I’ve written about my troubles concerning my inability to obtain a US Visa a few times before. I’ve come to the realisation that whining too much about things you cannot control makes you a burden to yourself and a misery to others, it’s also unattractive, but I would like people to learn from this even if it doesn’t help myself.
My goal here is not just to whine, it’s to warn other people and hopefully help them. In my opinion, those who fail at something are not best suited to giving advice but perhaps you will read this story and it will make you more alert to researching. If this helps so much as one person, I will feel as if I’ve achieved a lot.
You might think this post is long and my verbosity, cynical behaviour or crudeness is why i was denied. I gave quite quick and easy to understand answers to the questions I was given in my interviews. My verbosity is for my website audience only :). I was perfectly polite at the US Embassy. My comments here are after I was denied, so naturally I am going to sound a bit bitter.
Who I am
First things first, I’m a white, non religious person with enough money in the bank to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from South to North and back again North to South (to clarify, I only want to hike from the South to the North.)
I’ve never been arrested; I’ve never been in debt; I have a platinum credit card; I’ve never had so much as a speeding ticket on my driving license I’ve had 10+ years; and the only thing I could find when I googled my family’s name was a bunch of articles in my grandfather’s name (he’d written a few medical books, there’s awards in his name, etc.) You might wonder why I’ve brought my colour into this. If I could draw any kind of loose connection at all, even if it was something as stupid as them being racist, I could begin to make some kind of sense of this. In my opinion, I’m the ideal person to have in a country because 1. I’m an organised person who will put money into the country. 2. I have morals 3. I’m polite 4. I like my country enough that I’ll return home to it.
On paper, I can’t really think of any negatives. I wasn’t brought up by some distant relative who has ties with ISIS or something–my parents are still married and are non religious. This might sound defensive, but I want you–the reader–to realise that I’m a decent person so you understand the gravity of the situation. I tick the right boxes but I was still denied. My explanation is simple; they made a monumental screw-up, and now rather than admit to screwing-up and risk contradicting the previous consular officer, they stick together.
US Visa 18th November 2016
On the 18th of November 2016, my US Visa was denied. The consular officer I spoke to was instantly dismissive of me. I’m not very good at judging people but I got a very bad vibe from her. She requested I place my hand on the fingerprint scanner and she said my fingerprint wasn’t recognised. She seemed a bit moody about it but she’s probably said the same thing to a million people that same morning.
During the interview, she said, “I see you’ve applied for an ESTA before and failed.” When she said this, it made no sense to me for multiple reasons. I hadn’t even heard of an ESTA, let alone applied for one; and I hadn’t even visited the CBP site before 19/11/2016 (my Visa interview was 18/11/2016, and you apply using a different website.) I should have instantly requested to speak with her manager but I didn’t think to, it was all new to me.
I was applying for a Visa, not an ESTA and this added to my confusion. I did not say all this to her–it would seem argumentative. I simply clarified that I had not applied for an ESTA before. She later hinted at the idea I’d applied for a Visa and failed–that too was rubbish. I hadn’t stepped in the US Embassy prior to having my interview 18/11/2016. My current passport is pretty new. I have been to other European countries but I have not left Europe. I was left wondering, “is there a black mark by my name where someone has applied for an ESTA in my name? Was a clerical error made? Did I waste £135 + travel expenses, because someone made a clerical error?”
She asked if I was employed and I said “I am not currently employed by anyone. I am training for the Pacific Crest Trail” (I get to pick and choose when I work.) Money wasn’t going to be an issue for a few months. As a side note, I sold my car to help motivate me and that gave me a bit of extra income. I don’t think I told her this.
She asked how much money I have and I responded, of which she replied by saying “how do you have that much”, I said “savings” and her response was “so you have worked before?” I explained I had and I explained the last time I was previously employed to work at a company (as opposed to running my own business) and whatnot. I told her I’d stopped certain things to help train.
She asked how far I have hiked before and I said “20 miles in a day”, she said and “how long was that for?”, I said “a day hike.” She said I wasn’t “dedicated enough”, I have “no skills” and I “don’t have enough ties to England”, and I have been denied. She brought up money again, then I defended myself and then she said money isn’t a problem. I was thinking, so why bring it up then?
Explaining I had evidence meant nothing to her. I wasn’t allowed to show anything nor an email regarding the Pacific Crest Trail. She would not look at ANY evidence.
I believed she must have made a clerical error, but when I requested to speak with her manager afterwards, the manager said similar things and I didn’t challenge the point about an ESTA being denied. It makes me seem like an absolute idiot, but when you’ve travelled for hours, and you’re exhausted, you don’t always think of the right things to say on the spot (well I certainly didn’t.)
