Dear Sophie: How should I prepare for my visa interview?


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Sophie Alcorn


Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

More posts from Sophie Alcorn

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

TechCrunch+ members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie,

Our startup was just accepted into the winter batch of a top accelerator!

My co-founder with an H-1B just got laid off from Big Tech, but he’s OK because his immigration lawyer is filing a change of status to B-1 within the 60-day grace period. I’m nervous though, because I’m outside the U.S. and I don’t yet have a B-1/B-2 visitor visa.

How can I ace the visa interview? What type of questions will I be asked? How should I prepare?

— Tenacious in Tobago

Dear Tenacious,

Thanks so much for reaching out! Before I dive into your questions, let me provide some context and general recommendations for preparing for a consular interview.

Get advice from an expert

An interview with any immigration official is a high-stakes undertaking. Immigration officials have the discretion to decide whether to grant you a non-immigrant visa or an immigrant visa (green card) that will enable you to enter the United States. How well — or poorly — you do during the interview will have implications for your future visa and green card applications.

According to Mandy Feuerbacher, who was a consular officer at the U.S. Department of State, officials take notes about whether they think an interviewee is responsible, credible and qualified, and that record will be available for all consular officers to see even if a person applies for another visa category or at another U.S. embassy or consulate.

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Unfortunately, you cannot bring an immigration attorney with you to a consular interview — the State Department stopped allowing that more than 25 years ago. In contrast, you are allowed to bring an attorney with you to a green card interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer inside the U.S.

Immigration officers are human, too!

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.
Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

This sounds obvious, but reminding yourself of that may help alleviate your anxiety. Like everyone else, consular officers have families, good and bad days, hopes and dreams, and personalities and worldviews shaped by their unique experiences. They are simply trying to do their job to the very best of their ability.

As an aside, the H-1B specialty occupation visa and the L-1 visa for intracompany transferees are dual intent and allow you to intend to remain in the U.S. by filing for a green card. The O-1 extraordinary ability visa has some flexibility as well.

Consular officers approach interviews as individual conversations with a foreign applicant. They don’t think too much about any legal arguments previously made.

Be honest and proactive, and bring documentation!

Feuerbacher says the consular officer’s job is very subjective, and some officials can be tougher than others. Some are extremely trusting because they have had little reason not to be, whereas others may be more cynical and cautious.

First and foremost, you should answer questions posed by the consular officer with honesty and integrity. Feuerbacher recommends avoiding one-word answers, which can make you seem secretive or that you’re withholding information. In addition to assessing your answers, a consular officer is assessing your credibility.

Determine a strategy for proactively offering up important info or addressing any potential concerns, such as if you’ve been denied a visa before, overstayed a previous visa or have a boyfriend or girlfriend who is an American citizen. Be proactive about sharing your ties in Tobago, which demonstrates that you intend to return to your country, and any ties you have in the U.S. If you have ties in the U.S., you must demonstrate that your stay with the B-1 business visitor status will only be temporary.

Clearly and concisely discuss your plan for coming to the U.S.: how long you plan to stay and what you plan to do while you’re here. For instance, in addition to participating in the accelerator program, will you be meeting a corporate attorney or establishing your startup as a Delaware C corporation? Will you be looking for an office in the U.S.? Will you be meeting prospective clients or investors? Will you be still working in the evenings for your company and getting paid back in your home country while you’re in the U.S.? All of these activities are not considered “work” under immigration law and therefore are allowed under the B-1 business visitor visa. But you shouldn’t work, be employed or earn payment for any labor while you hold B-1 status.

While it’s important to figure out ahead of time what you will say, make sure you speak truthfully and authentically. You’ll also want to bring documentation to back up what you’re saying. I offer a few examples below.

Questions you may be asked

A consular officer will look into your U.S. immigration history to see if you have traveled to the U.S. before, how much time you’ve spent here and other places you’ve traveled to outside your home country. The B-1 business visitor visa is a temporary non-immigrant visa, which means that you can neither stay or intend to stay permanently in the U.S. The consular officer may deny a visa if they feel that you may decide to stay permanently.

The officer will likely ask you questions based on your history, your reasons for traveling to the United States and what you plan to do once you get here, such as:

  • Why do you want to travel to the U.S.?
  • Where in the U.S. will you be going?
  • How long do you plan to stay?
  • What will you be doing while you’re in the U.S.?
  • Do you have any relatives in the U.S.?
  • Is a shorter stay in the U.S. possible?
  • Is there a chance you will extend your stay in the U.S.?
  • Will you be returning to the U.S. after this trip?
  • Will you be traveling alone? If not, who will be joining you?
  • Can you provide evidence you will be leaving the U.S.?

You should go to the interview with plenty of documentation to back up your answers, such as your travel itinerary and flight reservations, addresses of the places where you’ll be staying and paperwork showing you own a home, apartment or other assets in Tobago.

If you do have relatives in the U.S., but don’t plan to visit them during this trip, make sure to say that to the consular officer. Bring along their names, addresses and contact information with you since the consular officer may want to confirm it.

Since you are applying for a B-1 business visitor visa, the consular officer may ask questions to find out more about your business reasons for traveling to the U.S., such as:

  • What’s your profession?
  • Who do you work for?
  • If you’re self-employed, who is running your business while you are in the U.S.?
  • Will you be looking for work in the U.S.?
  • Who is paying for your visit?

You should carry your employment contract, business card and recent proof of income, such as pay stubs or bank statements. You should also provide the expected cost of the trip and whether your startup is paying for it.

The consular officer will want to see that you know what activities are permitted under a B-1 business visitor visa, such as attending an accelerator program or educational, professional or business conferences; consulting with business associates; finding office space; or negotiating contracts.

You’ve got this!

— Sophie

Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.

The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. “Dear Sophie” is a federally registered trademark. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

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