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Visa Formalities

What is a Visa?
Visa is a permission granted by any country (other than the country whose passport you hold) to enter that country. For securing the Visa of any country, you have to apply to the consulate office of that country in Pakistan. Visa granted by a foreign country may be of various types, with different conditions attached to each of them.

A Transit Visa allows you to stay in that country just for a day or two, while a Tourist Visa may allow you to stay for periods upto three months.

For a Business Visa, the periodicity of the Visa depends on your need to stay in that country. 

A student Visa or F1 Visa is granted to students and is valid generally for the period of study ( including grace period). Almost all these Visas will stipulate that you cannot take up a job in that country during the period of your stay.

A H-1 Visa  is granted to all applicants who have obtained the work permit from INS allows him to work in the US.

Before granting you the Visa, all foreign embassies will insist on your showing sufficient proof that you will have enough financial means to support your proposed stay in their country. The embassy will usually charge a fee for the grant of the Visa.

A Visa which could be for a single entry or more than one entry and will be in the form of an endorsement made in your passport. It states that you are authorized to enter that particular country within a stipulated period stated in it. The immigration authorities at the port or airport in the foreign country will allow you to enter the country only if your passport shows that you have been granted the required Visa.

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Tell me more about the Visa procedures to the US?
The Visas granted to foreign nationals intending to visit USA fall under two broad categories - Immigrant Visa and Non-Immigrant Visa . A person holding an immigrant Visa can take up permanent residence in USA and work there without any restrictions and can leave and enter that country without Visa formalities. An Immigrant permit is popularly known as the Green Card. (The official name of the Green Card is the Alien Registration Receipt Card).

A foreign national can apply for an immigrant Visa to the United States under various circumstances. Instances Include:
  • When he/she has lived in USA as a non-immigrant visa holder for a number of years and has been permitted to take up employment there.
  • When he/she is married to a US citizen.
  • When he/she is married to another green-card holder.
  • When he/she is willing to invest a stipulated amount in business or industry in USA.
  • A green-card holder can periodically sponsor close relatives such as father/mother/sister/brother for the grant of green card even while the latter are still living in their home country.
The US government has stipulated an annual quota for the grant of Immigrant Visa status to citizens of various countries and these have again been subdivided among applicants of various categories mentioned above. There are always a lot of qualified applicants from Pakistan for the US Green Card than the annual quota for this country resulting in a long waiting list in all the categories.
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F1 Student Visa
The Visa granted to a Pakistani student planning to join a US university falls under the "Non-immigrant" category, and is known as an "F-1 Visa". The important stipulation of this Visa is that its holder cannot take up a job outside the university campus during the period of study and that he/she should leave USA at the end of the period of study or if the study is discontinued earlier.

Local immigration authorities in USA can permit the student to take up a job outside the university campus during the second year of study provided the student can convince the local immigration authorities that his/her financial situation has changed dramatically necessitating his/her having to take up a job to finance the studies. (A  F-1 Visa holder can, however, take up jobs within the university even during the first year. It is possible to earn upto $500 per month from part-time jobs that one can get within the university).
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When should one apply for the F-1 Visa?
The most important document on which your application for an F-1 Visa is based is on an official letter from a US university offering you an admission called the "I-20. In addition to mentioning the class (undergraduate or graduate) and the semester (Fall or spring) in which you have been offered admission, this form will also stipulate the estimated cost of your study for one year (inclusive of tuition and other fees and the living costs.) and will also state whether you are being offered any financial assistance. It will then arrive at the net amount of financial means that you must have for meeting the costs of study and stay for a year in the university.

If you have applied for admission in the Fall-semester starting in September, you are likely to receive the I-20 form between April and July  in the same year. If you have applied for admission to a number of universities, it is quite likely that you would receive offers of admission from more than one university, depending upon the reputation of each of these universities and your net cost in each of them, you will have to make a final choice and then only, make an application for the visa. You cannot secure a Visa on the basis of the I-20 sent by one university and then join another university, unless you get the necessary endorsement from the US immigration authorities authorizing the change.

Having finally decided, which university to join, you can apply for the Visa within 90 days prior to the reporting date mentioned in the I-20 form received from that university. For example, if the reporting date shown on the I-20 is 27th August, you can apply for your Visa only on or after 28th May.
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The procedure to be followed in the consulate when applying for Visa.
  • Once an applicant enters the consulate with all his documents, he has to collect an application form called F-156 using which he has to apply for Visa. Students are advised to carefully fill up the form as this would be considered as a ready recokner during the review of your application for the visa. Special attention should be paid when filling up the name and other details pertaining to the passport as this would be used for printing the details on the Visa if granted. This information should be accurate as in the passport.

