Thursday, September 13, 2012

H1B Visa Stamping Ottawa Canada

Experience Sep. 10, 2012 - 

The Start - I booked the visa appointment at Ottawa, Canada around mid August 2012 after completing the DS-160 application and generating DS-160 confirmation page.

The earliest visa appointment date available at Ottawa US Embassy was Sep. 7, 2012 and I booked for Sep. 10, 2012.
Next step was to get the Client letter and Vendor letter which client and vendor happily provided. Other documentation sets were provided by company's attorney and immigration department.

Booked the flight via United Airlines using fare lock and took that along with 2 Canadian passport photos, IMM5257E form filled with details, certified cheque for USD 150, last 3 months pay slips and bank statements to Canada Embassy in New York for tourist visa (TRV). 
Canada Embassy opens up at 8 am, however there was already a long waiting queue outside Embassy building when I reached at 7:45 am. 
Finally entered the Embassy security check point around 8:30 am and they checked the application confirmation page with barcode (it is page 5 of IMM5257E application), family information application and photos. 
Security personnel provided a token number and asked to wait inside. There are 2 counters that call the token numbers, I submitted the application bundle along with original I-797 and passports once my token number was announced at one of the counters. Consular officer gave the token number slip back and asked to come back after 3 days between 1-2:30 pm.
After 3 days I went to Canada Embassy, stood in even longer queue and finally entered the building after   same security check process and a new token number. Security this time checked the original token number and refused entry to those who did not carry it. 
My token number was called to one of the 2 counters where the application was submitted originally. Consular officer greeted and asked me spell my name and provide date of birth. She gave the passports with the tourist visa stamped on new passport - I verified the details and confirmed everything looks right. The officer then returned all the supporting documents I submitted along with I-797. 
Duration of tourist visa I got was till one month before the expiry date of H1-B on I-797.

Confirmed the flight with departure on Sep. 9 and return on Sep. 15. Posted the accommodation request on Murthy's forum with contact details. 
I got a response to my post and two of us booked the hotel that was nearer to DHL Loomis passport pickup location in East Ottawa and about 10 min. drive from US Embassy. The cost was CAD 110 per night.
Hotels are costly in Ottawa and there is nothing closer to Embassy that costs less than CAD 130 per night. That area being the downtown of Ottawa, accommodation is exorbitantly priced for the services provided by hotels.

Sep. 9, 2012 - At Ottawa airport, I got the currency exchanged from USD to CAD. Took  taxi to hotel, taxi guy generously accepted the fare in USD.

Sep. 10, 2012 - Took a taxi from hotel in the morning and went to US Embassy. It was 6:40 am when we reached, since the appointment of other guy staying with me was at 7:30 am and mine was at 9:30 am we decided to go together. 
Found a bakery open in Byward market, drank coffee with brioche and went to Embassy at 7 o'clock. The guard said he will call when it is time to enter, he did that at 7:25 am and my hotel roommate went inside leaving behind his jacket and cell phone with me. 
It was pretty cold compared to US East coast weather and a medium jacket is required. 
I walked around the Embassy for sometime, it was cold and breezy so I went inside a coffee shop "Timothy's". I took a medium German flavor coffee and sat down at a table inside the shop reading "The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle". 

My roommate came back looking for me around 8:40 am and shared the good news - "Visa is approved". 
My nerves relaxed for a bit and then I asked, "Questions? Did you see anyone grilled by officers?"
He was in ecstatic mood, trembling with joy and all he could say is, "Roles and responsibilities - I fumbled but confidently said what officer asked and then it was approved. Others were approved too, except one who forgot to bring his passport and was sent back to fetch it before even reaching to documents counter."

The information was as expected - standard set of questions about job duties and employer-employee relationship. 
I left him to call his friends and family, grabbed my documents bundle and approached the security officer at US Embassy. He asked when is my appointment, I replied that it is at 9:30. It was 9:05 am and he asked me to wait and said , "I will call you". 

I was dressed formal in dress pant and cotton shirt and did not carry any jacket - cold was getting on my nerves and bladder. After another 15 minutes, security personnel asked me to march in and there were 2 more along with me - Asian professor and a diplomat looking guy. 
After security scanning, I was directed to go through a hallway with professor before me and diplomat behind me. 
There was a lady checking the passport, Canadian tourist visa on passport, DS-160 confirmation page and photo on that confirmation page. 
She asked me to step up after sending professor towards the hall.  I greeted her good morning and she replied, "You smell so good, what a relief after that Asian guy". I thanked her verbally and also thanked CK's perfume from my heart for a good start.
She looked at my photo on new passport and the same one on DS-160 and said the photo is now 2 weeks older than 6 months criteria. She said it may be fine and asked me to go to counter number 7 at the end of hallway. 

