Bureaucrazy: How To Get Your Visa to The US of A

pink-typewriterRemember how I said I was in the visa procedure some weeks ago? Guess what, I still am! The visa procedure must be the absolute triumph of modern bureaucracy. You get lost in dozens of forms with difficult names (DS-160 anyone?) coming from many different places, spend hours figuring out what needs to be done exactly and have a hole in your wallet before even having any guarantee you’ll get that precious little piece of paper.

So, for everyone who is thinking of moving to the U. S. of A I thought I’d provide an illustration of what the visa procedure is like. Here are 67636 (okay 6) steps to getting your visa for the Land of Dreams…

Like I wrote before, there are different ways to getting a Green card (visa that allows you to work in the US). You can marry an American, invest a lot of money in an American company or become a model, for example. If you’re at national celebrity level, you can also get the O visa that is handed out especially for talented people.

But if you, like me, are not rich, size 0 and tall, or willing to marry a random Joe Obese you’ll have to try something else.

I chose to try for an F1 student visa. That way you can stay in the U.S.A. as long as you study full-time. You won’t be allowed to work there but oh well, who knows how things go. The visa procedures for getting an internship or full-time job are much alike, so here it goes:

Step 1: Get an Institution in the US to Make a Request 
This can be a school or company. The thing is that they have to file a request, you can not do this yourself. And before they do so, there is a load of paperwork you have to get through. If you want to study you have to apply for a college or University, which requires an average of 30 pages of paperwork. If you have a company that wants you, they have to prove that an American can’t do the same job.

Lots of procedures end here, because schools are really expensive and selective and employers have a hard time proving Josie Yank can’t do your job.

Step 2: Get That Request Form to You
If you’ve been accepted by a school or your company could prove that John Patriot couldn’t do the job, you’re in! All you have to do now is get a start date and get the signed request form (called I-20 for students) to your home country. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Well, in my case it wasn’t.

I thought my start date would be close to the start date of the first semester, the 29th of August. However, all of a sudden I needed to do an intro course at the college, at the beginning of August! That meant a ticket in high season, a month extra of living expenses in LA, being in the USA on my birthday (17th) and most of all: a month less with friends and family. I wasn’t pleased, but had no choice.

So I signed up for the intro course, and waited for my I-20 form to come. It didn’t. I called the college, they would leave a note…It took about 4 more calls and a million pounds of frustration before I finally received the form.

Step 3: Make an Appointment at the Consulate
Once you’ve received your form and it’s been signed by both you and the requester, you have to make a call to get an appointment with the Consulate for an interview. This call costs you about $15 before you even speak to anyone. Pay with credit card, please.

By this point you have paid probably about $85 for your school application, $50 for having the request form sent to you and another $80 for required intro courses, seminars and what not.

But you’re not even halfway through the costs…

Step 4: Fill in More Forms!
Before you can go on an interview you need to complete a so called DS-160 form online. It takes about 2 hours and you need to enter everything from your mother’s date of birth to contact details of a non-family person who can prove your existence to your employment history for the last 5 years.

Then you need to print out that form and start collecting for documentation for the interview. You see, the whole point of the interview is that you can prove:
A) That you will return to your home country
B) That you can prove who you are and most importanly: that you can pay

So what do you need? Official bank statements, high school diploma’s, passports, employment contracts, a letter from your employer, a rental agreement, a signed I-20, a US sized pass photo (5x5cm), the list goes on…

Also, don’t forget to pay the SEVIS fee (sea fish?) of $250 and a reciprocity fee of $120 (how is it reciprocal, when do I get mine?)You can still pay at the consulate when you haven’t paid enough. However, if you’ve paid to much they have no “means” of refunding.

Step 5: Do the Interview!
I sometimes (in the shower) pretend I’m a successful actress and am being interviewed by David Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel. This is not that interview. You basically need to provide documentation and answer questions about your ties to your home country.

You also have to provide a stamped envelope so that when Patty Penpusher and company do decide to give you a visa, they can send it to you for free.

Step 6: Get Entry to the US
So, you’ve gotten through in interview round and receive your visa 3 days later. Nothing can go wrong now. Unless homeland security thinks you’re fishy and they decide to deny you access. That’s right. Uncle Clarence Customs can deny you access when you’re already in the American airport. Especially if you don’t have a return ticket.

So, sounds like fun doesn’t it? Honestly though, 90% of the people do get their visa and can go on their adventures. And there’s a great likelihood that you and I can too. But it doesn’t come for free.

You’ll be overwhelmed by a lot of information, spend hours figuring things out and your wallet will be ever so light afterwards. But if that’s what it takes to follow your dreams, who even doubts doing it? So if you think about going, I hope this will help at least a bit!

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22 thoughts on “Bureaucrazy: How To Get Your Visa to The US of A

  1. Bless you for doing it legally! There are so many who are in the U.S. now who have not done so, and it is very frustrating for citizens and visitors who follow the rules (as difficult as those rules may be!). I married my husband in India, and we had to go through much of the same kind of hurdles and horrible interviews in order to get him entry here. So, I bow to you who do it right, also. Your good karma will be repaid to you, I am sure!
    cheers,
    Lin

    • You are very right, I’ve met many people who have married someone to get into the US. Usually they then offered the person a lot of many. My landlord also got offered money a couple of times if he would marry someone.

      It’s crazy, but it’s the government’s own fault. They’re being quite impossible I think.