  • The applicant will also have to pick up an envelope on which he has to carefully fill in his address and telephone numbers. If granted a Visa, the consulate would return all the documents including the passport in this envelope. A courier fees of rupees ... in the form of DD or cash is accepted at separate counter towards courier charges for delivering this envelope.

  • The applicants are also advised on the public addressing systems in the consulate to arrange all their documents in a particular order and then present them at the counters.

Step 1:
At the first counter the officer would request to see your passport and the demand drafts. After inspection, the officer accepts the DD amount of ..... Rs. which is collected as Visa application fees and issues a receipt for it. Along with this, the officer will also give the applicant a 3-fold detachable pink counter foil with an identity number that you need to carry along with your documents. After this, the applicant has to proceed to the next counters for scrutiny of the documents.
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Step 2:
After submitting the Visa fees the applicants proceed to the counters 1 to 5 as per their turn and submit their documents. The consulate officer examines your documents and if required will ask you to appear for an interview.

Interview Schedule:
If asked to appear for an interview, the applicant has to take the second counter fold of the pink slip that the officers at the second counter gives, and then proceed to the consular hall. The applicant has to take all his papers along with the conter foil of to join a queue of applicants who are awaiting their turn for an interview. As his turn arrives, the applicant is granted an interview at one of the 5 counters.

Counter Visa:
In this instance you are not required to appear for an interview at the time of submission of the application and the Visa will be directly couriered to you. In this procedure all your documents are retained by the consular officer and will be returned to you along with the passport and the Visa.

In certain instances the mere acceptance of the papers  at the first counter does not mean that the candidate has been granted a Visa. In rare instances the candidate is asked to appear for an interview at a later stage if the consular officer is not convinced despite the candidate's documentary evidence. Or may request the candidate to submit additional documentary proof if required/or any other proof /document if the instance deems fit under certain INS procedures.  But such instances are often rare.
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Another important procedure to be followed by students when submitting documents is the submission of a institution's copy of the I-20 to the consulate officer who would retain it and which would be later sealed in an official envelope and returned pinned to the passport. This envelope in sealed condition must be presented to the immigration officer at the first port of entry into the United States.

This procedure is generally followed without fail by the consulate but in an exceptional situation may be missed due to human error and hence the student should carefully check if the school copy of the I-20 has been retained by the consulate. The student should also check if he has received this sealed envelope when he receives the passport with the Visa and the other documents.
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What are the documents that should be presented to the Consular Office at the time of application for the Visa?
  • Form I-20 received from the university where you plan to enroll.
  • Visa application form which you can obtain at the Consulate on the day that you apply for your Visa.

  • Visa application fee charges fluctuate from time to time depending upon the value of the Dollar in terms of rupees. You must ascertain the exact amount from the US Consulate when you take this DD. This amount has to be paid in the form of a bank draft drawn in the name of the US Embassy or US Consulate. Please note that the DD must be obtained from a public sector bank only and not from any cooperative bank.

  • One Passport size photograph in matt format. One photograph has to be pasted on the Visa application form.

  • Your passport, the period of its validity must cover a major period of your proposed stay in USA preferably not less than six months.

  • Reports (in original copy) of your score in the relevant entrance tests such as GMAT/GRE/TOEFL/SAT.
  • Latest Degree/Mark Sheets.
  • Evidence of financial support as described below.
  • If financial assistance has been awarded by the university, but not mentioned in the I-20, you must enclose the letter from the university offering you such assistance.
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If your sponsor (namely the person who guarantees to give you financial support during your studies in USA) is in Pakistan, you will need the following documents:
  • Sponsor's bank account statement showing the availability in cash of the funds required to cover the expenses mentioned on the I-20 form for the first year of study. (It will be advisable for you to take the pass-book also with you, in addition to a certificate by the bank manager on the bank's letter head certifying that Rs.xxxxx is available in the bank account as on the day of the certificate.

  • An affidavit of support on a stamped paper for the sponsor promising to bear the costs of your program for the entire duration of your stay in the US. The document must have been signed in the presence of a Notary Officer and attested by him.

