Friday, March 10, 2006

The H-1B Visa Renewal at Vancouver

... and it snows real darned hard here. I've never seen such snow fall in Seattle. there is an orange glow in the sky and the snow is coming down in sheets. It took a lot of skill to drive straight through the snow this morning in the mountains on the way to the US Consulate in Vancouver. No skidding, no sliding, just straight line driving. And my car is a Rear Wheel Drive. I made the 150 mile journey in 3 hours, including the stop at the border and losing my way once. I have to lose my way once before I arrive at a place for the first time. After the U-turns and going the wrong way, I form images in my head that help me get to the destination every other time I have to.

The visa renewal process was more procedure and annoyance and less 1:1 time with an INS officer. I reached the consulate at 10:30 and got out around 12:30. My interview lasted all of 75 seconds. Along the way, the lady at the cash counter returned my passport to me after I had paid the $100 consulate/visa fee, I had to run down a couple of times to renew the parking meter, had to get new photographs clicked, etc. Here is a list of things you should bear in mind regarding the renewal process at Vancouver:

1. Fill the DS-156 form online. When printed after all information has been submitted, the form is 3 pages long and has barcodes
2. Most important documents:
a. Passport
b. Completed DS-156
c. Completed DS-157
d. Most recent PAY STUBS
e. One bank statement
f. Letter of employment (first document in your H-1B visa packet)
3. Money requirements:
a. $100 in CASH - this is the visa fee
b. $50 reciprocity fee if you're an Indian citizen
4. No bags of any kind are allowed in the consulate. Carry your papers in envelopes or folders in your bare hands
5. No closed envelopes
6. No electronics of any sort (Laptop, Cell phone)
7. Parking in downtwon Vancouver is $1 for 15 minutes. You'll need 2 hours at most in the consulate
8. Your newly stamped visa won't be returned till the next afternoon at 3pm. Make plans to stay overnight
9. Try to get into the consulate as soon as you can, even if it is earlier than your designated appointment time
10. The passport photograph requirements are pretty stringent. A photo not 200mm x 200mm will be rejected. Costco is by far the cheapest and quickest place to get your photographs taken - 2 photos for $5. You need just one photograph for the visa.

Finally, don't sweat it. Unless you do something egregious, they'll issue an H-1B to you. Good luck!

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