Counter 7 - it is the documents collection counter. The officer there looked at my passport photo and DS-160 photo and asked if I am carrying a newer photo. I replied, "No, but when I completed and confirmed DS-160 application the photo was within 6 months." He asked me to get a new one and return before 11:30 am. He mentioned that the lady in the hallway will give you directions on where to get a new one. 
I thought, "Damn it, first blow - what will follow next." 
I darted to the lady and asked her where to go, she gave me a google maps printout and wrote the name of the shops where I can get one. 

I came back to "Timothy's" where I left my roommate, kept my documents in his custody and went to the shopping mall called Rideau Centre about 10 minutes walk from Embassy. 
There are 2 shops facing each other called Shoppers and Blacks. The lady at Embassy told me that Shoppers would be cheaper, however staff at Shoppers informed me that their photo center will open only after 10 am. 
I went to Blacks which is a camera shop and got 2 passport pics in 20 minutes. 

It was 10:35 am when I reached, post security screening, to the same lady at Embassy, the queue inside was of around 20 and she asked me to go directly to counter 7 since she has already verified every item during first visit. 

Again Counter 7 - Officer took my new passport, I-797 and DS-160 along with one new photo. He pasted the new photo at bottom right corner of DS160 confirmation page. 
Officer: "Do you have client letter and if there is a vendor, a vendor letter too?" 
I replied, "Yes sir, do you need the whole set I prepared with attorney letter, employer letter and other contract documents?" 
Officer: "Can you take out the client and vendor letters from your documents and give."
I handed him these 2 additional items and asked, "You returned my old passport, don't you need it along with my new passport."
Officer: "No, keep the old one with you and here is the token along with finger print declaration and your rights as temporary worker pamphlet. You can now wait for your token call."
I left counter 7 and took a seat facing counters 1-4, counter 4 has the finger printing machine.

Counter 4 - The lady was calling out token numbers for taking finger prints in random order. She called my token number and I went to the counter. After exchanging pleasantries she asked me whether I understand and comply with the finger print declaration card handed to me over counter 7 or not. I replied affirmative and she took that declaration card.  
I was asked to put the 4 fingers of left hand on finger print machine, then the right hand fingers and finally the two thumbs. She then looked at her monitor for a minute and asked me to put left hand fingers again on machine while pressing hard on screen of machine. This time the 4 lights on top of finger print machine screen blinked. 
She again spent sometime looking and reading something on her monitor and finally said you are good. 

I came back to my seat and another wait session started for the most awaited moment of this whole process. 

Counter 1 - I read the discussion on various forums and there were references about an Asian consular officer being "problematic". I see him at counter 1 and apparently all experience details shared in the forums started to make sense. 
He was taking time and everyone at his counter took about 5-10 minutes with lots of explanatory body motions, nods and nays. I could not hear what he was asking that made people end up spending time explaining him. 

Counters 2 and 3 - there was a younger looking white guy at counter 2 and an old white man at counter 3. The interviews seem to end pretty quickly at these counters, I noticed that each of them have finished with 3 interviews while counter 1 is still on first interview. 
Interviewee number 4 arrived at counter 2 and answered his first question and then the interviewee number 1 at counter 1 left with no expressions of happiness - he approached the counter 1 with confident smile and now leaving with chin touching his chest, lowered eyes and trying to avoid any contact. 

White girl's interview at Counter 1 - The next token call at counter 1 brought a tall white girl wearing black blazer, a floral print dress shirt, figure hugging black denim jeans and high heels. Some smiling conversation happened and I thought the officer indeed has some heart. 
It turned out that I was wrong as suddenly the girl started explaining with all signs of nervousness.  She shifted body weight on either leg while talking, kept her hands in the hip pockets of her denim that seem to cry, "There's no more room, what the hell are you trying to stuff me with?" 
Consular officer kept on asking questions and the white girl turned pale with each answer, trying to feed more explanation with arms thrown out in despair and then again hands in hip pockets and then swaying left to right. 
This session went on for about 20 minutes and I tried not to pay attention to the proceedings at counter 1. For another 10 minutes I kept on avoiding and instead concentrated on what is happening at other counters. 
In those 10 minutes, the white girl left with shaking head and another guy, whose token number was one less than mine, with hardened facial expressions as if trying to hold back throwing up. 

Encounter at Counter 1 - The next token call was mine and it was coming from counter 1, I almost sank in the seat trying to hide, unwilling to go to counter 1. I told myself, let's see what was the horrifying question that made everyone hung their faces after interview. 

