Simon Willison’s Weblog

How I obtained my US Visa

I received my J-1 Visa for 11 months in the US this morning, accompanied by my certificate of eligibility for J-1 status. I promptly cut the certificate in half with a pair of scissors while opening the envelope, but a call to the Embassy has confirmed that it’s still valid and will still get me in to the country.

I’m going to describe the application process I followed here, because the information on the official site can be a bit confusing. These tips apply to University students who are UK citizens and wish to take a (paid) industrial placement in the United States as part of their degree course. This is what I had to do; your circumstances may differ, and no garauntees are made as to the accuracy of this information. This information is likely to be of very limited interest to anyone not planning to take an industrial placement in the USA.

I applied for a J-1 academic visa, which is a Nonimmigrant visa specifically designed for educational visitors. Nonimmigrant means you aren’t planning to move to the States permanently. In order to qualify for a J-1 visa you need to by a member of an officially approved program sponsored by an educational or other nonprofit institution. I went with AIPT. The first part of the application process involved the company I am training with contacting AIPT, followed by a whole bunch of forms and a registration fee.

We paid an express processing fee and waited only a few weeks, but without the fee it could have taken longer. AIPT then sent me the key to my visa application, a DS-2019 form entitled “Certificate of eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status”. This was one of three forms which I had to present at the US Embassy in London.

The single most important thing to know is this: You cannot turn up at the Embassy without an appointment! I nearly missed this detail and went down to London without one, which would have been a wasted trip. You make an appointment by calling the Embassy’s live operator service, currently on 09055-444-546 and charged at £1.30/minute. As far as I know there is no other way of booking an appointment.

My appointment was set for 9am on a Friday morning, approximately 3 weeks after I made the call. A few days after making the call I received an envelope in the mail with full instructions on what I needed to bring to the Embassy. This included the DS-2019 form mentioned previously, plus forms DS-156, DS-157 and DS-158 (all of which were included in the envelope; they can also be filled out and printed online). I also needed a valid UK passport, a 2 inch square colour photograph, a self addressed Royal Mail special delivery envelope, proof that I had paid the visa application fee and documents to support the fact that I wasn’t planning to move to the US permanently as an illegal immigrant. I used a letter from my University confirming I would be entering the final year of my degree in 2004. The letter also mentioned that I needed “confirmation that your admission has been entered into the SEVIS database” but as far as I can tell this was covered by the DS-2019 form sent by AIPT.

The forms turned out to be the easy part; the hard part was obtaining the photo, payment proof and special delivery envelope. The envelope I bought from a post office or around £7. The photo I got from a specialist photographer on Oxford Street (Passport Photo Service) for £6—as far as I can tell the American 2 inch format is not available from passport photo machines. Additional details on the photograph as well as suggested suppliers are available on the Embassy website. Again, this information was included in the information sent by the Embassy. Finally, the proof of payment involved taking a form sent by the Embassy to a branch of Barclay’s bank (HSBC didn’t know how to process it) and paying the bank clerk a £67 fee.

My appointment was at 9.30am. I arrived at 9.10am (the closest tube station is Bond Street; do not go to Hyde Park corner as it’s a longer walk than you might think) and joined a huge queue of people waiting to get through security. I made it in to the Embassy just after 10am; luckily it seems that the security queues mean most people miss their appointment time and it’s not a problem if you do, but I still recommend arriving earlier than I did. Once inside, there was another queue to hand my documents over at a window. Then I sat down and waited for them to call my number. Once called, I was interviewed briefly at another window about what I would be doing in the States and a few personal details, then told that my visa had been approved and would be mailed to me in 7 to 10 working days. And that was it.

A final piece of advice: special delivery envelopes are tricky things. Open carefully and hopefully you won’t make the same mistake I did!

Repeated disclaimer for people coming in via a search engine: I am not a visa expert. This article describes the process I went through to get my J-1 academic visa in the hope that it will be useful to someone else trying to obtain the same thing, but for any visa application you need to do your homework, read your way around the official site and double check everything. Oh, and allow at least several months for the overall process.

This is How I obtained my US Visa by Simon Willison, posted on 7th October 2003.

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Previously hosted at http://simon.incutio.com/archive/2003/10/07/myVisa