A View From Behind the Glass: Student Visa Advice From a U.S. Visa Office

Posted by Monica Shie
March 21, 2012
Student Watches Screen in India

Over the last decade, nearly one million Indian students were granted visas to study in the United States. Every one of them appeared before an American visa officer for an interview. If you have applied for a U.S. visa, you too have come face-to-face with one of us. Have you ever wondered who the visa officers are that will approve or deny your visa?

When I was a child, I did not dream of becoming a visa officer when I grew up. Even as a young adult, first majoring in literature and then taking up teaching, it did not occur to me that I would one day sit on a high stool behind a glass window at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and adjudicate visas. But for the last nine months, I have been doing just that -- almost 100 interviews a day.

I mention this by way of reminding you that visa officers are people too. We come from a variety of backgrounds. We once were lawyers, teachers, IT professionals, even fire fighters. But at some point in our lives, we took the Foreign Service written test, passed the day-long oral exam, and, after extensive training, became diplomats. Most of us are on our first or second tours.

We joined the Foreign Service because we are interested in other cultures. Most of us are here because we chose to come to India. We visit the Taj Mahal; we read Chetan Bhagat's novels; we watch Delhi Belly; we love butter chicken. We want to be here, and we enjoy talking with you.

A lot of us studied Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, or Bengali for several months before we came to India so that we can conduct interviews with applicants who do not speak English. We might not be fluent or flawless, but we can ask a few basic questions: What is the purpose of your travel? Who do you know in America? How long do you plan to stay? Usually, we can understand the answers; when we do not, we ask our Indian colleagues to translate.

Every day in New Delhi, eight or nine officers interview hundreds of people seeking visas to the United States. Because we try to serve as many applicants as we can, the interviews are quite short -- only two to three minutes. A lot of the information that we need is already there in your application, but we like to hear from you, personally, about your travel plans. Sometimes, visa applicants bring stacks of documents, and they seem disappointed when we do not look at all that paperwork. But the idea of a personal interview is to speak with you face-to-face -- not to examine documents.

Our job is to uphold the law. Sometimes that means denying a visa. If you apply for a tourist visa, but we get the idea from the interview that you are really going to work at your uncle's pizza shop, then we will not issue the visa. Students who only apply to one school and cannot explain their choice are also unlikely to be granted a visa. It is important that your intentions match your visa category.

Many visa applicants pay consultants to prepare their applications. Although some consultants might provide helpful information, many do not. Remember that you alone are responsible for the accuracy of the information in your application. False information on the application or fake document packages could result in permanent ineligibility.

If you are a student, we expect you to be credible and qualified. You should be prepared to talk about why you chose the university that you plan to attend, and you should be able to explain how you will pay for your studies. It should be easy for us to believe that you will finish the degree at the institution you have selected, and we must be convinced that full-time study is the primary purpose of your travel.

It is best to apply early, but not before you have heard from your first-choice school. (Your visa will be annotated with the name of the school listed on your I-20 form at the time of your interview.) You can apply for a visa up to 120 days before your program is scheduled to begin. However, you may not enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the report date for your course. If you are applying for graduate work, be sure to apply as early as you can, as sometimes administrative processing is required that might delay the issuance of your visa.

Nearly 104,000 Indians are currently studying in the United States. Like you, they were nervous when they faced the American visa officer behind the glass. The situation, admittedly, does not put one at ease. However, if you know yourself to be a credible, qualified student, then you should have nothing to worry about. Take a deep breath, relax, and remember that the person behind the glass is there to help you. We are regular people too -- just like you.

For free and accurate information about how to apply for a U.S. visa, please visit the U.S. Embassy New Delhi website or the Department of State Travel site.



Pablo M.
March 22, 2012

Pablo in Spain writes:

I have received an email from the US Department of State saying that I have won the Diversity visa Lottery and asking me to send money via Western Union to an agent of the U.S.Embassy in London (Name Sandy Batty; address: 25 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 2LQ). It is clear to me that it is a scam, although it is well constructed and uses the logo of the USA.gov and of the U.S. Department of State.

I have not found in your web how to report such a scam, so I use this blog to report it. I understand the scam is made against non-US citizens, but since it is on your behalf I think you should be informed. Hope you catch the bad guys. Sincerely,


Ohio, USA
March 22, 2012

Abdul S. in Ohio writes:

Monica, Very well written...the part i liked the most is 'and remember that the person behind the glass is there to help you. We are regular people too -- just like you.'

Thanks for sharing this...

Hayford A.
March 22, 2012

Hayford A. in Ghana writes:

Thanks man,for enlightening us on things like this.most of us are ignorant about how to apply for the US visa;making a lot of people go through a lot of ordeal in the hands of people.thanks Mr Benjamin.

Ayman M.
March 22, 2012

Ayman Elsayed M. in Egypt writes:


March 26, 2012

S.S. in India writes:

Monica I agree with your statement to some extent "We are regular people too -- just like you". But the thing is that you guys don't put yourself in our shoes and definitely have pre-disposition towards visa denial unless the student is going to one of the top 10 universities. I have never heard a case of a student who is going to University of Southern California is denied a F-1 visa. I have been denied visa twice for going to polytechnic university of NYU even with a scholarship of 7000 $ annually, so how does this sound. Does this sounds like bye bye India I ain't coming back here.

