As always, travelling to India is not straight forward. Firstly the need to travel to India, then the approved vacation at work, then travel tickets, dates, visa stamping, shopping etc. Not in the exact same order but pretty much everyone goes through these pains.
It all started with a plan to travel to India and then we started contemplating whether to go to Mexico or not for our visa stamping. For those who are on the same boat, read on to know our experience in Nogales Mexico. Both of us are on H1B, I am full time and she is consulting.
We ended up taking the appointment at Nogales consulate after researching some forums. We contacted Mr. Manu Naik and he has been a great help. He owns a hotel, about 15 mins away from the border entry to Mexico. The cab costs around $6 to get to the entry from the hotel.
We went through the security gates and one of the guards asked us if we had our passports with us. We had enough time to get the Mexico visa stamping done before travelling in. We had a baby stroller with us and we walked through the streets to the nearest good hotel called Fray Marcos Hotel. To my surprise, the concierge at the hotel knew some English but the lady at the front desk did not. So he helped us in the translation. The price was $65 USD and they accepted cash for it.
Our interview day was like going to a very important exam. It was a very cold day and me, my wife and our 16 month old daughter started from the Fray Marcos hotel at around 7AM, paid $6 for the cab and reached the consulate at around 7:20AM. There were already around 30 people ahead of us in the queue. At around 7:50AM, two women came out of the embassy with a listing of names of those who can attend the interview. They were cross checking the Benamax bank receipt, DS-160 form to the list they had and marking on the DS-160 form indicating that we are allowed to attend the interview. At this point she also asked us to hand over the I-797 form to her and said she will give it back to us inside the consulate. There were four including us for H1B extension visa stamping on that day.
Since both my wife and I are applying for H1B extension, we had two separate Benamax receipts with us. Most of the security personnel dont know English, so be prepared to do some hand talking and or sign language ;).
You may already know some restrictions on what the consulate will allow you to carry with you to attend the interview. Since we have a baby with us, the security allowed a bottle of milk and a small box of baby cereal. To make sure the milk and cereal were harmless, security asked us to feed the baby with some milk and asked me to have some cereal.
To our surprise, because we had a baby with us, the security also allowed us to join the Biometrics queue before some other people that were already in the queue. Our number was 0009.
At the security, they found a Pen (not plastic) and iPhone headphones in my jacket pocket. I forgot to take the headphones out before coming to the consulate. I was asked to trash them or leave them outside. There will be a mobile food stand right outside the consulate and they would keep your stuff such as phones, etc. for a dollar which is handy, so I left the pen and headphones with the guy at the food stand.
We then went in and joined another queue, now inside the consulate past the security. This is, what appeared to us, to ensure that consulate has required information, cross check our I-797 to information on passport and mark previous H1B stamping page with a bookmark sort of paper.
We were then asked to take a seat in section 1 of 2 for finger printing and photo. This was straight-forward, they will take the finger prints for all fingers. The officer here organized the documents and gave us a package in a specific order consisting of Passport, I-797, DS-160.
We were then asked to take a seat in section 2 for the main interview.
It was a long wait. We sat by a play area at the end of waiting area hall and our baby kept us busy during our wait. There was only one officer taking all interviews on that day, we think because it was the first working day after a long weekend.
Eventually, our turn came up and we went in for interview. We first handed over the package in the same order and the officer started typing in some information on his screen. The following questions were asked:
1. Do you have bachelors?
a. I said: I have Masters in Information Technology.
2. How long have you been working with your current employer?
a. I said: 2 ½ years.
3. Do you have your tax filing documents for 2009?
a. I said: Yes, and I handed over the package to him.
4. Is your salary going to be the same for the next year?
a. I said yes.
5. Do you have any plans to travel outside of United States?
a. I said yes
6. He then asked when?
a. I said December.
7. He then asked December of this year?
a. I said yes. (I then realized that maybe I should have said no to this question)
8. He then started looking at my wifes paperwork and asked, does your wife have masters?
a. My wife responded, yes I have masters in computer sciences.
9. He then asked how long have you been working with your current employer?
a. My wife responded, for the past 5 years.
10. Can I see her tax filing documents for 2009?
a. I said, the paper work I handed over earlier was for both of us filing jointly. I then took the documents out of my big folder and gave it to him again, this time for both 2009 and 2008.
He then took some time and gave us the verdict. He started by saying Here are the results
and continued saying your visa has been approved but the system is not letting me submit your application. I have requested for an update and it could take anywhere from 3 4 days for this to happen. He turned to my wife and said, your visa is also approved and you can come in later this evening to collect your passport. He then handed a yellow slip to my wife.
I then asked him if there was anything missing from my end. He said, no there is nothing missing. I asked if it was the PIMS verification and he said yes and asked me if I wanted to take my passport back. I said, no I would stay in Nogales, Mexico and wait for the update. He then said, we will contact you once the update is complete to the phone number on my file. I asked if there was a way to check on status and he asked us to email to email@example.com
and handed a white slip after circling an email address on it.
That was it, we were on our way out congratulating each other but I was a little skeptical on when I would get my passport back and got a little paranoid. We came out of the consulate, got our stuff back from mobile food stand and waited for other two candidates to come out. One out of two candidates was on same boat as I and the other would receive his passport next day. We all discussed what questions were asked and since there was only one officer we were all asked pretty much same questions.
Since we would have to stay there for at least 3 to 4 days, we decided to move into an inexpensive hotel. On our way back to Fray Marcos we noticed that Marques De Cima hotel was not too far from consulate. Marques De Cima is famous for cops living in the hotel, there were many cops in and around the hotel and armed guards always at the entrance. We checked into a room for $42 a night. The consulate is walk able distance from Marques De Cima.
The waiting game:
The next day, we tried to contacting consulate by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org
. I received a response pretty soon that said Your case is in Administrative Processing and that they would contact us as soon as there is an update.
Although the officer informed us the previous day that it was nothing but PIMS verification that was pending for me, I started researching the term Administrative Processing. Googled Administrative Processing and got numerous results stating about form 221g which are pretty scary. People getting stuck for 4 6 weeks, some people ending up travelling to India and from Mexico etc etc. I started getting anxious and immediately responded to the consulate with few more questions on whether administrative processing is same as PIMS or not, what would be a typical timeframe etc. They responded they could not provide any further information at this time and that was it.
We all went to the consulate that evening to get a status update for me and for my wife to get her passport. She got hers and at the same time spoke to the office who took our interview the previous day if the white slip that was given to us was indeed not 221g. The officer politely said that it was given only because it has the email address on it and nothing else and that they are doing everything they can to complete the process etc.
We returned back the next day to get a status update once again and luckily my visa stamping was done the next day. That was it, we returned to USA on the fourth day. So if you are planning on going to Nogales, be prepared to stay there for atleast 4 days if not longer than that.
The queue at the border was quite long and there was background check etc for the three of us. It took around 2 hours for us to get through everything. I-94 was issued for $6 (keep the exact change).
All the best to all of you who are planning to attend the interview in Mexico.