One of the things that continues to surprise me is the persistent urban legend that traveling to the United States is difficult. It’s a bit like the rumor about giant alligators roaming the sewers of New York City eating homeless people and lost tourists. Titillating. Hard to disprove from a distance. Reinforces preconceptions. But patently untrue.
Come on in and enjoy the USA.
For holiday, business, and other travelers intending to stay in the US for no more than 90 days, we have an online process that takes less than 72 hours and costs about US$14 to use. This Visa Waiver system is available to Kiwis, Aussies, and citizens and permanent residents of 34 other countries.
Since I’m battling alligators in the sewers on this one, I went back and pulled statistics to illustrate my point. Since August 2008 (the earliest point I could access), 463,079 visa waiver applications have been submitted online. Of those applications, 99.78% were automatically approved.
No, you didn’t read that wrong. If you want to go to the USA on holiday or for short-term business, the statistics indicate that you have a 99.78% chance of getting to visit the US cheaply and easily without leaving the comfort of your home or needing a visa. That’s not quite as high as the chance of avoiding alligators in the sewers of New York City (which is 100%), but it’s awfully close.
Of course, if you have been convicted of a crime, or if you have lied on a prior visa application, then you are not going to be able to avail yourself of the visa waiver system. Of course, that makes sense, right?
American autumns need to be seen to be believed.
If you would like to visit the US for longer than 90 days, or you seek domestic work authorization, or you have had criminal or immigration problems in the past, then an actual visa is required. The procedure, though, is simple. You need to fill out a form online and then come into the Consulate General in Auckland for an interview.
There are almost always next-day appointments available. Interviews are usually no longer than two or three minutes. And visas are generally printed and posted within one business day.
Again, let’s get to the bottom line. The visa approval rate at the Consulate General over the past couple of years has been 96% for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. That means that even if you don’t qualify for the visa waiver system, you have a 96% chance of getting your visa after an interview shorter than the time it takes to boil water for tea.
A few Kiwi friends enjoying the US 12-Month Work and Travel Program.
We continue to work to improve and simplify even those straightforward procedures. For example, President Obama recently announced a new visa pilot program that will “simplify and speed up the non-immigrant visa process for certain applicants, including the ability to waive interviews for some very low-risk applicants.”
More specifically, that pilot program provides that Kiwis and applicants from other visa waiver countries who need to renew a US visa can now do so completely by mail if their visas have been expired for less than four years, as long as they meet certain standard conditions (such as you haven’t changed your name or nationality).
Also, as I have discussed previously, Kiwi students and recent graduates are eligible for a special visa that allows you to travel and work in the United States for a full year. The application process is quite simple, and the visa allows you to work and travel as you please for the year. It’s a great way to see the country, establish friendships, finance your adventure, and build experience.
There is now an easy four-month version of the student work-travel program available as well. There is no need to arrange employment before you come to the States. You can enter the country and find temporary work, or not, as you go. To learn more about these 12- or 4-Month Student Work and Travel visas, refer back to my prior blog post and/or check out the podcast above.
There are many other cultural and educational exchange opportunities available to visit the US. Last year the Consulate General issued 2,303 visas for such programs. Our J-1 visa provides countless opportunities for international candidates looking to travel and gain experience in America. The multifaceted programs enable foreign nationals to come to the US to teach, study, conduct research, demonstrate special skills, or receive on the job training for periods ranging from a few weeks to several years. Exchange opportunities include programs for camp counselors, au pairs, interns, physicians, teachers, professors, and research scholars.
For more information about exchange and educational opportunities, take a look at the Embassy website. For more information about studying in the United States, contact our Educational Adviser (Drew) at the Consulate General and/or take a look at the podcast below.
The United States is a mindblowingly huge, diverse, dynamic, and exciting place where anything is possible and everything (legal) is readily available in permutations that suit each and every taste. It has to be experienced to be believed and understood.
And of course, we’d love you to come visit. Which is why, urban legends notwithstanding, we work hard to make our visa processes easy and painless for the vast majority of potential travelers.
If you think you’ve already seen everything, you need to visit Volcanoes National Park in Hawai’i.
I’ve been blessed to have lived for extended periods in 6 of our 50 States and to have visited another 30 of them thus far. So if you’d like, I’d be happy to make destination and activity recommendations …
The Grand Canyon. Cajun cuisine. Fifth Avenue shopping. Las Vegas over-stimulation. Chili relleno the way the angels make it. Monument Valley. Broadway shows. Motorcycle (or RV) roadtrips along Route 66.
Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes. The Everglades. Montana and Arizona dude ranches. Big Sur. South Beach art deco. Independence Hall. Golf in Palm Springs. Skiing in Beaver Creek. Rock climbing in Yosemite.
Heartland farm stays. Burning Man and Wolf Trap. The San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park. A four-year degree at one of the planet’s best universities. The glories of the collosal Smithsonian Institution museums.
The philharmonic and fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl. Mississippi paddlewheel river boat cruises. Tramping and camping in the Sierras, the Appalachians, the Cascades, and Yellowstone. High adreline amusement parks. Philly cheese steaks. Shoo fly pie. Graceland. Rodeo Drive. Pennsylvania Avenue. Bourbon Street. Memphis clubs. Napa Valley. The Texas State Fair. Swimming with manatees. Just to name a few of my hundreds of favorites.
Also, if there are elements of our visitor or immigration processes that I didn’t cover above and about which you’d like more information, feel free to let me know. I would be happy to do occasional blog posts on such topics, and to direct you to the websites and podcasts that contain the specific material you need.