All I wanted was higher education to make my folks life and my life a litter better and comfortable but which now we have been denied that opportunity all thanks to US Embassy at New Delhi. I had applied to 8 universities out of which I got admit to 3 universities do you guys really think we Indians have of cash which drooling out of our pockets. Applying to 8 US universities requires quite a money which is hard to get by which you might have noticed if you are hard earner like us. Now I feel sorry for my parents who blindly agreed to spend 100000 for applying to US universities including GRE preparation and paying for the exam all of which went down the drain or should I say paying for your salaries.Let me ask you a question of all the students who went to US for higher studies how many of them have come back after finishing their studies to India or their home country. So why put up this farce of taking visa interview which doesn't even make sure that he/she is truthfully going to US for study purpose only. Now you guys must have been thinking look buddy we don't really care if you're poor or rich, we got your money now buzz off, let other sucker behind you come in.

Do you think by reading chetan bhagat novels, visiting taj mahal and munching on butter chicken will help you get to know us better, sorry buddy you're greatly mistaken. Does everyone or just anyone has the courage to apply for higher education in US:NO, is it a child's play to convince parents to send us to foreign land to study and spend their life earnings on us: NO. It is nothing short of moving the mountains to convince them but what would you know "You are regular people too -- just like us"

Ayanfodun s.
March 26, 2012

Ayanfodun S. in Nigeria writes:

Wat r u doing to all dis fraudster using ur site.cause a message was sent to mi dat i won greecard lottery and at end weget to know it is not real.i was ask to pay $410 to one embasy agent .sir fie solution to di U.S is more dan a state to destroy.

Elikem D.
United States
March 24, 2012

Elikem Fred D. in the U.S.A. writes:

I am now going to apply for the visa coming this fall so i need help.

Michael S.
March 25, 2012

Michael S. in Egypt writes:

Hello Monica ,

First of all I'd like to thank you that you talked in this issue , Most of people see that the USA Consular Officers are very mysterious and they don't give direct information that really helps and somethings like this . By this article I think you begin to break this attitude .

I am Michael S. ,23 years old from Egypt and I've just finished the 6th year in the faculty of medicine . Just I will tell you my story with the US Embassy and I will feel great if you replied and explained this to me .

From 3 years ago I applied to WAT program and I signed a contract with the place I was going to and I did online interview with the manager and accepted me so everything was ok , Then I went to the embassy with documents from my college that I have still 3 years of study and I must come back to continue it and documents indicate that I have money and apartments to live in and everything and They refused me without explaining anything !!

The second time was in this year after finishing my 6th year of study and I have an obligatory year of training here without it I can't practice medicine in Egypt so I also have to come back and last year I traveled to London last year and this year I wanted to visit USA so I applied again and I showed him all things and proves that I will not work there and don't need to and I will come back and I have to !! .. but he also refused me !!

Really I am upset of this and I don't know why this happens , Now I have really negative impression about this .. I hope that you got my message and I hope that you take your decisions in more accurate manner .

Thanks In advance .

best regards ,


Nayeem Z.
March 26, 2012

Nayeem Adnan Z. in Bangladesh writes:

Being a Bangladeshi student I'm interested to get I20.Can you help me about the matter?

March 26, 2012

Walid in Algeria writes:

I am honored to send you this inquiry, I'm obtained a Bachelor of Laws, I have one year of experience in the administration I also study lawyer.

I want to travel to America to study and develop myself. What's the best way to get a visa?

Yours Faithfully.

March 26, 2012

Nadia in Algeria writes:

I have visited the USA as a turist 3 years ago .I want to go to study there but I didn't get the visa again, I am a teacher and I want to teach at the university in Algeria so I need to have a high degree in the USA.I am 50 years old.
Is my age a problem to study in the USA UNIVERSITY?

March 27, 2012

Joy in Nigeria writes:


I received an email from the U.S department of state telling me that i have won diversity visa lottery. They also ask me to pay the sum of 410 dollar via western union transfer to the following addres; 25 Grosvenor sqare, London W1A 2LQ (account name; Sandy Batty). Is this real or scam?

Slaven B.
March 28, 2012

Slaven B. in Croatia writes:

I need help money. I offer much. I offer All things but heavy showing end explaining. I borrow money for travel in London U.S. Ambasy bacause am I poor man end I ve stucked in my past end stayed with out money. I have problem bu I resolving all problems in United States. I have projectes big amount.

El B.
Georgia, USA
March 30, 2012

Hadji B. in Georgia (U.S.A.) writes:

I remember my interview with the U.S. consular...I would have expected to be interviewed by a visa officer but maybe that day the embassy must have been short-staffed.

Anyhow, it was a very interesting experience because the interview process was very thorough and every question was pertinent.

It is really helpful to be fluent in English before showing for a visa interview: that is also part of the process to realize every detail involved in flying to the United States.

The interviewer gives you different scenarios that you may have not thought of before engaging in the journey. Preparation is everything so as a candidate you have to be able to only answer each question in a satisfactory manner but also express yourself clearly and logically.

