By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
The US embassy in Kampala has announced a new visa application procedure where the applicants will pay application fees in the bank before booking appointment for visa interviews at the consular section. They will no longer pay at the consular office as has been the case. However the new system does not apply to diplomats and government officials. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to the embassy’s Consular Chief, Bridgette Anderson, about the new change.
What are the changes you have introduced in the visa process?
The embassy has launched the Department of State’s Global Support Strategy for visa application to facilitate delivery of visa services to Ugandans and the general public worldwide. This will involve obtaining visa information from the US government vendor who has set up an interactive website and voice response phone system whereby callers can obtain information 24 hours throughout the week on how to apply for visa, where they should pay their visa fees and facilitating appointment. One major change is that applicants will pay visa fees in advance of the interview at offsite locations which are branches of Centenary Bank across Uganda. Applicants will be able to print off two copies of a deposit receipt which they will take to Centenary Bank and present for visa payment. If one is applying for a DS 160 visa they will pay $140 to the bank but in shillings at an exchange rate of Shs2400 per dollar. After paying, the applicant will receive a receipt from the bank which has a unique reference number.
The reference number should be used in the visa application. The applicant will fill the visa application online on the US Embassy website. They will then carry anything else they need for visa application such as two colour passport photos and any supporting documents. This will deliver visas more expeditiously to Ugandans because they will get all the preliminary results before they come to the embassy for the interview. The problem with the previous arrangement was that it could be exploited [abused] by just changing one character in the confirmation bar code.
It appears the visa application process is still largely the same. What has changed?
The process has changed in that the public wants to know what types of visas are available. All this information is going to be readily available. It will be like a one-stop shop and self-service oriented for clients familiar with the internet. Many people try to get to the embassy through the Consular Section yet we are a small section.
How will it work?
The applicant has to go to the embassy website (kampalausembassy.gov) and fill out the DS 160 non-immigrant visa truthfully. One of the biggest issues has been people concealing some information. Once this is completed you will be able to generate the confirmation page and the bar code. The bar code is important since we use it to see if the applicant completed the online application form. Then you login onto the new visa application service. This will help double check everything entered is correct. Then you will obtain appointment date from the system. We recommend that the applicant starts looking at these things three months ahead of travel. When you go to the website, a calendar will pop up and you select a date for an interview. The message will say you are confirmed for a visa interview on such a date. Bring the confirmation email with you to the interview along with the printed application page. If you are a student we want to see that you are prepared for the challenge by having the basic requirements and bring evidence of your ability to pay for your education.
We are setting aside 20% of our appointments for students because we know that there are certain times of the year when we have more students applying to study in the US. Any students having any problems getting appointment should let us know, we have a special category for them.
There are Ugandans who don’t have access to internet or lack computer knowledge. What happens to such people?
For those who have no ready access to computer services we have local call centre numbers (0312 411200). They will call the number for advice. They can set up an appointment with the call centre person provided they have filled up the application form and paid the visa application fee at their local Centenary Bank branch.
All they need is the reference number from bank’s receipt and call giving the details of the number. We will link it to our system. Another person can make appointment over the phone if they have no access to the computer. Also the applicant can make appointment using Skype, the local contact is “usvisauganda”. A relatives in the U.S. who wants to fill out an application form perhaps for his aging mum can call (703) 439-2303