Changes in US visa application process in Uganda
Wednesday, 13 April 2011 21:37
The United States mission in Uganda has introduced changes to their non-immigrant visa application process with effect from March 31.
John Vianney Nsimbe spoke to Bridgette Anderson, head of the Consular section at the US mission, about the changes.
Why are you introducing changes to the visa application process at this particular time?
You can say that we are trying to expedite the process through which someone can get a visa to the United States of America. It should be as smooth as possible, with less hassle. This has come as a result of the recent launch of the US Department of State’s Global Support Strategy that was introduced to enhance delivery of visa services to the general public worldwide.
Last year, you announced some changes to the visa application process. Is there anything new this time?
We now have an integrated system between the visa application process and the visa interview appointment system. The US government has come up with an arrangement, whereby people intending to travel to the US will not have to come to the embassy anymore to apply for a visa.
Applicants will only come to the embassy for interviews. Instead, a US government vendor, who is out-sourced, will be in charge of receiving public inquiries about visa applications. Applicants will now just have to login to http://kampala.usembassy.gov/ and receive a visa application form called a DS-Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, which one will fill. This will be an interactive website with an interactive call system with live information, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
Online applications started last year. Are there any more details to it?
This time, the applicant will have to print two copies of this DS (deposit slip) form, which they will take to any Centenary Bank branch to pay the visa fee of $140 (the equivalent in Uganda Shillings, at a fair rate set by the US mission).
The bank will then provide the visa applicant with a Machine Readable Visa (MRV) receipt with a unique reference number, which they will return to the self-service website where they got the application form, insert that unique reference number and thereafter get an appointment date when they will be interviewed at the embassy for a visa.
One’s bank payment takes up to two hours to be validated in the system. A visa applicant should never share their MRV reference number with a third party, as this can lead to fraud and may invalidate one’s application/payment. Applicants will still have to present their two passport photographs.
What was wrong with the previous visa application system?
We realised that it could be exploited, which is the main reason why the US government has come up with its own vendor. This vendor will be responsible for allotting a day for a visa applicant to be interviewed after they’ve received a secret bar-code or reference number.
In the past, before the whole process was integrated, there were some wrong individuals who manipulated the system by pretending to be workers of the US mission. They blocked the bar-codes – which made it hard for people to secure visa appointments – and charged the public some money and created fake visa applicant interview appointment dates. This has been a ploy by most to make money.
But now, with a US vendor charged with the visa process in place, it will be a one-stop centre where all information is obtained.
Will this new procedure not be difficult for illiterate people?
We’ve also provided for that category of people, especially the elderly, who may not know how to read or write. There is a call centre number (+256-312-411200) that they can dial to have all their questions answered about the visa application process.
You said the changes are intended to expedite the visa acquisition process. Will more visas be granted, therefore, than in the past?
This process will help the public find out which types of visas are available and which ones they are eligible to apply for. Before one gets a visa, they have to prove beyond doubt the reason for their visit to the USA.
For instance, we still maintain the tourist visa and that gives one a protracted period that they must be in the USA. If we realise that they’ve no stake in Uganda to compel them to return after the period given to them, then it will be difficult for them to get a visa.
Are there still many Ugandans who abuse the limited time they’ve been allowed to remain in the US and stay longer?
That’s very interesting, but I would like to assure you that it’s not so easy to ascertain the actual figure. But I believe most of them have returned at the time they’re supposed to be back. Most Ugandan visa applicants, especially those on tourist visas, have been genuine and have returned.
Will you maintain the different types of visas like has been the case previously?
On top of the tourist’s visa, which takes care of those that just want to visit, we have the business visa, diplomats visa, officials visa, trade investor visa, skilled workers visa and the students visa. The requirements to secure any of the visas will be availed to you online before you decide to inject money into the whole process.
We do this to help people not to waste their money, yet their situation may not favour them in getting a particular visa. For example, a student must present their academic papers and an official letter from the college where they intend to study. They should also provide a bank statement from the person who’s going to sponsor them as proof that they will afford the tuition in a US university. If they’re on scholarship, a letter from the US university must confirm that.
These changes come on the back of increased visa fees. Has this got anything to do with the economic downturn the USA economy has been facing?
I don’t think the visa fees increased tremendously. It was $131 before. The nine-dollar increase is to improve security services. We don’t want Ugandans to get onto a flight to the USA with a terrorist on board, ready to detonate a bomb while in the air.
To do this, we need more vigilance and, definitely, better security requires funding. This will also protect the US people from wrong people entering their borders.
Finally, what is the success rate for one to secure a US visa today?
We have only had 30% of the visa applicants not being successful, which means almost all people (70%) secure their visas to the USA. Last year, we had about 8,000 Ugandan visa applicants, up from 6,000 in 2009. I don’t think people applying for the USA visa would have been increasing if the success rate was low.
Written by John Vianney Nsimbe