Adventures at the embassy

Yesterday I paid a visit to the American Embassy in Stockholm to apply for a work permit visa to USA. I had been googling a bit to try to find out what would actually happen there but the only information I could find was various sites for people in India applying for visas. Including example questions like “When do you plan to return to India?” So I’d thought I would describe the visa process I went through so that other people from Sweden (and probably the rest of western Europe) maybe can find this in the future.

The visa I have applied for is an H1B non immigrant visa. It’s not a green card and doesn’t lead to American citizenship. It’s for temporarily being able to live and work in the United States. (H1B on Wikipedia)

The first step is that the employer, Google in my case, must petition for the visa. In my case that meant that I sent a copy of my passport, my university diploma and my resume to Google. They in turn handed it to an attorney that made the petition on Google’s behalf to USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). With the petition they sent a letter describing what a fantastic human being I am and how important I would be for Google’s future success. They also sent a paper from a company that had looked at my university diploma and translated that into something that makes sense to an American. (For some reason KTH is not widely known in the US 😉 )

When USCIS had made up their mind they sent a paper with the approval to Google. A “I-797B, Notice of Action”, which in turn was sent over to me with FedEx. USCIS also sent a notification to the American Embassy in Stockholm.

At this point I had thought that I could just go to the embassy and they would put the visa in my passport. But that turned out not to be the case. I now had to apply for the visa on the embassy’s web site and book an interview. When applying for the visa I had to fill out a long form called DS-160. (The form is filled in online.) It had questions like where my parents live, what schools I have attended, what countries I have visited the last five years etc.

When the form was filled in I could book an interview. The first available time slot was September 9, almost a month later. Then I realized I had written my third given name as “Gosta” instead of “Goesta” as it says in the passport. So I had to submit another DS-160 and book a new interview time. This time I got September 14. Darn…

To the interview you need to bring a whole bunch of stuff.

  • The confirmation of the submitted DS-160, which has a bar code on it.
  • My passport
  • A photograph for the visa that must be 2 inches by 2 inches. The normal Swedish passport photos you can get in machines here and there are not good enough. There are photo shops where they have this as a special service.
  • A receipt from the bank that I had paid the visa fee of 1200 SEK.
  • A self addressed envelope with 65 kr in stamps on it.
  • An extra fancy “personbevis” with stamp on it from the tax authorities.
  • The visa petition approval.

So on the big interview day my time was at 9:00. About 8:40 I walk up the street of the embassy and see a line outside the main gate. It turns out to be the line for people applying for non immigrant visas. If you had other business you could get in ahead of the line. Luckily this was a beautiful sunny morning so there was no problem standing outside for a while. (They had a bunch of umbrellas next to the gate just in case..)

After about 20 minutes I had made it through the line and was called in by the guard with a cheerful “God morgon!”. I had to show her that I had all the papers needed and then I was let in to the security control. It was an airport style security control with x-ray and everything. You are not allowed to bring any electronics into the embassy. (So much for killing time surfing on the smart phone…)

After security I walked a short path to a door and into the actual embassy building. I handed over all my papers to a woman behind a glass counter and was told to wait for my name to be called. In the room there were about 50 (?) people waiting. All sitting on chairs in three rows fronting a TV screen showing BBC World. (I had a book as well..)

After about 2,5 hours my name was finally called and I went to another window counter. There I first gave my fingerprints and then the woman behind the counter asked some questions what I would be doing at my new job. It seemed more like friendly chit chat though than formal questions. I’m not sure what it actually was. Then I was given back some papers and was told that my passport would arrive in the mail in about a week. Not much of an interview… It took about a minute.

All in all from lining up outside the embassy until I got out the gate again it took about three hours.

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