US Embassy Visa Procedure
Map of US Embassy, Chanakya Puri, New Delhi
Action Point 1
Action:As you enter, a guard will search you and your bags for suspicious objects. He will give you an application form for an immigrant or non-immigrant visa as you may desire. This is the only way to enter. Even if you return the third time in ten minutes, he will search you :).
Time required:30 seconds
Shortcuts:None. You could, however, keep your purse open (if you're a lady) or remove your wallet and keys from your pocket (if you're a guy) before he checks you to speed things up.
Action Point 2
Action:This is the long winding queue (Queue 1) you will spend most of your time in. Queue timings are from 8:30 to 10:00 AM. You are not allowed to enter after 10 AM, though you can enter before 8:30. It is desirable to enter around 6 - 6:30 AM if you want to be in the first 100 people to enter (varies across weekdays). Though embassy officials exhort you to come around 9-10, the wait is simply too long if you attempt this (trust me, I've been there). This is a good time to fill up the form given by the guard, to write your name, address and telephone number behind your Demand Draft and then read a book you bought along.
If you enter the first line (bottom-most in diagram): 30 minutes after line starts moving at 8:30.
If you enter the second line (middle one): 30-90 minutes.
If you enter the third line (middle one): 90 minutes onwards.
If you enter after the first line has started moving (i.e. after say 9 AM): God help you. They might even send you back if the rush is too much.
NOTE: There are actually 5 lines, but the first two are not used in the morning, so I have not shown them in the diagram.
Shortcuts:One method used by people is to have a "stand-in". Have a servant, office boy, travel agent or friend come in early in the morning (6:30 is recommended to in the Top 100 - 200) and occupy a place in the line. Then when you come in around 8:15 (try not be later than that: they sometimes start early), you can easily take his place. Standard practice. Also, one person can keep the place of 2-3 people.
Action Point 3
Action:As you reach the end of Queue 1, you will have 4 counters before you (counters #9 to 12). You can enter any one. Usually, they open and close depending on the time of the day. In the morning (8:30), the middle ones are open. As the rush increases, all four open (9 - 9:30). As Queue 1 goes down and Queue 2 increases in size, one or two shut again. Officially, all four close at 11 (or when all people end, whichever comes first).
Time required:1 - 2 minutes
Shortcut:Most people go for the counter closest to the queue end. They don't realise they can choose any of them. You should choose the counter with the least people in the line (nobody stops you from doing this. The guard sometimes minds. Humour him).
Papers Needed:You need (a) a valid passport (it should be valid for at least 6 months after the date the visa is desired from). (b) A filled in application form (given by the guard) (c) a colour photo on a light background (light bg useful since photo will be scanned and printed on your visa; light bg gets scanned better). (c) a demand draft in favour of American Embassy payable at Delhi, worth Rs. 1935 /-. (There should be no over-writing or crosses on the DD, or they send you back home). The DD should have your name, address and phone number at the back. Note: Only DDs accepted, not cash. (It's accepted inside, after getting the visa, but not here). In case you are from outstation and find you forgot your DD or there is some error on it, have no fear. Some sweet people (usually rickshaw drivers and others standing on the opposite side of the road from the embassy) sell them to you. They can charge anything from Rs. 300 to 600 extra for them, depending upon the way you are dressed or how well you bargain.
After showing these documents, the teller keeps your DD and returns the rest. He also gives you a form to fill, which has details like type & duration of visa desired.
To confirm whether any changes have happened in the documents needed and that the DD is still for Rs. 1935, call the US Embassy at (011)-419 0103 / 5 / 2. An answering machine will tell you all the documents you need to present at this window.
Action Point 4
Action:This may not be longest queue you will join, but it certainly is the most uncomfortable, since it's out in the heat. Now would be a good time to fill up the latest form you received, to continue with that book or to catch a drink across the road in the park. An umbrella would prove useful here in case of rain or sun, if you're not the shy type. You could also carry a water bottle with you for this part.
Upto 9 AM, almost nil. Queue 2 is non-existent: everybody goes straight in.
9 - 10 AM, you have to wait 30 - 60 minutes.
After 10 AM, queue 1 is almost over, and queue 2 is a mile long. You could wait for a long time, or be asked to come the next day, early morning, where you enter at Action Point 5 directly at 8:30 AM.
Shortcut:A neat way to minimize waiting time in queue 2 is to "make friends" with someone in queue 1 while you're waiting. It is even better if you bring someone from home, if you have the guy who came in queue 1 for you still around or if you have a friend who is also applying this year come with you so you can apply together. Now, when you're waiting in queue 1, this person can wait in queue 2 for you. When you finish with queue 1, you can join him in the middle of queue 2. The only catch is if queue 2 moves faster than queue 1, and you have this friend reach the beginning and not want to go in: that could raise eyebrows.
Action Point 5
Action:You and your baggage are physically searched here. You: Hand held metal detectors, Bags: Airport type detectors. You may form a minor queue here while people ahead of you get checked.
Time Required:2 minutes
Shortcuts:Just keep your school bags / hand bags open and papers ready for scrutiny to spped things up.
