I still can’t work out if I’ve actually mentioned this on here but in June I’ll be flying to New York City (!!!) to spend my four months living and working at a summer camp in Pennsylvania! I can finally say that this is actually happening as yesterday (March 5th) I had my appointment at the US embassy in London and was granted my J-1 visa! The whole experience was a pretty interesting (and slightly stressful) one so I thought I’d share it on here in case anyone else has a visa appointment coming up or feels inspired to do this in the future…. 😉
-before I start this is about getting a J-1/ working visa to the United States. If you’re just going on holiday from the UK then you only need an ESTA, which can be applied for online–
The US embassy has recently moved from its old place in Mayfair to a swanky new building in Nine Elms on the Southbank. This means that the closest station is Vauxhall, with the embassy being around a 10 minute walk away along the Thames. You should aim to get to the embassy around 30 minutes before your booked appointment; if you get there much earlier than this they will just turn you away and ask you to come back closer to your appointment time to minimise queues. Be wary of this as there is very little to do nearby currently including few cafes and shops!
When you arrive at the embassy, head around the back to the US flag. Follow the signs for ‘visa services’ round to the South Pavilion entrance. There should be two queues there, join the one in front of the red ‘visa services’ flag. Make sure you have all your relevant documents with you! When you get to the front of the line they will ask for your passport, DS-2019 and SEVIS fee receipt. They then direct you to the other queue, unless you are late for your appointment (make sure you have a legitimate excuse if you end up being late!) when they will send you straight through.
You wait in the second queue for a while (the time for this seems to vary as my queue was very short and we were outside for around 5 minutes but the queue when I arrived was huge and didn’t move at all the whole time I watched) so make sure you have dressed appropriately for the weather, particularly if it’s forecast to rain as the area is uncovered. After a bit you will get sent through to the security area. This is just like airport security where you put your belongings in a tray and walk through a scanner. The restrictions for items is pretty similar to airports as well, although bags bigger than a backpack and tablets and laptops aren’t allowed. Another security officer on the door will double check your documents again, ours was a complete babe and made up a special handshake with everyone who went through.
When you make it through security, head outside again and up towards the main building. Here you may have to wait outside again for queues inside to go down or you may be allowed straight in (to the lovely, toasty warmth). You will be handed a leaflet outlining the Wilberforce Act about workers rights in the USA when you join the queue. When you reach the desk at the front, hand over those same documents again which they will check for you. They will put some big numbered stickers on them and tell you to go to level one. Walk behind the desk to the lifts and press ^ and then level 1 (visa services).
When you arrive on level 1 you will be directed to sit on one side and keep an eye on the screens for your number to be called. There isn’t much order to the numbers they display so keep an eye on the screen as they don’t always announce the number audibly. The screen will display your number with a cubicle number to go to. The numbers go up from left to right! Sometimes you will have to join YET ANOTHER short queue here, but sometimes you will go straight to the window. Hand your documents over again and answer the questions confirming your personal information. They then take your fingerprints and put your documents in a special shiny folder and instruct you to head to the other end of the seating area and wait for your same number again. Again you head to the window number displayed and hand over your documents. You will be asked more questions here about your job in the States, what you do currently and your plans when returning to the UK. At this point you may be asked to produce your proof of plans to return to the UK so make sure you bring them. They will then confirm your fingerprints again and tell you (in a fab American accent) if your visa has been granted! Woo! They then hand over a card with details about getting your passport/documents back through their courier service and you’re free to go and celebrate!
After my embassy appointment I crossed back over Vauxhall Bridge and walked along the Thames to the Houses of Parliament as I’d never been before and then back up to Victoria station but there’s loads of other things to do quite nearby as well such as the Tate Britain, the London Eye and Westminster Abbey! Or if you fancy seeing some more of London, jump on the tube at Vauxhall or Pimlico and explore to your heart’s content. Hopefully this will be helpful to some people or just an interesting read if you’ve never been to an embassy before! Have you ever had to get a visa for another country?