Ajoy Kumar Singha

It has been almost a month my L1B visa application was rejected. I want to share my experience and feedback on the whole visa application and approval system.

Application Process: Since mine was a L1B visa, my organization scheduled the interview after I filled the online application. The application fee includes two parts – one a demand draft of Rs. 23500/-  ($500) and another demand draft of Rs. 105700/- ($2250). The fee was paid by my organization.

Interview Day: You will see a huge gathering outside the consulate. The security guards will try to drive you out if you reach earlier than your appointment time. At the check point you will need to switch off your mobile phone and submit the security personnel. You will be issued a token number. The first thing they will check is supporting documents for your visa application. Expect few questions on name change, organization name etc. The interviewers at this point will most like be an Indian.
After this you submit the fee at a different counter. Once fee is collected you will be directed to finger scanning section. All the ten fingers are scanned in a scanning device. Here US consulate does not trust any Indians. So the person who will supervise the scanning activity will be an US citizen.
One thing I noticed about those interview windows is that there is glass separator between interviewer and interviewee. The mic and speaker system they have installed to facilitate communication between the interviewer and interviewee is of not very good quality. In a standalone isolated place the system would have worked well but with 100s people standing and seating (and talking) just 5 meter behind you makes the sound of the interviewer less audible. I simply call this #FAIL in twitter slang.
Once your token number flashes in a window you go to that window and submit your passport and supporting document. The interviewer will ask you a range of questions (for L1B visa) like how long you have been with your organization, what is the team size, who is your client, what does your client do, what is your role in the current project and the most important question are what is the special skill that you have and what you will be doing in your client location.
I have been told that I should prepare answers for those above questions and specially the last two questions. Let me explain why these two questions are important.

Question: What special skills do you have?
Why is this question asked: L1B visa is a special kind of visa given to specialized skill professionals. The skills those are not available easily in the US market. So if you are applying for L1B visa you should have special skills that no one in your organization has and the skill that is rarely available in US (at least US consulate think so).
How do companies ask you to prepare for this question: They will ask you to mention the tools and utilities such as “company proprietary tools”, non-existent technologies and virtual roles that you perform.

Question: What will be your roles in client location?
Why is this question asked: They want to see if you are going to do something that cannot be done by the client employees or any US citizen there. If you are going to do very generic roles such as requirement gathering, onsite offshore coordination work then they will not be convinced.
How do companies ask you to prepare for this question: You should mention something that is unique (or at least sounds unique) while answering for this question. Tell them that you are the only person who knows about that tool and nobody in the earth have that skill. So your role is unique.
If you can manage to bluff these two questions you are likely to be granted an L1B visa. If not, they will ask you to apply again for individual category visas. If you are rejected they will keep the visa application fee.

Few observations that I made during my interview process - 
  1. The glass partition at the visa window is bad. The interviewer’s voice is not properly audible to the candidate. They can arrange a head phone with mic instead of cheap speaker system.
  2. There is not enough sitting space for candidates. People standing and haphazardly standing behind the candidates make the interviewer’s voice less audible.
  3. The interviewer is not technically qualified to judge every candidate’s “special skills”. Even if candidate bluffs about a tool called “ASFT” they will not able to able to catch that. (Purely my opinion and the ASFT mean Ajoy Singha Fake Tool).
  4. Visa rejection rate is higher than 90% for L1B these days. Two years back it was not so. I do not remember to have met anyone whose L1B was rejected from my organization during 2006 to 2009. But today I am eager to meet someone whose visa was granted.
  5. High visa fee. US consulate is making big money by rejecting enough number of visas. This helps them fight against Osama and Saddam. Do you want to pay that huge amount for getting rejected?
  6. Why do we require unique skills and tools to convince you? There are enough software projects where a common tool can be used to do unique work. Every software requirement is unique and those can be achieved by common tools. It is the human brain that helps it created. So tool cannot be unique always.
  7. It is almost impossible to convince you about my project and special skill in a 3 minute interview (unless I am Rajanikanth or Digvijay Singh). You cannot judge me whether I have special skill or I am a plain chap with those two questions.
  8. If every Indian applying visa could have been replaced by an American, you would not have allowed outsourcing. We are cheap, disciplined, committed and highly skilled than the billing rate that our organization charges you. That’s why you do or allow outsourcing.
  9. So you think Indian L1B applicants have suddenly become less specialized in their skills in last two years compared to 2006-2009? I can cite numerous people who cannot write a good email in English, who have been granted the same L1B visa during those 3 years. And now you are rejecting every possible application. Can you publish a data how many L1Bs were rejected in last one year/month/day?
  10. You may tell me most of the software work can be done from offshore as we have high speed internet, applications to collaborate real time, video and voice chat, remote infrastructure access etc. Plus we are committed enough to wait for your morning (our mid night) status meeting call. So even without physically being present in the US land we can achieve almost anything in a software project. I have just one question – why was Obama required to be in India when he could have just done a video conferencing with the people he wanted to talk and video recorded the placed he wanted to visit?
I am not writing this post because my visa was rejected. I have many collaborative works to do in India and I am part of many initiatives in Indian software testing domain. Many testers were happy that I am not leaving India. If I had left India, many of my work like my weekend classes, Testing Circus magazine, Testers Monthly Meet (in India) would have hampered. My visa rejection was blessings in disguise. But I feel the whole process of visa application and selection mechanism is wrong. US authorities are doing atrocities that they do everywhere. Let me tell you - Indians are not dogs. We are not beggars. Think about a situation where all Indians working in the US returns back to India and India stops outsourcing business. Will US be able to survive? We are major consumers of US based products ranging from Microsoft Windows 7, Hardware processors, to Cola Cola and Pepsi. If you do not respect Indians, time will come where Indians will produce their own products and US based companies will have hard time saving their ass. Learn lessons from China. So treat us techies as human beings.

End Note - my Indian readers, please feel patriotic and my US friends, please throw tomatoes, chappals and eggs on me in the form of comments. 

Update - US Embassy issued a 3 year H1 Visa to my and my family members. - June/2012
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