Action Point 6
Action:Here is another long queue: though, it is the most comfortable. You can buy a snack from the snack bar strategically placed alongside, stacked with Coke cans (only), Mars, Snickers and other assorted prohibitively priced irresistible American candies. There is no sun overhead. The place is Air Conditioned. And you may even get to sit if you're lucky.
Time Required:30 - 60 minutes, depending upon the time of the day.
Shortcuts:If you've come with your family, only one person needs to stand in the queue. Others can sit in the seats in the middle of the waiting area. If not, use the "friend" you made in queue 1. Both of you can take turns sitting while the other waits in the queue with your place.
Action Point 7
Action:This is where all the action is. The person sitting here (most probably an American) will go through your papers and decide which queue you go to in queue 5 and which counter you go to after that. He also decides whether you are a genuine case, a doubtful case, or a gone case. Based upon this, he will send you to counter 1, 2 or 3 respectively (this is only after talking to people that day, the numbers may change everyday, for all I know). He does this by going through your papers, looking at your appearance, making small talk with you, or asking you general questions like "what course are you going for ?" (for an F1), "what skills do you have ?" (for an H1), "where do you plan to go ?" (for a travel visa). Most student visa applicants to good ranked universities and 3-4th time travelling applicants are sent to counter 1. Most second time applicants are sent to other counters.
Time Required:30 secs - 2 minutes
Shortcuts:Show him that you know English. Sound confident. Don't be hesitant, don't be nervous, don't stammer. Try to be casual, and make small talk. He's a nice guy, and he knows English, Hindi and Punjabi (to my knowledge), so don't fool around with him. This'll save a lot of time later, on the counter. Off the record, this guy is quite lenient and you have a good chance of getting your F-1 if he's around (as he has been since 1997).
Papers Needed:He can see all the papers required by the Embassy. But he first sees the I-20 (or offer letter, for H1 guys; sponsor letter for visitors to family etc) and the Passport. Only if he doesn't like something will he look at other papers. Though he usually leaves that for the counters.
Action Point 8
Action:If you're on counter 1, then the action is already over. Any other counter: it's just begun. For counter 1, you don't have to wait in the line; you go directly. Counter 1 also means that you have already been issued your visa (!). The counter is just a formality to double check and deposit your papers. Counter 2 and 3 are the grilling sections. The onus in these counters is on you to prove that you are a non-immigrant. This is where a document docket would prove useful. Don't get nervous. Just defend your point of view. Be logical and rational. Emotional appeals don't help here. (e.g. "I will come to India because I love my parents" won't work. But "India offers a great opportunity for Net commerce, considering its current growth rate of 167 %, so I would like to work here" has a stronger chance of showing that you've done your research and have valid, convincing points.) Also remember that you still have two more chances to go.
I am unsure of what goes on in counters 4, 5, 6 and 7 (the last counter is in an inner room; not shown in diagram).
If your visa is granted, the counter will keep your passport and I-20 form, and will give you a sticker (called a token) that you need to bring in the evening to collect your passport.
Counter 1: 2 - 3 minutes.
Counter 2 or 3: You may spend anything from 5 to 25 minutes here based upon the teller's mood, and on your conversation, language & convincing skills.
Papers Needed:Document Docket
Action Point 9
Action:If you have been issued a visa, you will be asked to wait in queue 6 to deposit your money (Rs. 4300 for a > 1 year visa. Check with (011) - 419 0103/5/2 for latest details). The guard on duty will write a number on your visa preference paper. He will periodically call out numbers in ranges of 5 or 10. If you are in this range, you may proceed to queue 7. If not, sit back and rejoice in your exultation. Now is a good time to count your money (cash is accepted. So are DDs. But not credit cards).
Time required:5 - 30 minutes
Shortcuts:This is a dirty one (didn't do it myself, but is theoretically possible). If you can, sneak into queue 7 directly, without sitting on the chairs of queue 6. If the guard has not seen you, and if none of those seated complains, you can probably get away with it. If you're a girl with a pretty face, fluttering your eyelashes on the guard and asking in the sweetest, most innocent tone for an exception has been known to work here too.
Papers required:Visa Preference Form (given at counters 9 - 12 outside the embassy)
Action Point 10
Action:Here you pay up the money for the visa. You are issued a receipt stating your visa type, amount and time. You need to bring this receipt in with you (along with the token from counter 1- 3) at 4:30 PM for your passport and visa.
Time Required:He's got an automatic money counting machine, so he won't take more than 2 minutes a person.
Shortcuts:Another dirty one. When you're asked to sit in queue 6, no seat is specified. Sit in the beginning seats. As soon as the batch is called, you can rush in to be the first person at the end of queue 7, irrespective of your number within the range called.
Papers Required:You need the Token and the Visa Preference Form.
That's it ! Your job is over. You can come out the way you came in, and reach the embassy by 4:00 PM to secure a top position in the afternoon line for visas !
Last Updated July 10, 1999
DISCLAIMER: The above narration is based exclusively on my personal observation over the period of two days at the US embassy, New Delhi. This description is meant solely to clear certain doubts over the ill--documented visa issuance process in Indian embassies and high commissions, and not as an authoritative discourse. I am not responsible for any loss or damage caused as a result of action taken based upon any fact given here.