassy until 15 minutes before your interview time. You’re going to be standing up for a long time anyway, don’t add to it by getting there ultra-early.
Remember that I’m basing this post on my interview at the US Embassy in Ottawa, Canada so others may have slightly different experiences.
A security guard stationed outside the front door checked off names and corresponding interview times before letting me into the building. At the front desk I handed over my passport, DS-160 confirmation page and extra passport photo. A sticker was placed on my passport with a barcode and my visa application type.
Then it’s through security. Even with my tiny purse with just a few cards and coins the guards did a thorough search, made me remove my watch and kept it with them. They also went through my folder of paperwork to check nothing was hidden there. After walking through the metal detector I got patted down and then sent into the processing area.
The Interview Process
I recommend booking the earliest appointment possible, because by the time I went inside for my 9AM appointment, I was waiting in a line with six other applicants, including a family of four in front of me.
What’s behind window #1? Your first port of call will be to hand over your passport and all of your documents as requested. Your passport, past visas, workplace and duties will be looked over and compared with information already in their computer system. Important or pertinent documents and passport pages are marked for later perusal.
Window #2 is the easiest one. It’s where you’re ten-printed. Or in civilian speak, you place four fingers of each hand on a screen separately, then both your thumbs. Once your fingerprints have been recorded you’re sent to the third line of your visit.
Window #3 presents the longest wait because this is where all the hardcore questions are asked and information double checked. The questions asked will depend on the visa you’re applying for, but I was asked:
- Where are you living in the US?
- How long have you been in the US?
- Have you had a previous work visa?
- Who are you working for?
- Where is your office?
- What is your job description/role?
- Where did you study?
- What did you study?
- When did you graduate?
From start to finish I was inside the US Embassy for two hours to get my E3 visa approved. Others before me were asked to return another time with clarifying information about their company or previous study. Of course they could have been applying for completely different visas, but it does demonstrate the importance of having your lawyer cross every t.
The above document basically explains the process for picking up your passport and how you can track your visa application and passport through the mail.
Picking Up Your Passport From Canada Post
Once your passport has been delivered to your nominated Canada Post branch (you chose a branch when you first booked your appointment) you will be notified via email from email@example.com.
It will list the address of the Canada Post office your passport was shipped to, a tracking number and order number. Just in case you were feeling a little light on numbers.
To pick up your package you’ll need your tracking number and a government issued ID and proof of address. The best form of ID is a US-issued driver’s license as this will have your US address listed on it. Make sure it’s not an expired license as they will not be a valid form of ID.