  • A certificate of verification of your sponsor's financial resources by a registered Chartered Accountant. This statement should indicate that your sponsor has the means to support you during the entire duration of your stay in the US. All original documents for the sources mentioned in the statement of the Chartered Accountant should be brought along to the consulate for verification.

  • If the sponsor is in the US, the following documents must be provided Form I-134 (available at INS offices in the US which your sponsor will be able to get Bank Account statement of your sponsor.

  • His/her salary statement.

  • If the sponsor is in a country that is neither Pakistan nor the US, the following documents should be submitted.
  • Affidavit of support by signed by the sponsor.
  • Bank account of your sponsor showing the availability of funds for the entire period of study.
  • His/her salary statement
The decision on your Visa application will be communicated to you immediately after the visa interview is over. If the decision is to grant you the Visa, you will have to pay a visa fee. This can be remitted in cash in Pakistani rupees at the cash counter in the Consulate. So, you must take this money with you. If you wish to obtain a Multiple-Entry Visa, you will have to pay a higher amount as Visa fees.

Another popular method adopted by consulate is "Drop Box where the applicant has to place all the relevant documents in a box and the consulate officer will conduct the enquiry and if granted the documents along with Visa and the passport is couriered to a designated address.
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Should the candidate fix up a prior appointment for applying for the visa?
No. The consular office opens at 7.30 a.m. (Monday to Friday, except Public holidays) to receive applications and you can visit the office on any of these days with all the required documents, and make your application. (Since the Consular office can process only a limited number of applications per day, it will be in your interest to reach the consular office as early as you can (say by around 6.30) to file your application. (There is, however, no need for you to sleep overnight near the gate of the office.) Mondays and Fridays are usually more crowded than the other weekdays.

How long does a Visa interview last?
Not more than 3 minutes normally but in extreme conditions upto 15 minutes, though you may have to wait in the Consular Hall for over 2 hours before you turn comes.

Nowadays, this waiting time has been considerably reduced, as the consular offices have started a new method to accept and return the Visas. After a scheduled interview all your documents including the passport will be returned by courier within 3 days at the latest. This facility will allow you to come back after your interview while the passport will be returned to you by courier.
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How long does the Consular Office usually take to give decision on the application?
If your documentation is complete, the decision on your application will be communicated to you immediately after the interview is over. If there is any deficiency in your documentation, or if the Consular Officer requires you to produce additional information or documentary evidence you may be asked to come again with the required additional information. The decision, in this case, will be given on the day of your second appearance. The Visa interview is usually held in the morning and the Visa is issued by around 4 p.m.

What are the reasons for which F-1 Visa is usually refused?
The following are the reasons for which the Visa applications are normally rejected: 
  • The candidate has not presented all the necessary documents as proof of evidence. The Consular Officer himself/herself will ask you to come back with a fresh application with the additional documents. If you produce the additional information required your application will be re- considered.

  • The candidate's passport is invalid, or is otherwise not in order and this should be rectified under the new procedure, Pakistani passports are issued for a period of 15 years. So, if you are going to get your passport only hereafter, there should be no problem in this regard.

  • The candidate's has not demonstrated sufficient financial means to support his/her student in USA.

  • The applicant has been purported as being a potential immigrant.
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Note: It is your responsibility to prove to the Consular officer that you or your sponsor such as parent has the required resources and is committed to financing your education. You have not only to demonstrate that the first year's requirement of funds is available with you or your sponsor in the form of ready cash in a bank and also prove that the additional requirements for the subsequent period of your proposed study is available in the form of cash or securities such as shares, company deposits etc that can be easily encashed, for which a (Chartered Accountant's certificate must be produced).
  • The mere fact that a US university has agreed to grant you admission does not preclude the Consular Officer from arriving at his/her own independent judgment on whether you are capable of pursuing a full time course of study in USA. This is one of the reasons why we (INTERFACE) discourages students with only 15 years of study from applying for admission for graduate studies in USA as they may face a hurdle at the consulate. Similarly, candidates whose academic performance has been rather poor in Pakistan (having received scores less than 50% in their college examinations) or whose GMAT/GRE scores are low, are also likely to fall under this category, even if they have managed to secure admission in a US university.

  • The candidate's real intention is to immigrate to US permanently rather than to study there temporarily.