Personally, I think that my interviewer that day helped me in many ways: he helped me grasp how many changes I would have to get ready for...and also gave me many pointers on ensuring a smooth process from visa proceedings to arrival in the United States.

The visa process is grueling and has a lot of requirements, but if one is able to provide all the documentation and the financial support necessary for the trip then the result will be positive.

Madan P.
April 3, 2012

Madan P. in Nepal writes:

Hello Monica,

Really Impressed by your information and explaining about the system and people who approve the visa. in fact truth, as most of the student try their luck without knowing the real situation and most of them try it using one of the consultancy around but they never understand most of them just pretends to provide real info and only some of them can provide the real info. as being the student and travel entrepreneur my suggestion to all the student is to go and ask assistance in nearest Embassy or study center of US government so you could have clear idea and find your University of your Choice so you could get fruitful result in Future.

Cheers to Life !!!

Abhisar D.
April 4, 2012

Abhisar D. in India writes:


what an article!! really pleased to hear from visa officer. Now i am sure and confident that i'll definitely got my visa when i want to.

Piyush P.
April 6, 2012

Piyush P. in India writes:

As i have allways belived that the truth path of appearance with right knowledge allways leads you to trust passed verification.

Though i am not a student in USA, but i am a business person travelling through various destinations of USA, i have travelled in USA in year 2000 and again i am travelling through USA in this year 2012, and according to my personal experiences US Consulate have allways trusted the right paths of Indian Citizens for their genuine visits to USA.


April 24, 2012

Himanshu in India writes:

from an indian prospective getting a visa to us as a student guarantee them a good career opportunity which anyone on this earth would like to have ,there might be 1 million indian students currently studying in us, but see how many had applied and got rejected, i think only indians with high intellect or wealth or both can study in us as tuition cost is very high.

May 4, 2012

Pranab Kumar D. in India writes:

the authority

sub;- to do field study of american culture


i am pranab kumar d. from india . i am very much impress about american culture and surprise that how it is developed ? i am doing ph.d from burdwan university from history department topic headed by cultural history of southern radha . though topic is not related to modern share with mordern american culture but i want to compare with those culture .

it is my priority to visit USA . but my problem is i cannot afford its expanses of staying .

so need sponsored ? how can i get ?

May 16, 2012

V.P. in Pakistan writes:

I would simply say in the beginning i though you post is very emotional but in the end i have concluded that this is the post i want to read today.. and i wont be searching anymore because you solve my problem in real manner...Yes Students should look like student and talk like students...thanks a lot

August 3, 2012

Mira in India writes:

I'm passing this on to my niece. Quite kind of you to have written this.


Florida, USA
August 9, 2012

Nupur in Florida writes:

Hi Monica,

It's been a while since I had my visa interview, however, I clearly remember the experience as if it happened yesterday. I was not so much nervous as I was curious about the questions the visa officer would ask me. However, this was because I had interacted with foreigners before so the concept was not alien to me. I think most students would freeze up speaking with foreigners since they never had the opportunity to do so before.

I learnt from this article that the visa officers have an interest in the culture which places them appropriately at the brink as a result of this job.

The next time I have an interview, I will be sure to ask the visa officer a few questions!

Shikhar G.
September 20, 2012

Shikhar G. in India writes:

Nice article! I had two questions :

1. I applied to Musicians Institute, Hollywood which was my first choice school and got through so I didn't bother applying anywhere else. Will this count against me?

2. This might sound strange, but my mother told me to cut my hair before the interview lest they think I am a junkie. Do they really judge guys who have long hair? I really don't want to part with them.

October 17, 2012

Agnes writes:

This is the best website ever!!!

Autumn D.
December 18, 2012

Autumn May D. in Canada writes:

Well, this post was really a big help for those who want to get student visa. I agree that it is not easy to get a visa. Anyway, thanks for sharing this post. Looking forward for your next one.

March 31, 2013

Very useful blog. I have a problem related to this. You might be able to help. I have been admitted for 5 years PHD in Indiana(Fall,2013). But my passport is valid till 2018 and not 2019(required). What should I do as in order to get the visa, I need to have a valid passport till 2019. Please help.


Sheila A.
May 4, 2013

Sheila A. in India writes:

That was a reassuring article to read. I have been before the Visa officer twice, the first time to get my Visitor's visa and the second time to renew it. Both interviews were a pleasant experience. Would like to thank the Visa officers for the good experience. Many of us in my family have US Visas and we all had a very good experience. Two weeks ago, my nephew applied for his Student visa and got it.

Your article was very motivating. Thank you.

Michigan, USA
April 23, 2013

Deepali in Michigan writes:

What you said is true, but every person applying for tourist visa does not wish to stay back. They have a life where they are staying, they own properties and have investments but may still wish to attend a son's graduation or visit daughter for a couple of months. Person even with both children in states does not wish to stay back,but they are rejected visas just because they are a widow,do no work and children in us and not even bothering to see financial document.

May 4, 2013

Siddhartha in India writes:

Is the gre score definitely a criteria for getting visa?


Latest Stories