Here is bit of background -
I have a masters degree from US and have been working for 5 years in US for a software company. I had 2 previous interviews in New Delhi (one for my student visa and other for my H1B).
Scheduling the interview -
After submitting the DS 160 form on Aug 20th 2015 I was looking for an appointment in September in Vancouver but the first available appointment was Jan 5th 2016.
After continuously checking the available dates (every 3-4 hours), I saw Sept 10th 2015 appointment was available in Toronto. I booked the appointment and got 9:15am slot on 10th sept 2015.
I selected the pickup location as Brampton located at 200 Westcreek blvd. Their working hours were 8am to 7pm M-F.
Booking Flights & Accommodation -
Most of the blogs mentioned that the Passport is ready for pickup in 2-3 business days from the Interview. Even in the past stampings, I could pick up the passport next business day of my interview. Considering my appointment was on Thursday morning, I thought my passport will be back on Friday or Monday. Keeping a buffer of 2 days I booked my flight back at 3 pm on Tuesday, Sept 15th.
I booked an Airbnb loft in downtown about 1.5 kms away from the embassy as Airbnb was cheaper than most hotels in that area. The connectivity in Downtown is also pretty good.
Preparing for Interview -
I started reading some blogs online to look for people’s experience in Toronto. First result that showed up on Google was - “Never try for H1B visa stamping in toronto - Immihelp”. Automatically I started to worry.
It seemed that most of the cases were put on “Administrative Processing” in Toronto, which took few weeks or months to get resolved. Although I have had 2 past interviews I was not really sure what “Administrative Processing” was, some people said Administrative processing means your information is not available in PIMS and you can avoid this by emailing the consulate.
I checked with my attorney if I needed to do something before the interview to avoid this “Administrative processing”. The Attorney said “Administrative processing” is not necessarily related to PIMS and can be triggered for any reason and is at the discretion of the Visa officer. The best I can do is to carry all the documents that support my case.
Documents that I carried for the H1B Extension stamping interview -
Visa interview Appointment letter
DS 160 Confirmation page
1 passport size photo
I797 Approval notice
Copy of LCA
Copy of I129 and complete petition package
Proof of medical insurance in US.
Documents from my 1st H1b filing (LCA, I129, I797)
Last 7 years tax returns and W2 forms
Last 12 months bank statements
Last 12 months pay stubs
Current employment verification letter, stating my salary and job role duties etc
All previous offer letters.
Copy Social Security Card
OPT EAD card
All I-20 form
Grad school transcript and degree certificate
Under-grad mark sheet and Degree certificate
High school mark sheet and passing certificate
Date of birth certificate
Interview Day - Sept 10th 2015
I landed in Toronto around 12 am on Sept 10 2015. Consulate was 5 min drive (with office traffic) from where we stayed. My Apportionment was at 9:15 am on Sept 10 2015. We rented a car so my wife drove me to the consulate.
Outside the embassy there were 2 security guards. There was no queue at all. I approached the security Guard who checked my appointment letter passport and asked me to go in through a glass door.
I was in the building by 8:45am. Inside the building they ask you to go through a metal detector and scan your files, folder etc. You can not carry electronic devices like mobile phone, camera or big backpacks. Girls are allowed to carry their purse/hand bags but they are scanned.
Once you are past security check, you go to a desk where a lady will check your passport, I797 and will ask your status in Canada. I told her I was visitor. She will ask you to enter the small room that had some interview windows and few chairs for people to wait.
You have to stand in line in the last window to get your I797 verified again. At this window they will ask you for your pickup location and put a sticker at the back of your passport. They will also put your passport and I797 in a plastic folder for you and will ask you to go stand in biometrics line.
Since there were not many people ahead of me I proceeded to the 2 biometrics window. After the fingerprinting she gave me a number and asked me to wait for my number to be called. My number was V052 at that time Visa officer was interviewing V037, it was around 9:10 am now.
I took a chair close to the window where visa officers were interviewing. I noticed that the lady at biometrics window asked a person after me for his passport size photo which he did not have so she told him to get it taken either at embassy for $10 or he can go outside and get it taken from a shop down the street. She never asked me for my photo, so went back and checked with her if she needed my photo, she said since I had uploaded my photo in DS160 she does not need it. I went back and sat in the chair closer to the interview windows.
There were 2 Visa officers interviewing that day so only 2 out of 4 interview windows were open. 1st window had a white male and other window had a white lady. The lady seemed very friendly and was greeting every candidate very nicely, all the people who went to her were getting their visa approved within 5 minutes.
The Male officer on other hand was grilling people, he denied 3 visas back to back and sent one guy who was from Hyderabad back as he could not understand the visa officer’s accent, VO asked him to reschedule the appointment and come back with a translator. The guy argued that he can speak english and without visa he can not go back to US but VO asked him to go back to india and re-schedule the appointment. VO added that he is not denying his visa but giving him a chance to reschedule and come back with a translator.
At this point I was praying that I get called at the lady VO’s window but I got called at the Male VO’s window. I gathered myself and walked up to the window -
VO - Good morning
Me - Good morning, how are you?
VO - Give me your documents
I started removing passport and I797 from the folder to give to VO
VO - Sir, give me the whole folder
I gave him the whole folder.
