7 facts about the VAC & US Consulate Visa Center, Chennai.

Very recently, I had the opportunity to apply for a US Visa, and thankfully, get it approved as well. However, it was not without its troublesome and frustrating moments, a few of which I’d like to list down so that you can brace yourselves.

Keep in mind that the interview happens across two days:

The first day is at the VAC, behind the Good Shepherd square on the Kodambakam high road. They will scan your fingerprint and then take your mug shot.

The second day is at The Consulate itself. You’ll have your Visa interview here.

1. The VAC respects your time slot.

When you reach the VAC, you will be greeted with a humongous queue outside the walls. Worry not. The watchman at the gate respects the time slots that people applied for. If you just walk up to the front of the queue and show your appointment confirmation, he will let you through provided your time slot is within the next half an hour.

2. The VAC allows mobile phones inside.

You can take your cell phones inside. At one of the gates, they will ask you to take it out, and switch it off in front of them. You will be scanned thoroughly and asked to display any metallic object on you, including keys, your wallet and even your belt, if you have one.

3. The sign!

You’ll see a very… peculiar sign board outside the gates saying “DS form correction done very quickly and very cheap. Contact auto stand”. A couple of us had a nice laugh reading that loud again and again. Apparently, the first step at the VAC is checking for discrepancy in your DS forms. I did not see anyone being sent back, but make sure to have exactly the same details both on your passport and your DS form.

4. The Consulate does not care about your time slot.

I had booked the time slot for 8:00AM. When I reached near the embassy at around 7:35AM, there was this massive queue outside the walls, outside the barricade on the side walk. This was apparently the queue to just get inside the barricade that takes you to the door that will lead you inside the walls of the Consulate.

I went and queued up. A minute later, I simply asked the person in front of me whether he was there for the 8:00AM slot. He graciously replied that he was there for the 10:30AM appointment! I felt a shudder down my spine. Frustrated, I walked over onto the front through the highway (yes, we are queuing on the sidewalk of a highway) just beside the queue. Before I could ask the person standing there in a purple tucked in shirt and black pants regarding time slots, a couple of police officers came and shoved the few of us there on the highway back to the rear of the queue. All of them only spoke Tamil, so whatever I tried to communicate in English fell on deaf ears and they waved us all back to the rear.

Within these 5 minutes, the queue had grown to a +15 people. I went and stood behind them, patiently. By the time the queue was half done (it was 7:52AM then), a certain gentleman came up from the rear of the queue and asked me my time slot. Upon hearing my reply, he said his was at 8:30AM and asked me whether he could stand behind me in the queue. After a minute, I asked him to hold my place. I again went over the front and boldly stepped up to the man in purple shirt.

He was a very gentle and calm person who had just the right words for any sort of query you put to him.

He’d say: “Queue”.

I tried phrasing my concern of the 8:00AM appointment in three different ways to which I got the “Queue” answer all three times. I went back and joined the queue. All this while, all the other time slot people ranging from 8:30AM to 11:00AM went ahead in front of me.

5. The Consulate strictly forbids you from taking in any mobile phones, bags, pen drives, etc.

Even though this was clearly written on the appointment confirmation, I thought it was ridiculous that they would really expect people to not show up with cell phones. I mean, I had just taken an Uber to get to the place!

Suffice to say, after passing the initial purple shirt guy and getting inside the barricade, the security guard outside the front door thoroughly searches everyone and just says “No cell phones, pen drives and bags allowed inside”. No debate there.

6. The “Personal belongings deposit counter!”

Ha, this is great. While you would notice a small metal cart being manned by two shabbily dressed old gentlemen with these words above written on them standing in your way while you make your way into the barricade, you’ll most probably brush away the feeling that it has anything to do with you. Well, like it or not, if you have any belongings with you that is not allowed inside the embassy, then your only option is to drop it off at this small metal cart!

Unless of course, you have another person (friend / family) waiting for you on the highway being hauled by the police every other minute or so.

Suffice to say, I had to give my Moto G3 and Nokia 2690 phones at this counter in order to get into the embassy. They charge 10 bucks for safe keeping. They will print two receipts with your passport number on them, one of which you will have to sign which they will keep, and the other to keep with you.

NOTE: You might find people desperately hunting for 10 rupees to pay these safe keeping gentlemen. If you happen to see anyone like that, have a mind to just give the 10 rupees and help them out.

7. Special language queues.

I think that we enter our primary language or “Language in which I would like to have my Visa interview in” at some point while filling up our application form. The thing is, if your application has this “language” field as anything other than “English”, then you will be taken out of the primary queue, and given another language queue, for each languages (Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil). These queues have seats. So you can sit and relax while waiting for your chance while all the “English” language people have to wait in this huge queue waiting for at least 40 minutes to get your chance.

Well, that’s about it. Just thought of sharing these points so that you know these are for real.

Apart from these, I booked my accommodation at St. Xavier’s guest house for 650 bucks a night. I must say these people put the word “budget” in “budget hotel”! It was good enough for a one night stay, but if you’re the type who wants everything to be crystal clean and well serviced, then this might not be the place for you.

Also, while you’re waiting for the interview in the queue, you can actually see others’ interviews being conducted right in front of you at all the counters. You will see interesting questions, emotions, rejections and acceptances as well. Be strong and be confident. If your case is solid, then you don’t need to worry.

I got my B1/B2 Visa and am pretty excited about attending & speaking at Djangocon in two weeks!

Many thanks to Elizabeth from Chinnocio for helping me out with the Visa application process.

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