I was truly disgusted and really sad, but equally it seems I made a few mistakes. For example, apparently I had not filled in the education fields correctly. I wasted money on the travel, plus the Visa. She said “we are concerned you might want to migrate here.” Why would I apply for a non-immigrant Visa? Why wouldn’t I have just applied for an ESTA? I don’t understand the system really. Is that seriously how illegal immigrants become legal? Hey guys, I’m gonna hike 2650+ miles; here’s evidence I take photographs, I’ve spoken about this subject ad nauseam, and here’s some receipts for the equipment I bought but it’s all an elaborate scam! From another country, perhaps I’d understand this but here in the UK, the government offers us a lot.
For the longest time, I really thought the consular officer simply disliked me, but then I looked back at the situation with a more optimistic and productive approach, I thought perhaps numerous mistakes added up. Her clerical error, my supposed clerical error with the alleged omission of education material, my vagueness about working, and perhaps I also looked a bit sick and tired from travelling. My grandfather died on the same day, and someone tried to mug me while I was not far from the US Embassy. It was a great day all around.
The biggest thing that really disappoints me is how the woman interviewed me; she wasn’t interested and wasn’t very kind. She didn’t want to hear what I had to say. I also believe they likely have to refuse people to keep the statistics on track; I’m guessing 30% get rejected. Perhaps I am too cynical.
Events leading up to the 31st of August 2017 Visa Denial
After my first Visa was denied on the 18th of November 2016, I contacted the ESTA department and I also applied for an ESTA which was denied (it’s important you understand the chronology; I applied for an ESTA AFTER the Visa interview.) Shortly before my Visa interview on the 31st of August 2017, I contacted them again and wrote a more punchy–non emotional–letter I felt would be easier to show a consular officer:
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am requesting information from you regarding a topic I have spoken to you about before–this email does concern ESTAs so please keep reading.
Last year I applied for a Visa and had my interview on the 18th of November 2016. During the start of the interview, the consular officer claimed an ESTA in my name had been previously denied. I believe this had an effect on the rest of my Visa interview.
After my Visa was denied on the 18th of November 2016, I emailed you (Reference Number REDACTED) on the 21st of November 2016 requesting information about the alleged ESTA denial. You responded kindly and did not find an ESTA on file for me, “we found no ESTA on file for you. Unfortunately, if you have ever been denied a U.S. Visa recently, it is likely any ESTA you do apply for will be denied.” I waited a short period and applied for an ESTA on the 16th of January 2017. The ESTA was denied as you said it would “likely” be.
Can you please confirm what I have said is accurate, namely there was no ESTA on file for me on or before November 2016, i.e. at the time of my Visa interview I had not been denied an ESTA before, and an ESTA had only been denied at a later date? Passport Number: REDACTED.
Please confirm you stated (Reference Number REDACTED) I will require a Visa in order to continue with my travel plans, “Thank you for your response, but unfortunately, once your ESTA is denied, it cannot be reversed.
In order to continue with your travel plans, you will require a non-immigrant visa issued by your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.”
Lastly, if this rule has since changed and it’s possible a new ESTA application would be accepted, please can you let me know? I’m willing to make compromises at this point.
My sincerest apologies for taking up more of your time. I will print this email along with your response and I’ll show it to the consular officer at my next Visa interview within the upcoming weeks.
They replied with mostly what I thought would be enough to get me a US Visa, at the time:
Thank you for contacting the Compliments and Complaints Branch (CCB) with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regarding your visa denial by the U.S. Consulate as well as by ESTA.
I am sorry to learn about your negative experience with the U.S. Consulate in November 2016, but unfortunately, we have no authority over them and as such, we are unable to over- turn any decision made by the Consular Officer. It is up to them whether or not to grant a visa to the U.S.
There is only one (1) ESTA on file for you dated in January 2017 that was denied. You are required to have a non-immigrant visa prior to any travels to the U.S.
I encourage you to contact the U.S. Consulate for further assistance regarding your Visa denial and whether or not you are qualified to reapply for a new visa.
There is nothing further we can do to help you.
Again, thank you.
Compliments and Complaints Branch
This was a waste of time because I couldn’t get the consular officer to read it during the interview.
The 31st of August 2017 Visa Interview
On the 31st of August 2017, I got up after not really sleeping very much, again… I had already prepared my documents and whatnot, and they were all in a plastic folder. I brought various bits of evidence:
- A bunch of photographs, including professional (I don’t consider myself a professional photographer by any means, but any job wherein pay is received is professional by nature), charitable (given to local charities for website usage), and hobby photographs (similar to the stuff in my portfolio page.)
- A couple of pages of coding; the last consular officer claimed I had no skills, so I thought if I brought some computer code written in different languages (I printed PHP, Python and jQuery) it would help show I am not completely without skills.
