( Note: This is for First Time US Visa Applicants. This guide has been written by keeping Indian Seafarers in mind; however, many points remain the same for applicants of most of the countries. Do check your respective country’s visa application guidelines or visit websites mentioned in the article below for related information.)
Over the years, the US Visa has become an essential part of a seafarer’s portfolio. A valid US Visa has become synonymous with an application for employment in most shipping companies.
Come to think of it, it is indeed quite an important document (and not without reason); owing to the strict procedure of applying and getting interviewed for the American visa, it shows credibility on the individual’s behalf when applying for a job.
Also, the frequency of vessels trading in the United States being high, a document such as that becomes imperative for a seafarer to possess. Apart from the obvious advantage of being allowed shore leave, a US Visa also comes handy in the event of a medical emergency.
Without the possession of a valid visa, going for a medical checkup costs the company a huge amount of money (an armed guard has to be hired followed by verification at the department of Homeland Security). It is a cumbersome process that causes unnecessary discomfort to both; the individual, as well as the company. So why not put a little effort into obtaining a document that’ll only be advantageous to a seafarer?
Usually, the process of obtaining the visa is portrayed to be a very troublesome process by most. Rare instances of being declined a visa catches the attention of the individual which results in no effort in applying in the first place. However, coming from experience, it is safe to say that it is a very organized and well thought out process, made to keep the nature of it as simple as possible. If one reads the given data on screen, and fills up all the information true to his knowledge, there’s nothing that should come in the way of the seafarer getting his visa. So let’s get started with the application process:
1. Apply for a Visa: This page should be bookmarked in your web browser because you’ll be needing it very frequently in the days of the application process (click yes if its your first time). Remember that the seafarer’s visa is a C1DVisa that is Non Immigrant in nature.
2. Complete the DS 160 form: Once you’ve read the information carefully, it’s time to take the first step towards getting the visa; the DS 160 form. Guidelines to completing the DS 160 form must be read thoroughly before starting the process. Once convinced, it is time to start applying.
The DS 160 is a very simple form and requires no specific knowledge as such. Information to be supplied on the form is basic and the process to fill them out if mentioned very candidly.
On completion, recheck all your details two times to make sure that none of the provided info is incorrect. Once sure that there are no errors, go ahead and submit it. A completion form will be generated (‘The DS 160 Confirmation Page’). This ‘Confirmation Page’ is important and should be printed out; photocopies should also be made. This page will have to be shown during your biometrics and is also to be carried during the interview.
3. Book your VAC and payment: (Apply for US VISA here) Having completed your DS 160, it’s now time to book your Visa Application Center (biometrics venue), your interview center, your delivery/pick up address, and pay your visa fees ($ 160 currently for Indian Seafarers). Just read what is on the page and follow the step-by-step instructions to complete this very crucial process. Remember that payment can be made through a variety of options; however, wait for a day for the payment receipt code to get generated. Till this is generated, you cannot book your biometrics/interview time and venue. Be patient. Call the customer care via phone or Skype or email if that satiates your impatience! (If you make an online payment, you can call Bank of America’s helpline directly to obtain information of remittance). Once you’ve received the code, book your options. Accordingly, you’ll get an email with your appointment schedule; print that out and make copies.
4. Go to your VAC on the stipulated date: So now you’ve completed the cumbersome part of the application process. You have selected your venue and your timings for both processes. The first aspect is going for the biometrics at the selected place. Carry your original passport (mandatory; and a photocopy), your CDC (not mandatory; and a photocopy), your DS 160 confirmation page (mandatory; and a copy), your appointment letter (mandatory; and a copy). You’ll be briefed there and they will take your pictures, fingerprints etc. Be sure of your interview timing and date, as you will be asked. Once all formalities are done, your passport will be provided with a sticker; please DO NOT take it off! Take all your belongings and prepare for the final stage- the interview. Remember, no phones, lighters etc. are to be carried here.
5. The Interview: Much has been said about the visa interview, but it is no rocket science. If you’re well presented, on time, carrying all relevant documents, there’s no way a visa is going to be denied. Dress sharp, stay confident, it’s a visa interview that YOU have paid for! The main idea of the interview is to check your authenticity, and that you have strong ties to your home country. So carry all documents that reinforce that idea. Following documents should be carried (the list is subjective and not exhaustive):
- Passport (Original)
- CDC (Original)
- Company Employment Letter
- Sea Time certificates
- Bank Statements, Electricity bills etc. as added proof of your residence
- Other certificates from school/college etc. that you think will present your case to be authentic
Provided you answer your questions confidently, you will not be asked for anything but for the first three. Make sure to have a clear answer regarding your shipboard duties, your education (school as well as college), your last contract and sea experience overall, your date and port of joining as per your company letter. There’s no need to prepare per se; if you’re confident, thorough with yourself and your shipboard duties, you’re good to go!
At the end of the interview, the consular officer will tell you if you’re visa has been approved. Remember that a C1D visa can be clubbed together with a B1/B2 (10 year tourist visa). Ask him to consider you for that right at the start of the interview if you’re interested. If not, let it be.
If your visa is approved, you’ll receive an email and SMS on your given information regarding the collection of the passport. Most likely, you’ll have to go to the VAC to collect it. Make sure to call the helpline in advance to know the timings for a passport to be collected.
Getting a US Visa is no big deal as it is made out to be. If you just follow procedure and be direct, there is no way you’ll be rejected what’s rightfully yours!
All the very best !
Do you feel we are missing any important point? Let us know in the comments below.
Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.