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Getting A Visitor Visa Is Easier Than You Think

Posted on February 29, 2012
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One of the things that continues to surprise me is the persistent urban legend that traveling to the United States is difficult. It’s a bit like the rumor about giant alligators roaming the sewers of New York City eating homeless people and lost tourists. Titillating. Hard to disprove from a distance. Reinforces preconceptions. But patently untrue.

Disney USACome on in and enjoy the USA.

For holiday, business, and other travelers intending to stay in the US for no more than 90 days, we have an online process that takes less than 72 hours and costs about US$14 to use. This Visa Waiver system is available to Kiwis, Aussies, and citizens and permanent residents of 34 other countries.

Since I’m battling alligators in the sewers on this one, I went back and pulled statistics to illustrate my point. Since August 2008 (the earliest point I could access), 463,079 visa waiver applications have been submitted online. Of those applications, 99.78% were automatically approved.

No, you didn’t read that wrong. If you want to go to the USA on holiday or for short-term business, the statistics indicate that you have a 99.78% chance of getting to visit the US cheaply and easily without leaving the comfort of your home or needing a visa. That’s not quite as high as the chance of avoiding alligators in the sewers of New York City (which is 100%), but it’s awfully close.

Of course, if you have been convicted of a crime, or if you have lied on a prior visa application, then you are not going to be able to avail yourself of the visa waiver system. Of course, that makes sense, right?

American AutumnsAmerican autumns need to be seen to be believed.

If you would like to visit the US for longer than 90 days, or you seek domestic work authorization, or you have had criminal or immigration problems in the past, then an actual visa is required. The procedure, though, is simple. You need to fill out a form online and then come into the Consulate General in Auckland for an interview.

There are almost always next-day appointments available. Interviews are usually no longer than two or three minutes. And visas are generally printed and posted within one business day.

Again, let’s get to the bottom line. The visa approval rate at the Consulate General over the past couple of years has been 96% for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. That means that even if you don’t qualify for the visa waiver system, you have a 96% chance of getting your visa after an interview shorter than the time it takes to boil water for tea.

We continue to work to improve and simplify even those straightforward procedures. For example, President Obama recently announced a new visa pilot program that will “simplify and speed up the non-immigrant visa process for certain applicants, including the ability to waive interviews for some very low-risk applicants.”

More specifically, that pilot program provides that Kiwis and applicants from other visa waiver countries who need to renew a US visa can now do so completely by mail if their visas have been expired for less than four years, as long as they meet certain standard conditions (such as you haven’t changed your name or nationality).

Also, as I have discussed previously, Kiwi students and recent graduates are eligible for a special visa that allows you to travel and work in the United States for a full year. The application process is quite simple, and the visa allows you to work and travel as you please for the year. It’s a great way to see the country, establish friendships, finance your adventure, and build experience.

There is now an easy four-month version of the student work-travel program available as well. There is no need to arrange employment before you come to the States. You can enter the country and find temporary work, or not, as you go.

There are many other cultural and educational exchange opportunities available to visit the US. Last year the Consulate General issued 2,303 visas for such programs. Our J-1 visa provides countless opportunities for international candidates looking to travel and gain experience in America. The multifaceted programs enable foreign nationals to come to the US to teach, study, conduct research, demonstrate special skills, or receive on the job training for periods ranging from a few weeks to several years. Exchange opportunities include programs for camp counselors, au pairs, interns, physicians, teachers, professors, and research scholars.

24 Feb 2012

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