  2. Hey!

    This is so interesting, good luck ! But I was wondering… on http://www.usastudentvisa.org, it says that:

    “You may be legally authorized to work in the United States while on a F-1 student visa.”

    doesn’t that mean that you would be allowed to work while youre in the states on your student visa? :)

    • I think you can work only on campus. If you want to work outside, you have to prove that you have financial difficulties or something. However, the system is quite complicated, so I can say for sure :-)

      • Sorry for misleading information, just read the right thing on the official web-site :-)
        A student can’t work off-campus during the first year of studies. Later on, he or she should authorize any off-campus work with the immigration officer. Not that simple, but at the same time still possible.

    • Hi, I have received my I-20 and it clearly states that you can only work on campus. The problem however is that there are very limited on-campus jobs. So I would think that the site you mention is incorrect. You can always try for different arrangements of course, but it’s not smart to do that before you receive your student visa because it might raise suspicion.

  3. Love reading your blog, even though I don’t know you, I really hope you’ll make it in LA. You seem very talented and smart! Good luck with everything! I’m looking forward to your next post^^!

  4. Just because you can’t “work” in the US your first year, there are MANY MANY ways you can earn cash while you’re there, that are better ways in my opinion. You can freelance, work as a consultant, work online, you can sell stuff on Ebay, you can start a small home-based business, lots and lots of stuff. Getting a “job” should be the LAST thing a visitor with skills and talents should be looking to do to make some quick cash. So don’t sweat it, you’ll do fine, we’ve already talked about the things you can do in regards to making some cash while you’re out there.

  5. Ah man, I remember trying to get my visa for an exchange semester in the States. For crying out loud IT SUCKED BALLS! I spent so much money and time and precious free time to get it sorted. I got the UVA and the ISEP program to “sponsor” me. But the process before I could get sponsored also took about a month or 2. Good times. Jobs are hard to come by when on campus, but if you’re going to a huge school I think they can arrange something for you. You’re not going on an exchange are you? You’re going all in?! Damnnn de amerikaanse scholen kennende gaat dat echt belachelijk veel kosten of niet?! Ik ben bijzonder gefascineerd door je avontuur meis haha.

    • Haha, it does suck balls. It sucks the life right our of you! And how cool to hear from you!

      I’m not going in an exchange program no, because I was done with Psychology and wanted to do something more creative. And it does cost a ridiculous amount of money, I’ve been working full-time for about a year to be able to finance it! And I might still come up short!

  6. I went through this too, been to USA as an aupair – I wanted to learn English first and I tried to figure out how to stay there, not having to marry someone. I wanted to apply for college and study acting, but I wasn’t able to manage that financially. I can totally empathize with your frustration, I’ve spent hours, days, weeks trying to figure out the whole immigration b*****t.
    One thing that I’ve learned in L.A., though, it is a disadvantage to go there unless you have an impressive resume or training as the competition is quite mental. OR you need to be somehow unique and then it doesn’t matter that much. Which you totally are, being Dutch – use it for good to make you stand out, don’t get too americanized or let anyone shy you away telling you you have to fit in. No way, you gotta shine outta the croud. Can’t wait to hear about your first steps settling down there. Best luck! xx

    • Hi Lenka, so lovely to hear your experience and that I’m not the only one who can’t seem to make the way between all the visa crap. And financially it’s exhausting definitely. I had to work full time for en entire year to be able to finance just a part of my education.

      Your statement that you need a strong resume or education in LA really has me thinking, because I have neither. However, I still met with an agent two times who told me both times that they were interested in representing me. I might try to learn a bit more before I go auditioning though. But how did you learn that? When did you go to LA? Tell me more!x

    • Hey! Your blog is amazing, its really comforting to hear someone elses experiences and how you go through the same stuff whenever having to explain to someone that you want to be an actress.
      My dream is to move to the States as well. I’m planning on doing so with a friend of mine. I’m just kind of lost on how to get permission to stay and work there. You say you chose the student visa.. So you’re gonna study? Where? And if you’re not allowed to work with the student visa, how are you gonna become an actress? How did you get an institution in the US to make a request??

      Thank you so much for this blog, its calming me down a bit (but also stressing me out, lol! But in a good I-wanna-get-started-now kinda way ;) )

      Emilie

  7. Yesterday I replied to your comment on my blog http://lenkasactingjourney.blogspot.com/
    Shared two golden sources for surviving in L.A. that I was lucky enough to bump into and even though I have decided to come back to Europe, move to London and audition for drama schools, I’ve learned a lot during my time in USA. Certainly an experience of my life.
    I’ve unfolded parts of my US story on my blog. :)

  8. Firstly lemme say thank you, your site is so informative, a must see for any actor! I thought the audition tapes you posted were amazing!!! One question, I’ve heard that when u are studying in the states you are allowed to work in the field in which you are studying, therefore as actors we would be allowed to audition and take on jobs. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is not, how likely is it for you to get working permission on your visa? I mean one of the perks of going to LA is that you can audition for the best oppurtunities in the world!

    • Hi Lamar, thanks for reading! I hope you keep enjoying and leaving your thoughts here! As far as I know, you can do up to half a year of “practical training” in your field of study on a student visa in the US of A. So if you complete an accredited theater school, you can go and do auditions for half a year. For me that won’t fly since I won’t be studying acting, because I can’t afford the acting schools. There are ways to get a working visa though, for example through a print agent. I’ll have to wait and see!

  9. Pingback: How to Stay in LA Longer Than 90 Days | Stars in the Eyes Actress Blog

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