- A detailed travel itinerary based around a 2-2.5 miles per hour walking average.
- A semi-detailed gear list.
- A letter from my parents, explaining I have adequate funds, they will support me emotionally and financially if I go through my funds, I have employment when I return home, and some other stuff.
- Some website statistics, including when I first wrote about the Pacific Crest Trail.
- Some letters from other people either asking me to hike the PCT with them or that kind of thing.
- Business invoices and a business card.
- A bank statement with a stamp on it to prove authenticity.
- A list of hiking times/heart rate/hiking speed, generated from a Garmin report.
- Some education certificates (including a separate grade “A” English certificate for a qualification I did in 2015)
- The information mentioned above.
- I’ve probably forgotten something… Haha.
I wasn’t sure what to bring in the way of evidence, so I just gathered a bunch of stuff I thought they might like.
On the 31st of August 2017, I was more prepared for the security queues compared to the interview I had on the 18th of November 2016. This time, I had a nylon belt with me. The woman said I still have to take it off as it could be a “weapon.” If I wanted to hurt someone, I most certainly wouldn’t attempt to stab someone, behind bullet proof laminated glass, with a 2mm thick nylon buckle. Jesus fucking christ. Obviously I’d use a synthetic aromatic polymer made from the monomer styrene instead–just kidding. I digress…
I walked through the metal detector, and the man commented on a comb in my bag (it’s plastic) and said “what is this comb?” I said “it’s a comb”, he said “what is it for?” I said “for combing” and he spoke to his supervisor. She told him to be quiet basically. He was most perplexed by my comb. I walked through the metal detector and my Garmin watch set off all the alarms, but they were so focused on my plastic comb not to notice all of the alarms going off, so the poor sucker behind me had to be checked over. I had walked away at that point, and I had forgotten I was even wearing the watch, because he distracted me with the comb business. I’m not going to go into any more detail because the security is a flawed joke and it’s not relevant to helping you.
When the interview commenced, I explained I had a letter from my family and a letter from the US government proving a mistake had been made in my last interview. He was not interested and said he saw a note on his system.
He began to ask me questions, and puffed air through his cheeks when he looked at my application–his cheeks bulged. I could tell he didn’t enjoy having to look through this.
- “Are you going for the same reason. Do you still want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail?” ~ “Yes.”
- “How long is the hike?” ~ “2650 miles.”
- “Will you have medical insurance?” ~ “Yes.”
- “Are you going with anyone else?” ~ “I would prefer to go on my own as everyone hikes at a different pace, and I am sure I will meet people along the way. I have been requested to hike with others but I cannot give them definitive answers without a Visa. I also had sponsorship lined up but again I need a Visa.”
- “Are sponsors going to pay for your travels?” ~ “Definitely not. I have more than enough money to do the hike, but if I can get sponsored and avoid spending my own money, it’s a bonus. I do not need to rely on sponsors.”
- “Do you know anyone in the USA or do you have any friends there?” ~ “I don’t have any friends there except online friends. I have a cousin but we don’t really talk; we’re not enemies or anything like that, we just don’t have reason to talk to each other.”
- “Where will you buy supplies from?” ~ “A shop.”
- “Who will deliver them to you? How will you get them?” ~ “I’ll walk in a shop and buy them.”
- “How will you do that?” ~ “Instead of looking at this as one long hike, try to imagine it as a bunch of one week hikes. Roughly every week, I’ll walk in a shop and buy supplies.” He looked at me like I was weird. In places where you need parcels to be sent, you can arrange them yourself. I don’t know what I should have said here?
- “Have you done much hiking in the UK before?” ~ “Yes”
- “What’s the longest hike you’ve been on in the UK?” ~ “About 200 miles; 20 miles per day.”
- “How long did that take?” ~ “10 days.”
- “What hikes have you been on?” ~ “I’ve done some of the Pennine way and various hikes in England and wales”
- “Where is that?” ~ I made a mistake with my answer here; brain fart due to tiredness.
- “Have you done any of the longer hikes in Scotland?” ~ “No”
- I got him to read my parents letter.
- He looked through some of my evidence (he did not look at my photographs or ask to see my bank statement.)
- “What is this?” ~ “It’s some code I’ve written and website information. At my last interview, I was told I didn’t have any skills, so I’ve brought a bit of everything. I wasn’t sure what evidence to bring.”
- “You’re not sure what evidence to bring?” ~ “I have a rough idea, and I’ve brought things I think are relevant to the hike, but I am not 100% sure.”
- He walked off and returned.
These quotes are not verbatim and a few more questions were asked
I’m writing this for legal reasons because knowing my luck, I’ll get sued for putting a comma in the wrong place or something.
