Yesterday I had to go to Chennai for my US visa interview. Chennai is a really sucky city, it sucks even worse than Bangalore . Here is an account of the process.
The vfs-usa.co.in site has a list of documents that you require to bring along with you. If you filled the visa form at the vfs-usa.co.in site, you would have received a printout of the forms D156, D157 and an appointment letter mentioning the data and time of your visa interview.
I had packed in all the required documents the night prior to my departure to Chennai. Due to security concerns you are not allowed to carry mobile, CDs, music player or any electronic device into the consulate building. However, you are allowed to carry books and one polybag with all your documents inside. These people are really serious about security - do not bring any stuff which is prohibited. You will not be allowed to carry it inside no matter what.
Since books were not on their Do not carry list, I took along a printout of the MySQL Internals manual for my inflight entertainment.
The American consulate is located in Anna Salai. Once you get down at the airport, you will find a government operated prepaid taxi counter there. They will charge you 240 Rs. (rupees) for a taxi to the American consulate. The people manning the counter were able to understand english.
Since I was returning back to Bangalore the same day, I had not made any reservations in a hotel for my stay. The taxi driver knew the place and he dropped me infront of the consulate gate. The guards there guided me to the gate through which the visa interviewees had to pass.
I reached the consulate by 0900 though my interview was at 1230. There was a average sized queue at the gate. I liked the queue managment system at the Chennai consulate. The guards called out the interview time that was mentioned in the appointment letter and people who were scheduled at that time moved ahead in the queue. Since my interview was scheduled atYou will 1230, I roamed around in the streets to pass time.
It is really a hard job to pass time in Chennai. There were no parks or malls in the nearby area. Since I did not know the city well enough, I did not want to wander far off from the consulate.
After killing nearly two hour, I got into the queue at 1100 hours. I was allowed into the consulate at 1300 hours.
Pre-screening of the documents
Once you are inside the consulate, you have to wait to have your passport, forms D156 and D157 verified. The officers check if you are missing something. They are quite efficient. You have chairs available once you get inside the consulate.
By the time I reached the pre-screening counter, it was already 1430. Unluckily for me, the photograph on my form was not of the correct size. The officer at the counter asked me to get a proper sized photograph and come back again in an hour.
There is a market near the consulate and the shopkeepers there understand english and hindi. I asked around and quickly located a place to have my photograph taken. It was a seedy place and the photographer charged me 200 Rs. for four correct sized photograph. My guess is that he charged me at least thrice the price I would normally have paid.
I hurried back to the consulate and showed the guards at the front gate that I had been rescheduled for my interview and I had originally been called aat 1230. He kindly allowed me to go in without waiting in the queue.
This time around I did not have a problem in the pre-screening part and they asked me to go in for my visa interview.
There was quite a crowd waiting for their visa interview. However, the queue managment was again good here and no one was complaining. There were enough chairs around, so waiting was not too much of a hassle.
You first had to get your fingerprint taken and then stand in a queue to have one of the officers interview you. I was quite apprehensive about the interview as I had heard quite a lot of stories about the randomness of the visa interviewers in rejecting the visas. However, I was quite surprised. The visa interviewers gave perfectly coherent reasons for the rejection of the visas. They were direct, but polite in their rejections. They asked pertinent questions and I do not think that hassling the visa interviewees was their aim.
When my turn came, I was asked a few question about why I was going to US and told that my visa has been spproved and I would receive it in 2-3 days . I was quite happy and came out of the consulate. The process ended at 1700.
Back to Bangalore
My flight was at 2125. I killed time till 1830 and then took an autorickshaw to the airport. He charged me 150 Rs. and dropped me at the airport by 1915. I walked inside the airport, found an empty seat and tried to get some sleep. Since I had done lot of walking that day, my feet were killing me. I took off my shoes too and then tried to get some more sleep. Pretty soon the boarding for my flight was announced. I got into the the aeroplane, flew back to Bangalore and was back home by 2300.
All in all, it was a tiring experience, but a productive one.