VO - How long have you worked at your company
Me - 5 years
VO - Where did you go to grad school
Me - I gave the name of the school
VO - What do you do at your company
Me - I explained
VO - What was was your master’s thesis
Me - I did not have a thesis
VO - What was the final project you worked on
Me - I did not have any final project per se so I just told him one of the project I did in grad school.
VO - When did you get your first H1B
Me - 4 years ago
VO - Has your employer filed for immigrant visa
Me - Yes, I have I140 approval notice if you would like to see
VO - No that is okay.
At this point VO starts typing something in his computer, looks at me and starts typing again.
VO - Sir, do you have criminal history or arrests
I was surprised as I have never been asked this question in the past interviews.
Me - No, Never
Vo starts typing again. Then he mumbles “your visa is approved and you will get your passport in 3-5 business days”.
He keeps my passport and I797 with him and hands me a flyer on how Loomis courier will contact me and how I can track my passport.
I walked away from the interview window and asked one of the admin staff that I had my interview and VO gave me this flyer, do I need to do anything else or am I done. He looks at the flyer and says - “Oh your visa is approved, you can track the passport using the info on the flyer, noting more is required you can exit from the gate”
I left the building at 10:10am.
Day after the Visa interview -
On Friday sept 11, I tried to check the DS160 status at https://ceac.state.gov/ceacstattracker/status.aspx
and I was expecting it would say Pending or Issued based on my past experience.
When I checked the status it said “Administrative Processing” and that they are doing some additional review and may take few weeks or even months to reach the decision.
I was shocked as the VO told me it was approved but it says “Administrative processing”.
I emailed the Toronto embassy with my DS160 application Id, passport number inquiring that the VO told me it was approved and I will get the passport back in 3-5 business days but online status shows it may be processed in weeks or even months.
The embassy responded within 30 mins saying that they need to do some additional review and application is being processed. They do not have estimate on how long this processing may take. At this time they do not need any documents from me.
I read few blogs and it seemed that there were few cases where VO told candidates their Visa is approved but they are stuck in “Administrative processing” for weeks or months.
I was very worried but I also tried to google what status would the online DS160 system show if it was not “Administrative processing” will it say “Pending” or “processing”.
It seemed that “Administrative Processing” is standard status they show for approved applications before the status changes to “Issued”
This was on Friday so I was worried the entire weekend. This was the worst part.
Visa Status Changed to Issued -
On Monday Morning (sept 14th) the status changed to “Issued” and I was very relieved.
Lesson learned - Online the DS 160 status of Processing is also shown as “Administrative Processing”. So, if the VO said that your Visa is approved and did not give you a Pink slip, then don’t worry and go by that.
I was hoping that they would ship my passport to Loomis by evening and I may be able to pick it up latest by Tuesday morning and catch my flight on Tuesday afternoon.
I did not get any email or notification about the passport till Tuesday morning so I decided to go to Loomis express’s location in Brampton and see if they have receive the passport (I did not have the tracking number though).
They said they can not track the passport without the tracking/ Airway Bill number and they will email me when they have the passport.
I came back and had to cancel my flight. The flight ticket was non-refundable so I did not receive any refund.
I also booked the hotel for 1 more day in Brampton and extended the rental car by a day. Brampton was closer to pickup location and Airport.
I called the phone number listed on the flyer that VO gave me to track the passport but it was an automated system and was useless. I sent an email to the email id listed on the flyer and they sent a automated response saying it may take 5-7 business days for passport to be sent to Loomis after the status is changed to “Issued”. It was completely un-certain how many more days I will have to stay in Toronto.
On Wednesday early morning (12:30 am, Sept 16th - 5th business day from my interview) I got an email from US embassy that the passport is handed to Loomis. 30 mins later I got an email from Loomis with subject “Loomis-Express has your passport but it's not ready to pickup” then at 6 am in the morning I got another email with subject - “Yatri: U.S. Department of State Visa Documents Ready for Pickup”. You can also call Loomis Customer service number (only when you have the airway bill number) and they will give you the exact status of the passport. In most cases you do not have to wait for “Ready for Pickup” email, once you have the tracking number you can call Loomis Customer service and confirm its ready for pickup or not.
I went to the Loomis location, gave them the tracking Id, showed my driver’s license and got my passport (with visa stamp) and I797 back.
Came back to the hotel and booked my return flight for the same day and left for the airport.
Aug 20th 2015 - DS160 Application Submitted
Sept 10th 2015 - Visa Interview at 9:15 am
Sept 11th 2015 - Application status changed to “Administrative Processing”
Sept 14th 2015 - Application status changed to “Issued”
Sept 16th 2015 - Passport ready for pickup
Lessons Learned -
If you have sufficient time (1-2 weeks), it is better to go to your home country for stamping. That way, even if you get pink slip and Administrative processing, you are at home.
If you do not want to go back to home country for stamping and book an appointment in Canada, take 5 business days from your interview for your return flight. Even if the passport comes early, you can visit places in Canada for the rest of the days.
After your interview, DS 160 online status is shown as “Administrative Processing”. Do not panic. Go by what the Visa Officer says- if VO said that your Visa is approved and did not give you a Pink slip (221g), then don’t worry and go by that.
Passport pickup can take 2-3 business days from the date the last status was “Issued”