I did my medical and police checks in mid-August because I spent September and October on vacation in Colorado job-hunting. So by the time I got my interview date in mid-September I was all ready as far as paperwork was concerned.
I arrived in Sydney on Monday morning and had my new US-dimensions passport photo taken at Photoland on King and Pitt Streets, right by the theater exit of the MLC Center. It was $24.95 for two, but you only need the one. I had already tried the pharmacy inside MLC Center (level 7, food court) but because Monday was Veterans Day in the US, whoever was in charge of the passport photos had taken the day off.
Monday night I had a few “take-the-edge-off” cocktails at Opera Bar in Sydney Harbor before heading back to my hotel (Travelodge Phillip St, literally three minutes’ walk from the MLC Center). When I checked in the guy had asked me what I was doing in town and I said I had an interview at Martin Place. He said “US consulate? We get a lot of guests for that sort of thing.” so if you’re an out-of-towner and looking for decent close accommodation for a reasonable price, I’d recommend it.
My interview was scheduled for 9:30am Tuesday morning but I’m a nervy bastard at the best of times so I decided to just go in early and see if I couldn’t get through a bit ahead of schedule. On top of that I had a flight booked for 4:00pm and didn’t want to get caught up if it went for a few hours. I hit the Martin Place post office first for the required 3kg Express Post envelope for the return of my passport. Assuming you’re successful in being granted the the green card, they keep your passport to apply a temporary visa to it. They then ship it back after a few days.
I went to level 10 at the MLC Center, showed my ID and went through the metal detector sans shoes, belt, sunglasses and phone. They held the latter two but I was allowed to put my belt and shoes back on. After that I sat in a row of chairs until the elevator attendant called me and two others over. She hit the 59 button and we headed up to the consulate. Before the door there’s an official behind a window who checks your passport again before buzzing the door to let you into the room. You press the button on the machine for Immigrant Visas, which will print you out a ticket with C-### on it, and then you take a seat.
Inside is just like your average Medicare or Department of Transport office, only probably more nerve-wracking. The magazines are crap and there’s a pretty generic border-security video playing on the TV. Unless you take a book or the newspaper (DO THIS), you’ll be bored. I probably sat for the best part of an hour before my number (C409) was called. I went to my assigned window and a woman went through my paperwork pretty painstakingly. I was nervous even though I knew it was all in order (grade 12 certificate, university transcripts, police report, medical records, birth certificate, passport). I took bank statements showing I had savings but she didn’t even look at them before giving them back.
She gave me a ticket to show the cashier so I went to pay my fee ($US330 or $A363) – I took cash just in case the card machines were down, which they weren’t. After seeing my receipt the woman at the window finished off my paperwork, had me sign the DS-0230 form and then asked me to sit down and wait.
After about 10 minutes I got called up again. The interviewing officer took my fingerprints, make me take an oath that I’d be truthful and answer questions to the best of my ability and then she got stuck into it. Why do you want to move to the US? What work do you do here? What work do you intend to do in the US? How will you support yourself while you look for work? Where will you stay? Why did you choose there? How do you know the person you’re staying with?
Anyway after I answered her questions the interviewing officer looked at me with a deadpan expression and said “I have good news. You’ve been approved for the visa.” She handed me a slip of paper with my name and some basic instructions on it and said congratulations. After that I took off back downstairs to grab my phone and head out to consume six beers and a glass of celebratory bubbly before 1:00pm.
So that’s it! From door to door it took me two hours. I was out by 10:25am with a green card on its way. All I had to do after that was wait until I got the passport back because I had a ticket to return to the US on November 24. They say not to book anything until you get the visa in the mail, but buying a ticket last-minute wasn’t viable and I packed up my life and quit my job in anticipation for today. Based on the testimony of other people who’ve had Tuesday interviews, I was expecting to get it back Friday in the post and, sure enough, on Friday November 15 the embassy contacted me to say my visa was in the mail and on its way back to me. Quick turnaround for a government department!
Some interview advice:
a) Take something hard-copy to read. Seriously. The magazines suck.
b) Answer truthfully but don’t go overboard. One woman who interviewed right before me was obviously nervous and babbled incessantly about unnecessary bullshit and from where I was sitting I could hear the consular official getting frustrated.
c) If you didn’t put a US street address on your initial application (for where they’ll send your green card), you need to take one to the interview. It can be a friend’s place, or a hotel, or whatever. Make sure it’s somewhere safe though. The REAL advice here is: write the address down on paper! You can’t take your phone or laptop into the consulate, so if you haven’t got the address written down they won’t approve you on the spot.
d) Don’t be nervous! You got this far. Be excited!
If you’ve got questions about the process, don’t be shy – leave me a comment below.