Deep Diver is an Elephant Room column for stories that got lost in translation. Each week, we'd pick a batch of the most interesting and relevant content from an ocean of Chinese sources, translate and share them with you.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration approved social media background checks for U.S. visa applications. For Chinese visitors to the U.S however, they have another major thing to worry about - the visa interview.
What exactly are the grounds for approving or rejecting one's visa at the interview point? We are as confused as the people featured in this story.
Chinese face three obstacles when they visit the United States: money, time, and most importantly, visa.
Interview is the most nerve-wrecking component of the U.S visa application process. From the applicants' speaking manners , facial expressions to the visa officers' skin colors and genders, there are countless factors determining one's interview success. An university student without any financial saving might pass, yet a financially independent applicant might be rejected with no specific reasons.
The Disadvantage of Being a Single Lady
Feifei, a young Chinese girl obsessed with American rock music, was excited to attend her favorite band's Los Angeles concert in 2015. To be prepared for the visa application, she booked flight and concert tickets in advance, and prepared detailed supporting materials after consulting her friends.
“I went to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for the interview, and the officer, an African American lady I think, asked me all sorts of trivial questions about my trip,” Feifei recalls. “she was like, why do you want to see the band's performance? how is your income? which countries have you been to? and many more.”
Feifei was rejected. It was a considerable loss as the round-trip ticket alone had cost her 30,000 RMB. Being financially independent, Feifei assumes her refusals were mostly due to her lack of foreign travel experience - she's only visited Japan before the planned U.S trip. “My friends told me travel records of Europe and Australia would be very helpful.” she says.
Feifei does not worry too much about her two refusals (she got rejected again the following year), and says she would apply for visa again if necessary. The girl likes reggae and lizard, and considers traveling just a kind of experience, “Let it take its course. Going to America is not that a big deal for me anyway. Every culture is worth exploring to me.”
Ting, working in Shanghai, applied for U.S tourism visa this February. A client of her invited Ting to join for a family trip and help out with the translations, in exchange they'd cover her travel expenses.
The visa officer did not leave a good impression on Ting. “A very arrogant man, and his questions were full of inducement to make me sound suspicious,” She listed out some of the questions she got asked: are you married? do you have a boyfriend? have you been abroad? alone or with friends? how is your monthly income?
Her visa was rejected. “My guess is that 100% of single girls would be rejected visa during the Trump administration.” She says angrily.
Walking out from the embassy, Ting went to the cinema directly to watch a movie. “Nothing else I could do. I went to Thailand instead for that vocation.”
Does Honesty Really Matter?
Having visited America twice, Kushou believes that migration tendency and honesty are the most crucial elements in determining visa success. She takes her friend as an example, “My friend’s fiancée planned to go to America for her sister’s graduation. When the officer asked the purpose of her travel, she provided every single detail of her entire trip - first of all to attend the graduation of her sister, secondly to road trip around the country, and thirdly to purchase some wedding supplies since her wedding would be held on Oct. 1st. Then the visa officer said, wish you a happy wedding. Approved!”
What visa officers care the most about is applicants' honesty. Sometimes, a software engineer might be asked to write a code, or a chef is required to share some recipes. Kushou had her first visa interview along with her college friend, and the visa officer, having noticed that they were in the ophthalmology department, asked their opinions about his contact lenses. After careful observation Kushou and her friends answered, “You are not wearing any contact lenses.” The officers laughed and let them pass.
Zhang Mimi, who has now been staying in America for more than six months, was refused for tourism visa in 2013.
“I applied through the Embassy in Chengdu. I guess the visa officer assumed I had a migration tendency because my boyfriend is American.” When asked her impression on the visa officer, Zhang says that the officer was just like an ordinary staff, “not so good and not so bad, I had no idea if he was gonna pass me or not.”
After getting married, her visa application was finally smoothly processed. Having settled to the U.S with her husband, Zhang now works as a Chinese language teacher. “Adapting to American lifestyle is not difficult, because there is not much difference between the two countries - both American and Chinese are very easy-going.” Zhang comments.
“Rejected? We'll Give You a Free Consultation.”
The whole 8th floor of Shanghao's Meilongzhen Square is occupied by the U.S. Embassy. Everyday, hundreds of applicants would come here to queue in two lines, holding clear folders full of passports and other supporting documents. The interview process is usually finished in around an hour, and applicants will know their results right away.
People lining up under Meilongzhen Square.
“Did you pass?” Everyone is asking each other this questions outside the elevator. Sometimes you can tell the result through the applicants' facial expressions; the passed ones look cheerful and relaxed, while those failed are depressed and reticent.
A young man was very adept at spotting those applicants who didn't get their visas through - his job is to approach and lure them to a consulting service that claims to guarantee success for future applications.
The man locked his target, a couple who wanted to go to America with a tourist group but was refused visa. The officer asked one particular question that caught the couples’ tongue, “Why is the husband's registered permanent residence in Sichuan province, but the wife's in Hubei?”
They didn't know where to start the story. By the time the husband started to explain, the American immigration officer already handed out the rejection letter.
Students waiting in front of the U.S Embassy for visa applications.