  • Even if all the foregoing conditions are satisfied, the Consular Officer may still reject the visa application if he suspects that the applicant is a potential immigrant. This is not because the US Government does not want such a person to reach US at all but because a potential immigrant cannot be allowed to jump the queue and reach the US ahead of those of the same category who had registered earlier, just on the pretext of going there as a student (For example, a Pakistani girl, who has had a consistently good academic record in her studies so far, who has scored very high marks in GRE and TOEFL, and who has secured admission in a high ranking university with financial assistance, may still be refused an F-1 Visa if she has been engaged to or has just got married to a green card holder in USA. This is because she is a potential immigrant, and has to wait for her turn among potential immigrants of the same category. She can continue her studies in USA after she gets the immigrant Visa according to her own turn.)
The US Code of Federal Regulation States, "An applicant for a non-immigrant Visa shall be presumed to be an immigrant until the consular officer is satisfied that the application is entitled to be a non-immigrant status. The burden of proof is on the application to establish entitlement for non-immigrant status and the type of non-immigrant Visa for which the application is made"

The satisfaction of the Consular Officer is subjective and he arrives at his decision within a period of a few minutes on the basis of the documentary information you have given and the replies that you give to his questions.
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The following statements, if made by you in your application, will make the visa officer suspect that you are a potential immigrant:
  • If any of your close relatives (such as husband, wife, father/mother, brothers/sisters, prospective husband/wife) are either citizens of USA or are green-card holders, or are themselves as potential immigrants.

  • If a substantial part of the expenditure on your studies is going to be met by a relative or friend in USA or in some other foreign country. (This is because the USA authorities do not believe that any relative or friend will spend a large amount on y our education on a free basis, and therefore you will be obliged to return the money to them in dollars which you will be able to do only if take up employment in USA after the completion of your studies.
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  • In such cases, you should ask your relative/friend to send you the amount beforehand to Pakistan so that it is shown as part of your local resources. With the recent liberalization of grant of foreign exchange for higher studies, there will be no problem in your converting this amount back into dollars once you get the Visa. Since there should be no contradiction between what you state in your application for admission to the university and what you state in the Visa application form, do not mention in your application to the university that you will be financially supported by somebody either in the US or in any other foreign country, unless the sponsor is one of your parents).

  • If the amount that you propose to spend on further studies in USA (even if it comes from your own parents) is disproportionate to the benefit that you are likely to get. (For example, if you have received I-20 from a university where the annual tuition and cost of living is very high (say $15000 +$8000) resulting in your having to spend over Rs.13 lakhs on a two year graduate course or Rs.26 lakhs on a four-year undergraduate course, the Visa officer will think that such an investment will not be worthwhile if you return to Pakistan and take up a job even on a salary of Rs.10000 per month).

  • If the present family income is disproportionate to the amount that you propose to spend on your studies. (For example, if you report that the income of your father is Rs.4000 per month and the I-20 shows an expenditure of $12000 per annum, the Visa officer will suspect, even if your produce bank statements to prove that you have sufficient funds, that you cannot afford to incur such a huge expenditure if your intend to return to Pakistan after the completion of your studies).
This is one of the reasons why, in such cases, you must try to secure admission in universities where the cost of tuition and living costs are low. On the contrary, if you are able to show, through documentation and answers to oral questions that you have very strong family, economic, business and professional ties in Pakistan, the Consular officer may be satisfied that your intentions to return to Pakistan at the end of your studies.
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Instances of strong business ties
  • If you have a family business, and if you can show that your proposed higher studies which would benefit that business.

Instances of Strong Professional Ties
  • If you are being sponsored by your company for higher studies and the company gives a letter that your higher studies would benefit the business of the company and that you have signed a bond with them to work for them for a minimum period after your return (Such companies must be well known ones and must be having good reputation in the market. Such letters from small companies or private limited companies will not be of much use in your Visa process.)

Instance of Strong Family Ties
  • Your being the only child or your being one of just two or three children with both your parents and your siblings settled down in Pakistan.
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Instance of Strong Economic Ties
  • You possess considerable land and property in Pakistan
Even if all the foregoing conditions are satisfied, the Consular Officer may still reject the Visa application if he suspects that the applicant is a potential immigrant. This is not because the US Government does not want such a person to reach US at all, but because a potential immigrant cannot be allowed to jump the queue and reach US ahead of those of the same category who had registered earlier, just on the pretext of going there as a student.

