Successful F1 Visa renewal in Mexico In a previous post http://www.immigrationportal.com/showthread.php?t=188257, I had mentioned that I will leave feedback about the F1 renewal/extension in Mexico. So, here it is.. It is a long long post with all details. In the post, I have highighted in bold anything that I felt was extremely important. Last week, I successfully renewed my F-1 visa at the US consulate in Matamoros,Mexico. My F1 visa was expiring in June 2006. In December 2005, I decided I will renew it. Because of time constraints, I did not want to renew it in my home country. For the purposes of renewing in a 3rd country, I had to decide between Mexico and Canada. I decided I will renew it at a US consulate border post in Mexico. There are 5 US consulate border posts in Mexico where TCNs [third country nationals] can get a new visa: 1. Matamoros (Brownsville in Texas being the closest US town) 2. Nuevo Laredo (Laredo in Texas being the closest US town) 3. Ciudad Juarez (El Paso in Texas being the closest US town) 4. Nogales (Nogales in Arizona being the closest US town) 5. Tijuana (San Diego in California being the closest US town) I looked up different forums and found that Matamoros had the best results [low rejection rates for any visa type]. Keep in mind that F1 is a discretionary visa - so irrespective of however strong your case is, it is upto the Visa Officer to issue/reject your visa. So, I decided I will go to Matamoros to renew my F1 visa. What next?? 1. Schedule an appointment by using the internet based system. The url is: https://www.usvisa-mexico.com/visa-web/index.jsp? 2. One first needs to register at the website and get a username-password. You would have to purchase a 10$ PIN within 10 days of registration, otherwise your username-password will expire. 3. The PIN will expire 10 days after your appointment date. If you do not schedule an appointment, your PIN will expire 90 days after purchase. This PIN will give you 3 scheduling opportunities so that you can schedule an appointment and reschedule it up to 2 additional times if you need to. 4. Please note that you may not change or cancel your appointment within 5 business days of the appointment date 5. WHEN DO the Interview Slots OPEN on the Internet based system??? • Appointment dates for the ENTIRE month [which is 3 months away from the present month] OPEN up ANYTIME on the last 2 business days of the present month. To elaborate, the appointment slots for the ENTIRE month of May became available on Feb27th late evening. Appointment slots for the entire month of June became available sometime on March 31st. • Keep in mind that appointment slots get filled up within a day or so 6. PREFERABLY, do NOT use the phone based system for reservation unless you do not mind an exorbitant bill on your credit card. • most telephone operators are Spanish & it is hell of a lot difficult to spell out names that are UNCOMMON to them. You often end up spelling out all details forever and ever. • even after you spell it out, there is NO guarantee that all the info. that they enter on the appointment site is correct. • Keep in mind that the telephone OPERATORS also use the same internet based appointment system...this was told to me when I called up once as I was not getting slots on the Internet based system. • SO, if SOMEONE states that there is a better chance of getting an appointment confirmation by USING the TELEPHONE system of booking, then it is a myth. 7. The MOST IMPORTANT thing.....with a given username and password, you CAN HOLD only 1 appointment. • Keep in mind that, just like you, there are hundreds of people wanting to get an appointment date using the INTERNET based system. So, there is every chance that an AVAILABLE appointment slot would BECOME UNAVAILABLE within a matter of seconds. • With your present USERNAME PASSWORD, You would have to cancel your present appointment before you can reschedule a new appointment. • If you want to reschedule [because you saw a date that suits your needs], it is best to purchase a new PIN [new username-password] and then schedule an appointment. OK, I have now scheduled an appointment at the US Consulate in Matamoros, Mexico. What next?? 1. You need to obtain a legal document to enter Mexico. You can either get a Mexican Permit or Mexican Visa. The difference between the two is explained here: http://www.mexico-assistance.com/AMexicanPermit.html If you have any other doubts, check out the FAQs on the Mexico Assistance Services FAQ page http://www.mexico-assistance.com/AFAQS.html. 2. You need to prepay your Visa application fee [105 USD] before you enter the consulate. Since you are going to a US consulate in Mexico, it is required that you must pay the fee only at one of the different “Banamex” bank locations. 3. I decided that I will avail the services of an agent to accomplish the above two tasks [instead of wasting valuable time by going to one of the Mexican consulates in the US to apply for the necessary Mexican entry document & again wasting more time by trying to find out a Banamex location in the US to prepay the visa application fee]. 4. I decided I will avail the services of Mark Lehmann of Mexico Assistance Services (MAS) http://www.mexico-assistance.com/Index.html. His contact info as given on http://www.mexico-assistance.com/AContactUs.html: • Email is the fastest and best way to obtain information: firstname.lastname@example.org, Info@mexico-assistance.com • Phone: 956-688-8124 • Emergency Contact Phone Numbers 956-455-3628, 956-545-8663(Please use these numbers only if it is an emergency) • Fax: 956-688-8133, 1-877-220-0260 5. MAS helped me (a) obtain Mexican Entry Permit (b) Prepaid the US Visa Application fee (c) provided a free shuttle/van service from Brownsville to the US Consulate in Matamoros and back to Brownsville. Not just that, MAS is equipped with wireless broadband internet access and fax service straight from their van. This fax number is a US toll-free number & hence when somebody is faxing a document from the US, it does NOT entail long distance charges. This FAX facility came in very handy when one of my friends had to get some documents (within few hours) upon request by the Visa Officer. This friend of mine [also for F1 extension/renewal] had the interview at 10AM, whereupon the Visa Officer asked for some supporting documents and asked to come back by 3PM. My friend called up the University and had all the documents faxed to the MAS toll-free fax number. By 1PM, she had all the documents. Without MAS, she would have had to find a business (like Kinkos) that could receive faxes in Matamoros, Mexico & faxing from US to Mexico would have also entailed long distance charges. With MAS, she did NOT have to worry about all that. 6. There is a document checklist on the website http://www.mexico-assistance.com/ADocumentRequirements.html that tells what documents you need to send to Mark so that he can arrange for necessary paperwork for your trip in and out of Matamoros, Mexico. Once inside the consulate, they take your photograph & fingerprint your right and left index fingers. Make sure that you do not have any injury on these fingers, because if you have one, then they will not scan it & then you cannot attend the Visa Interview. As regards the Visa Interview with the Visa Officer, I carried the following documents: 1. An updated I-20 reflecting my most recent finances from the University. 2. A letter from the funding department in my university giving a breakup of all the earnings I receive [assistantship, tuition waiver, insurance benefits, etc]. Make sure that the numbers in the I-20 and the department letter match up exactly. If there is any discrepancy whatsoever, then it is going to open up a barrage of questions. This discrepancy [different numbers in I-20 and department letter] happened to my friend (mentioned above) and she had to get new/updated documents within an hour. 3. A letter from my research advisor which mentions my research in layman’s terms, how vital I am for the lab, etc. If there any publications (even forthcoming), make sure it gets mentioned in the letter. 4. A letter from my bank stating the current balance in the different accounts I have with the bank. Most banks provide a “balance letter” which states the average balance in the last 6 months. 5. One set of official transcript(s) from the different Universities attended. 6. One copy of the tax returns from the last 3 years. The questions asked by the Visa Officer: 1. What course are you studying? 2. How long will it be before you complete? 3. What is your project on? 4. Why are you applying for an extension in Mexico and not in your home country? 5. I see that the University has given you an extension in the I-20. So why is it taking this long? Well, that was it. I answered the different questions in a calm and collected manner. I was brief and to the point. The Visa Officer then said she is issuing the visa and asked me to collect my passport later on in the day. I got my passport with the F1 visa stamped.