USA L1 visa application – on an Indian Passport

So, my company is planning to send me to New York for 6 months, on a blanket L1 visa. Application is in process, will keep you updated. But one sticking point so far — I have been with my company for exactly 12 months. And in that period I spent 30 days in the USA during a number of trips. Apparently, I cannot count those 30 days towards my 1 year with the company. So I have to wait for a month, before I can apply!

Update!
As usual the US embassy were super efficient. The appointment tool roughly 2 hours. My L2 visa (and my wife’s L2 Spouse visa) was approved on the spot. We got our passports by courier on the 4th business day after our appointment (appointment was on a Monday, got the passports on the Friday).
Only slight headache was that the embassy’s credit card machine wasn’t working. We Indians need to pay a ‘fraud protection’ fee of $500. So I had to go out of the embassy and get cash (equivalent in Pounds).

Visa Country: USA
Visa Type: L1 Intracompany Transfer and L2 Spouse
Embassy: USA Embassy in London, UK

Advertisements

Second time USA B1/B2 visa application

Passport: Indian Passport
Embassy: US Embassy in London, UK
Visa Decision Time: On-the-spot
Visa Appointment Wait time: About 2 weeks
Passport delivery time: About 3 working days
Points to note

  • No electronics, not even earphones/cables/key-fobs allowed in the embassy
  • You can take a book and/or a snack, but no bags
  • Time spent within the embassy: About 1 hour
  • You need to complete your online application beforehand, and carry the confirmation page & payment receipt
  • Passport delivery costs about £16, you need a credit/debit card to pay for it. No cash.

Documents that they looked at:

  • Current passport
  • Old Passport with old US Visa
  • Application confirmation

I took a slew of documents, including bank statements, payslips, letter from my employer. They didn’t look at any of them.

Questions they asked in the interview:

  • How long will you be in the US?
  • Where did you get your last visa?
  • How long have you lived in the UK?
  • Where did you live before the UK? What did you do there?
  • Are you married? Is you wife in the UK?

Hope this helps!

Domestic Flights in the USA — always carry your passport

If you are a foreigner in the USA, intending to fly domestic, ALWAYS carry your passport.

I faced great delays yesterday, while trying to catch flights between New York and Atlanta.
Before security, the TSA checks people’s boarding passes and IDs. They accept US Driving Licenses as valid IDs. But they were less than impressed by my UK Driving License.

At NYC La Guardia, I presented my UK License, and the lady immediately gave that back to me and demanded a passport. I was at a loss. I didn’t imagine I’d need to carry a passport. She then made me stand aside for 10 mins while she located her supervisor. The supervisor looked at my UK License, my credit card and my business-school alumnus ID. Then she made me go through ‘extra screening’ — which meant they swabbed my hands for residue (or something) and did some chemical test on it. But then they let me through OK.

When I tried to get on my return flight at Atlanta airport, the process was repeated — except they were adamant that NY security shouldn’t have allowed me to fly without a passport. I was made to sign some disclaimer giving them the right to dig up my personal data, they noted down my addresses, looked at my license, my business school ID, my office security pass and finally let me go with a stern warning.

So, in short, when in the USA, always carry your passport.

First Time Cruising – Indian in the Caribbean

Being Indian, two things struck me soon after I boarded the Celebrity Summit in Puerto Rico:
1. My wife and I were part of a small minority among the passengers (under 45 years old, non-white, childless couples).
2. The staff on the Ship was predominantly Hindi speaking.

This was unsurprising. Indians tend to put up with a lot of hardship, to make a living. But we, as a nation, are not as happy to spend our hard earned money on luxuries. The staff on the ship typically spends 6 months at sea, at a stretch. Living in cramped quarters, getting shore leave once every 2 or 3 weeks for half a day. Not an ideal life.

It was easy to feel out of place, but at the same time completely ignore everyone else on the ship. The population was predominantly white republican Americans, aged over 45. We couldn’t really find anything in common with them, and after the first day, stopped going to ‘social events’ on the ship. It was funny when the ship’s stand-up comedian asked “who here likes Obama”. The theatre echoed with “boos”.

The ship was luxurious though. A bit excessive even. The service was impeccable and we were made to feel very welcome and well looked after. But we also had to cough up $25 a day in tips, in addition to the cost of the cruise. They had an excellent Gym & Spa. The pool was boring and small. The food was good, but not so good if you are vegetarian like us.