When he returned, he brought up money (the bank statement he didn’t read showed £10.5k savings put aside specifically for the hike) and I said I should have done the longer hikes in Scotland. The Pennine Way is predominantly in England (it does briefly go into Scotland) and is UK’s second longest hike (the longest isn’t complete although you can do a lot of it, it’ll be officially opened in 2020, called the England Coast Path and it’s much longer than any hike in Scotland.) This delusion that Scotland is the only part of the UK with nice hikes is irritating, lol.
Naturally I was quite disappointed to be told my US Visa application was denied a second time, actually that’s a bit of an understatement. I felt quite sick. The first time it was denied was sad enough and I didn’t believe I’d care as much but if anything, I care far more this time. He walked off again and I couldn’t speak to anyone, at least the previous consular officer said I could talk to her manager if I wanted (not that it did any good.) His reasons that I don’t have enough money could have been given to me before I went to the interview. I declared my sources of income in great detail.
The first time my US Visa to hike the Pacific Crest Trail was denied, I had something to aim for afterwards. I could work harder, gain more “ties” within the UK, and challenge the erroneous bits of information i.e. get a letter from the US Government essentially stating I had not been denied an ESTA at the time of the interview, as per the consular officer’s claims. When I’d done all of that, prepared myself more, and researched more and more, I truly believed I stood a good chance at having my Visa application approved. My application was flawless, I answered questions in the interview quickly, and I don’t understand what their problem was.
I’m going to hike in Canada, and that might help, but if I apply again who’s to say they don’t come up with another excuse? I’m sick of this really. Last time they more or less said I need to focus more on money instead of hiking and training; this time they implied I need to focus more on hiking but said I need more money–without even looking at the hikes I’d been on or my bank statement(s.) I can’t win either way.
The irony in all of this is that I wouldn’t migrate to the USA if I was paid. I like the look of the land, and the people seem really nice, but it’s not a country I’d feel safe in long term. If you put aside your thoughts as to how crap I am at interviews, it boils down to only three things:
- Do I have enough money for the hike?
- Will I return home after hiking?
- Have doctors found any medical reasons as to why I should not do this hike?
The answer to the first two questions is a yes and the last is a no. In fact, I’d spoken to my doctor about this hike (I’ve never been stung by bees, and I wanted to cover all grounds so I asked if he could check to see if I’m allergic to bees. I know it sounds stupid, but I don’t want to travel all that way and be taken down by the dumbest of creatures) and he was really looking forward to me going. I also mentioned Giardia to him and if there are any pills he can supply me with before I leave. I have researched this hike until my head has hurt.
My advice to whoever is reading this
Like I said at the start, I don’t believe inadequate people are the best suited to giving advice. Therefore, please discuss this with people more knowledgeable than myself. However, perhaps you can learn from my mistakes in some way.
What I can say is that I wished I applied for an ESTA way before I applied for a Visa. They’re incredibly cheap to apply for, and you will almost certainly be accepted. You will almost certainly be denied if your Visa has been denied though.
So my advice is to apply for a Canadian Visa (they’re cheap; about $7 or something I think I paid) and a US ESTA. Then you have a backup plan and you can seriously ask yourself if you’re through hiking or if 3 months will be enough to do what you want to do. If you have less than £10.5k in your bank account, but your Visa is approved, please let me know.
Record the interview. The signs tell you to keep your phone switched off, but you should record it, in my opinion, and have your phone set to silent.
My plan of action for now
I’m looking at hiking across Canada next year (2018.) I cannot really afford to buy camera equipment, hike across Canada, return home, try for another Visa and then try to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2019. I would really appreciate donations but any kind comments would be equally appreciated. I feel a bit defeated by this really.
What I’m considering is buying a Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 lens (the longest lens I own is a Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 lens) and focusing a bit more on photography when I travel. Most of my latest equipment I bought with the Pacific Crest Trail in mind.
Then I’ll make plans to hike across Canada, and hopefully find a way to monetise my travels a bit, while I’m travelling. I’m not really sure, but I think I should definitely look at hiking abroad and bringing home evidence, so that in the event I decide to sodomise my brain cells another time at the US Embassy, I will have something better to show them.
For what it’s worth, it hasn’t lowered my opinion of Americans in general, and I still want to do the hike. I just hate everyone I’ve met at the US Embassy so far, with the exception of the people on reception. They were REALLLLLLLLLLLLY nice. They actually gave me an email to contact, but of course the US Government have simply ignored my email so far.
Just to be clear, when I applied for my Canadian Visa (eTA), I had to declare I was denied a Visa. I gave an honest answer, I explained what had happened, and I showed proof (a letter from the US Government, similar to the one pasted above.)