I reached and officer greeted me and before even I say anything he shot the first question, "So what do you do?"
I replied, "I am so and so working with my employer at the client work site".
Officer: "You worked with this company before your current employer?"
I said, "No, there was another company I worked for in between."
Officer, this time intently looking at me, "Why you switched 2 companies in less than a year?"
I said, "Better opportunities offered by these companies and so I joined and left the companies."
Officer: "What is a better opportunity, isn't it because your previous companies were not paying you on bench period?"
I was perplexed at this on what to answer when in consular officer's dictionary a better opportunity is equivalent to getting paid on bench. 
I realized that may be these non standard statements threw everyone off their visa interview preparation. Quoth me, "Examinations are always unique and studying only previous years' question-answer sets do not get you A+ grade."
I finally blurted, "I got the opportunity to work on latest technologies that I feel necessary for my professional growth, pay was better with each switch and I received designation appropriate to my experience level." 
Officer: "Be specific - what are the latest technologies you worked on and what is your designation?"
I replied, "I worked on such and such and this is my current designation with Senior added as prefix to my previous designation."
Officer, this time having a mocking smile that almost closed his hardly open eye asked - "Senior or no Senior it is all the same. Do you think your technologies are really cutting edge and not lot many work on those? Come on, be honest with me and tell me the truth that it is because of the bench policies of previous companies that you left them."
There was a short polite reply from me, "No Sir, that is not the case with me."

Officer: "Ok, so the bench periods ..." 
He paused and I nodded with the notion that he may continue to complete his question. 
I don't know what that nod triggered in the officer and his face turned stern, that mocking smile seemed long gone and I was looking at the reflection of my face turned pale in his eye glasses. 
My pale face was not because of the grilling questions by consular officer, it was mainly because of having an early breakfast and then not eating anything for more than 4 hours. My pre-diabetic body is not used to starving for more than 3 hours. 
I realized that if this interview continues any further I would end up spiking insulin to provide necessary blood sugar to body. I wanted to run out and eat something from the nearby coffee shops.

Officer, now in his sternest avatar, "You denied earlier and now you are nodding to agree to the bench pay problems and because of that you switched companies."
I, completely surprised and taken aback by the impact of a simple nod, "Sir,  I nodded for you to complete the question while I am trying to listen to what you have to say further. I did not mean to nod to agree or disagree since I did not get your question completely."

Officer, mellowed somewhat may be by looking at my throbbing veins and pale bloodless face, "Are you satisfied with your companies so far, you can tell me for my reference and that is not going to impact your current visa."
I replied, "Sir, I do not have any issues with the companies I worked in the past or with my current employer." 
Officer, this time smiling again, "I am not convinced and any issues you mention to me are for my reference only and not related to your current visa. There will not be any adverse impact on your visa."
I, now being occupied more with thoughts of  impact on blood sugar levels than with current visa, "I have told you what I know and I do not have any concerns Sir. Please tell me exactly what you want to hear. " 
I was completely in the mood of telling him that I now care more about eating something than playing bench or chair games with him. I glanced at my watch and it was just 12 minutes since I started interview at counter 1. 

Officer, no expressions this time, "I am approving your visa, here is your 797 and track your passport via this website." He handed me I-797 original and a printed paper with information on where to check the waybill number and passport pickup.
I took the two documents and looked at him, he now smiled and said - "Have a good day." 
All I could do in return was a nod and in my heart "Au revoir L'Ambassade des Etats-Unis D'Amerique".

I came out and went to Timothy's coffee shop, told my roommate who was still on phone that visa has been approved. I dragged him out to the nearest burger shop and satisfied the insulin rush with a chicken burger.

The EndI received my passport stamped with US visa on September 13, 2012 from Loomis branch.

I thought of forgetting everything and closing this with all my love for Shakespeare's work - "All's well that ends well" - but that is not always the case, some experiences during the journey to an end remain etched in memory longer than the joy of reaching that end. 
Until next time - "Au revoir cher ami".



Anonymous said...

that was written wonderfully. Hope all is well now.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experience dude! Really appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Thank you and Congrats Saurabh! Your description of the whole process made for some fun reading.

Sunil's Blog said...

Very good narration. Thanks for posting.. Hope you can become a good writer ;)

sujan2010 said...

That's nice narration,thanks for the information

Anonymous said...

This is very useful information, thanks for penning the whole process

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! Thanks for all the details. The details about the photo incident and 'Counter 1' interaction is very informative. It was also very refreshing to read a well written, thoughtfully quoted article. Thanks!

totally helpful said...

Thank you so much Saurabh! I followed your blog all the way to ottawa and have successful visa stamping along with the old photo issue that i resolved before going into the consulate for my appointment. Went to Blacks!! :)

I really appreciate your time and effort for all the details.
Thank you

Snay Jha said...
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