The Day of Your Consular Interview for a U.S. Visa

Travel, security, and other issues concerning your visa interview at a U.S. consulate.

By , J.D. · Tulane University Law School

If you are applying for a new U.S. visa (immigrant or nonimmigrant) or green card from overseas, you will most likely be expected to attend an interview at a U.S. consulate, as the last step in the process. Up to this point, you might have submitted paperwork to various U.S. government agencies, but not met any officials in person. The appointment notice will tell you where and when to go for your visa interview.

Who Doesn't Need to Attend a Visa Interview?

If you are applying to renew a visa, it's possible for the U.S. consulate to waive the interview requirement. The consulate is particularly likely to do this if you have a clean immigration record and are applying for the same type of visa, at the consulate in your home country, before your current visa has expired or within 48 months of it expiring. The Department of State (DOS) has actually been increasing the number of interview waivers recently, so as to reduce delays and deal with office backups.

For example, as of early 2024, DOS considers the following categories of interview waivers to be in the national interest:

  • first time H-2 visa applicants (temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers), and
  • applicants for any other nonimmigrant visa who:
    • were previously issued a nonimmigrant visa in any classification, unless it was a B visa, and
    • are applying within 48 months of their most recent nonimmigrant visa's expiration date.

You will, however, not be allowed a waiver of the interview requirement unless you:

  • apply in your country of nationality or residence
  • have never been refused a visa (unless such refusal was overcome or waived), and
  • have no apparent or potential visa ineligibility.

See the DOS news update on this matter for further details.

      Getting to the U.S. Consulate on Time

      If you do not live in the same city as the U.S. embassy or consulate, you will probably want to arrive there at least a day in advance. In the case of a green card interview, if you have not already completed the medical exam, you will need to ensure that it is completed prior to your appointment.

      If you receive a notice designating which clinic you should visit for the medical exam, you will want to provide adequate time to attend this appointment and receive your results and/or follow-up vaccinations prior to the interview. (You must use a qualified panel physician, not just your own doctor.) This could mean that you travel to the embassy or consulate location area several days in advance if the designated clinic is located near it.

      On the day of your visa interview, it is best to arrive at the consulate early, in case of a long line. Do not be surprised if you then have to wait beyond your scheduled appointment time, however. U.S. consulates often schedule applicants in large batches, telling all members of each scheduled group to show up at the same time.

      Who Should Attend the Consular Interview

      In many cases when families plan to visit or immigrate to the U.S. together, only spouses and children age 14 and older must attend the visa interview. For children under 14, you might simply need to take their passports and application materials with you when you appear for your interview. The U.S. government has the discretion to waive the interview for applicants under 14 years old, though it doesn't always do so; the decision is made case by case.

      Be sure, however, to check the application procedures at the consulate where you will apply. Some consulates do require the children to appear in person for all types of interview, regardless of age.

      Plan for Your Own Safety and Protection Around the U.S. Consulate

      Be careful of the possibility of crime around U.S. embassies and consulates. Local criminals know exactly where the consulates are, and they know that many people going for interviews are carrying sizable sums of money. Take whatever precautions are appropriate in your country. Watch out for con artists who hang around the consulate, trying to convince applicants that they will not get through the front door unless they hand over some money first.

      Upon Entering U.S. Embassy or Consulate

      Here is what will likely happen when you arrive at the embassy or consulate for your interview. First, a clerk will check the packet of forms and other items that you have brought along to make sure everything required is there.

      Next, a consular officer will meet with you, place you under oath (in which you swear to tell the truth), and review the contents of your application. Many consulates now conduct interviews through bulletproof glass windows that make you feel as if you are in a bank (or a prison).

      The officer will probably start by reviewing your forms and documents. The officer might ask questions that are identical to the ones on your forms. They don't have time to conduct an interview (just a few minutes, for basic visitor visas), and might prefer to hear your explanation that to read a long letter or statement.

      Since you will hopefully have reviewed your submission materials carefully, this should not be a problem. However, if you can't remember something, it is much better to say so than to guess at the answer.

      What Questions the Consular Officer Might Ask

      You will have to answer questions designed to find out whether you really qualify for the visa. The questions will depend on what type of visa you are applying for.

      If, for example, you are applying for a student visa, the officer might ask what you plan to do upon graduation, and will want to hear an answer that involves returning to your home country, not remaining in the United States.

      For this as for any nonimmigrant (temporary) visa, the officer will ask questions designed to test whether you really plan to return home afterwards, such as:

      • "What do you plan to do after you have finished your stay"
      • "Do you have a job here (in your home country) that you will come back to?"
      • "Do you own a home, and where?" and
      • "Where do your closest family members (parents, spouse, and children) live?"

      If you are applying for a fiancé visa (K-1) or a marriage-based visa, the officer will attempt to test whether your marriage or intended marriage is the real thing (bona fide). The officer will probably start by asking general questions, such as how you and your U.S. citizen fiancé or spouse met, when you decided to get married, and other facts regarding your visits or correspondence. (See, for more sample questions, K-1 Fiancé(e) Visa Interview Questions.)

      If the two of you have already married, the officer might ask things like how many guests attended the ceremony and how you have visited or corresponded with one another since then (if living apart). If everything looks to be in order, the officer might ask only two or three questions—but can always ask more. If you have children in common, the officer is much less likely to question whether your marriage is bona fide. The interview itself can take as little as 20 minutes.

      The Consulate's Visa Decision: Approval or Denial

      If everything is in order, you will either be asked to return another day to pick up the visa, or it will be sent to you via courier. You might, however, be asked to provide additional documentation or evidence before an approval or denial can be made. Not all applicants will be told whether they have been approved or denied right after the visa interview.

      The visa will consist of a stamp in your passport. The stamp will indicate that you are either a temporary visa holder, a permanent resident, or a conditional resident.

      If it's an immigrant visa (not a temporary one, but the sort that leads immediately to a green card), you might also receive an envelope containing key documents. DO NOT OPEN THE ENVELOPE! You'll need to give it to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer who greets you upon arrival in the United States. The CBP officer will examine its contents and do a last check for problems.

      Not all immigrant visa recipients receive envelopes, though. If you uploaded your supporting documents online rather than mailing them to the NVC, your immigrant visa should have an annotation, "IV Docs in CCD," which means that upon arrival in the U.S., the CBP officer will access all the required documents electronically.

      If a problem arises in your case, consular officers rarely deny visa applications on the spot. If the problem can be corrected or if you are inadmissible but are eligible to apply for a waiver, they will normally ask you to provide additional materials or a waiver application. Politely ask that the officer or official to put any requests for more materials in writing, stating exactly what is needed and the reasons why. Then you might wish to consult an attorney for help.

      Don't Forget: Your Visa Has an Expiration Date

      Six months is a typical length of time for a visa to be valid, so as to give people time to sell a house and get ready to move to the United States. Check the passport stamp for the date. Some consulates might give less time (in which case you could ask for an extension, up to the full six months after the issuance date).

      Some visas allow multiple U.S. entries, others only one. And be sure not to confuse the visa expiration date with the amount of time you will be allowed to stay in the United States. The latter will be shown on the Form I-94 that the Customs and Border Protection officer prepares for you upon arrival (which you can get from the CBP website). Also read How Long Will Your U.S. Visa Allow You to Stay?.

      Also make sure your passport won't expire before your U.S. entry. If you have unfinished business in your home country before the expiration date of the visa, it's best to travel to the United States before that date and return later to wrap things up.

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