Will taking a loan from a Bank in Pakistan jeopardize one's chances of getting a Visa?
Not necessarily as long as the amount taken as loan and the installments of repayment are not disproportionate to the salary that you are likely to get in Pakistan when your return to Pakistan after completing your studies in US.
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Dos and Don'ts during a Visa interview
A short note distributed by the "US Educational Foundation mentions the following Do's and Don'ts for the Visa applicants:
  • Remember that the issuance of a Visa is a privilege and not a right.
  • Have a clear and realistic educational or a career goal. Be prepared to state it at the interview if queried.
  • Do not give vague and general answers to questions that are asked.
  • Use the brief interview time to provide the specific information that would strengthen your application and prove family, economic and professional ties in Pakistan.
  • Do not misrepresent your career/educational objectives and specially your ties to Pakistan or the state of your financial resources.
  • Do not try to memorize set of answers to questions you think may be asked.

Instances of valid statements of educational and career goals
  • I wish to secure an MS degree in Computer Engineering and work towards a Ph.D and take up a job either as professor in an Pakistani university or in an organization.

  • I wish to secure an MA in Economics, with special emphasis on Development Economics. I then wish to be a teacher or alternatively try to join an international organization such as the World Bank or Asian Development Bank.

  • My intention is to earn an MS degree in Veterinary Science, with emphasis on increase in milk production. This will give me opportunities to join big Milk co-operatives in Pakistan.

  • I want to specialize in cultivation of soybeans under tropical climate such as Pakistan and have therefore decided to do my Ph.D in Agriculture.
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Is it advisable to influence the US Embassy or Consulate through recommendations by politically or administratively important persons?
No. Visa decision cannot be influenced by anyone, however high and mighty he or she may be. On the contrary, trying to bring such influence may even jeopardize your getting the Visa on your merits.

Do not be taken in by any "consultant" or tout who claims that he has influence over the US Embassy or Consulate and can obtain the Visa for you.

What should I do if my Visa application is rejected?
  • If the application has been rejected for reasons that are rectifiable (such as incomplete documentation or discrepancy in passport entries or the validity of the passport not extending long enough), these can be rectified and a fresh application made.

  • If the application has been rejected for the reason that you have not shown sufficient financial means, providing additional proof of finance can also rectify this mistake.

  • If the application has been rejected for any other reason, you can appeal to a higher functionary in the Consular Office. The procedure of such appeal will be available in the Consular Office itself. The appeal will usually be heard on the same day or the next and a decision given thereafter.

  • Even if your first appeal is rejected, you can make a written second appeal with the required documents, without your having to appear in person before the appellate authority. We know of a number of cases in which students who have been denied visa twice earlier were granted the Visa in pursuance of the written appeal. Therefore, you should try this possibility also if it becomes necessary.

  • Do not be nervous when you go for the Visa interview. Remember that there is a shortage of technical manpower of superior standards in USA and in spite of the seemingly difficult Visa formalities, the US government in fact wants persons with talent of high caliber to go for higher studies in USA and then take up jobs there so as to make positive contributions to its economy. So, if you have such credentials, you stand a very good chance of securing the Visa.

  • Even if one your close relatives in USA or any other foreign country is willing to extend financial support for your studies in USA, it is preferable for him/her to send you funds required for the first year to Pakistan once you get a favorable decision on admission and before you go for the Visa interview. This will enable you to tell the Consular officer that you have the sufficient financial resources in Pakistan itself to meet your expenses.

  • Showing a distant relative such as uncle/aunt/cousin etc. as a sponsor can also lead to problems at the visa interview, because US authorities would not normally believe that anyone other than one's own parents or a brother would spend lakhs of rupees on your education. Therefore, even if your uncle is willing to help you financially, it is advisable that he transfers the money in your name a couple of months before you go for the Visa interview, and you show it as your own.

  • Some universities insist that at the time you submit your application for admission, you should also produce a certificate from your bank that you or your sponsor have sufficient funds to meet your expenses for the full course of study. Other universities may ask for such a certificate only after they take a decision to grant you admission but before issuing the I-20 form to you. The form of the certificate is usually prescribed by the university itself and will be bound in the application form. Otherwise, you can get the certificate from your bank manager in the following form on the letterhead of the bank, with the seal of the bank.
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Printing Errors in the Visa
  • Generally the candidate is asked to submit the passport,  the correction details along with a self addressed envelope in which the passport is returned to you. It is advised that the candidates takes personal care to see that all the information pertaining to visa is accurate and is properly validated. Any change in the Visa can be endorsed within 30 days of the date of issue failing which the applicant has to make a fresh request and and pay the prescribed fees.
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