During my years as a US visa and consular officer – I was asked several questions over and over:

“Why are you typing so much”?

“Wow – how was that so fast and easy”?

“Can you please please please give me a visa”?

“What are you thinking about in the first ten seconds of the interview”?

In this brief post, I’ll outline my answer to the last question – primarily – what a consular officer is thinking about in the first ten seconds of the interview.

First, a quick disclaimer, I can only speak to my personal experience – this might not apply to every consular officer out there.

Let me set the scene to help you understand those first ten seconds.

I arrived at the Consulate/Embassy at 7:30am. I was on vacation last week, so I have a ton of paperwork to do. I quickly grab a cup of stale coffee, walk over to an unoccupied consular window, and open up my email. Jeez – dozens of emails have piled up overnight, people back in the US must have been very busy overnight.

The waiting room is already filling up with applicants, and right on time, I hit the call button for the first applicant of the day to approach the window. My mind is still on my vacation last week, as the first applicant slides their passport and ticket under the window. I keep processing applicants like this all morning – with no real breaks other than to quickly use the restroom.

Occasionally, and if there is some complicated question I need to seek the advice of a colleague from, I’ll leave my window and try to find the answer.

So, this sets the scene for my answer to the first ten seconds question.

Let’s pretend your appointment is at 10:30am on a Tuesday. If this is like any other day – I might have already seen several dozen up to a hundred applicants before you. You’ve been patiently waiting in the lobby are – looking at the screens to get ready for your interview. Some people told me that had certain windows that they wanted to go to, versus others that they didn’t want to go to at all. While this might be a fun game to alleviate your boredom – I can attest that it makes no difference whatsoever.

Ok – your number is called, and you begin walking up to the appointed window. Between applicants, I’ve reopened and quickly scanned my email to see if there is anything urgent. As you approach the window, I’m likely reading my email and haven’t looked at you yet. When you arrive at my window, I now take the first look at you (the applicant), while asking for your passport and ticket.

Many people think this is a critical point in the interview – but my experience doesn’t suggest that. I don’t really think about what you are wearing, the way you are standing, what time your appointment was, or anything other than that.

Because I have done so many of these, before I have even scanned your application – I begin to assess who you are and why you want to go to the US.

For example, if I saw a young-looking girl approach the window, with a dark colored passport, I’d automatically know that this was likely a student application on an Indian visa. Conversely, if an older man came to the window, using a cane, I could likely assume before even reading the application that he was going to the US for medical treatment.

After scanning in your passport, I begin looking at the forms you have submitted. This isn’t some complicated process. It’s just simply checking that you completed all of the paperwork required.

That pretty much sums up the first 10 seconds of the interview. We haven’t started speaking at all other than “Good morning, passport please”.

Stay tunes for part 2 of this series – where I’ll discuss the rest of the process from the perspective of a visa officer.