Top tips for first time cruisers (especially Indians):
1. No need for visas (or even passports) in Caribbean ports. But carry photocopies of your passport anyway.
2. Bad idea carrying passports to shore excursions — it can get wet or stolen. I managed to drench my drivers license and about $20 cash.
3. Carry a photo ID other than your passport — will need that to get back on the ship.
4. No need to buy a ‘drinks package’ in advance, unless you plan on heavy drinking.
5. All food was included, at least on this ship. Except for one fancy restaurant.
6. Avoid ship organised shore excursions when you can — crowded and generally not worth the price. Explore on your own.
7. Plan a budget before going, and then double it. Your holiday is guaranteed to turn out to be VERY expensive.

Pirating the Caribbean – Visas on the high seas

My wife and I had planned to honeymoon in the Caribbean, but had some rather funny visa problems ( see old post ). So we ended up going to Hawaii instead.

Now we plan to pirate the Caribbean sea once again. We have signed up for a cruise on Celebrity Solstice, departing Puerto Rico (USA) and returning to Puerto Rico. The table below lists destinations the ship is visiting, and the visa situation.

Destination Visa on Cruise Visa Otherwise Motivation to go
Puerto Rico (USA) Need a valid US visa to enter Puerto Rico. The cruise starts from here, and we arrive here by air. Valid US visa needed Old San Juan
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands Valid US visa needed. The cruise company has advised us that we require a US visa for the US Virgin Islands, despite going there for 1 day on a cruise. Valid US Visa Needed Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands
Sint Maarten / Saint Martin Cruise Ship passengers do not require a visa for stays of less than 48 hours. The Dutch embassy in London (and I assume other cities around the world) issues visas to Sint Maarten. Not sure if the French Embassy issues visas for Saint Martin. FYI, the island is shared by Netherlands and France. Phillipsburg Harbour, St. Maarten
Antigua Cruise Ship Passengers do not require a visa to Antigua & Barbuda Tourist visa required by Indian passport holders. There is no Antiguan embassy in India. However, their High Commission in London will accept applications from Indian nationals. Boat in Antigua
St. Lucia Cruise Ship Passengers do not require a visa to St. Lucia I have written to the High Commission to find out. I have read somewhere that Commonwealth citizens do not require a visa The Pitons, St. Lucia
Barbados Cruise Ship Passengers do not require a visa to Barbados Tourist visa required by Indian passport holders. There is no Barbados embassy in India. However, their High Commission in London will accept applications from Indian nationals. Thunderclouds

Hope this helps you plan your travels to the region!

Update:
I am just finishing up this trip. I had no trouble at all with visas. My US B1/B2 visa was perfectly valid for Puerto Rico (this was my 3rd entry to the USA on this visa). I have had no trouble using the B1/B2 visa for business and tourism. No other country on this trip demanded a visa (or even a passport).

Sources:
St. Maarten: http://www.dutchembassyuk.org/consular/index.php?i=538
Antigua & Barbuda: http://www.antigua-barbuda.org/Agtip01.htm
St. Lucia: http://www.stlucia.gov.lc/faq/do_i_need_a_visa_to_enter_saint_lucia.htm#Visa_Fees_And_Exemptions

USA – Second Entry on a B1/B2 Visa

I recently visited the USA on a B1/B2 visa. I had got this visa 4 years ago for a business trip as a ‘Business Visa’. This year I visited as a Tourist. Had no trouble at all. The immigration officer at Honolulu airport was really nice too – he recommended restaurants around town and had a nice chat with us. Probably the most pleasant immigration experience I have had anywhere in the World so far.

However, flying within the USA remains as painful as ever. Long queues, inflexible officials, cumbersome security checks, crap service in American Airlines First Class – the usual. Seriously, the economy-class on most Asian airlines (Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Jet Airways, Etihad – to name a few) is way better than First Class on American Airlines. We were simply and rudely told by an stewardess ‘We do not carry vegetarian food on Domestic flights’ – and this was a 5 hour flight from Hawaii to LA.

Another annoying thing about US airports – the car rental agencies seem to be located a fair distance from the terminal. On two occasions, I had to drop off my wife and the luggage at the terminal (left her standing there with the bags) and then had to drive off to the rental place to return the car. Wife had to wait around for nearly 30 mins while I returned the car and took the shuttle back to the terminal. Lesson — if you have a rental car — plan for an extra 30 mins of delays.

But – Hawaii was beautiful. See attached photos.

Lava from Kilueau entering the Pacific Ocean, Hawai'i

Sunset over Lana'i