Posted by Pravakar
F1 Visa Renewal Experience in Toronto:
I have benefited tremendously from community posts for visa related issues. This is an attempt to give back a little. Last week (July 16) I renewed my F1 visa in Toronto, Canada.
Visa renewal as a third country national is always a little bit tricky and if you are unlucky you could be stuck in that country for a long time. This is why the officials in your school/office always suggest going back to your home country for renewals. Despite the risk, many non-immigrants in the US attempt to renew their visa in the bordering countries of Canada and Mexico. By far the main reason for taking the risk is to save time and money. I needed to save both and took my chances in Canada.
The first thing to figure out is whether you need a visa for the country (e.g Canada/Mexico) where you are planning to do the renewal. Fortunately, I had a visitor visa to Canada. Next, I looked for US consulates in Canada and dates for appointments. Finding a date was easy for me but reportedly (by online forums (https://www.immihelp.com/…/view-1-22-visa_stamping_canada_m…)) many people had to wait for weeks. Ideally, you should schedule your appointment at least three weeks before the intended date of departure. You can book appointments on this site (https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-ca/niv/users/sign_in).
Now here are the tricks of the trade. To my knowledge, six consulates (Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Calgary, Vancouver) in Canada process the third country national applications (I am not sure about the consulate in Halifax). The visa processing fee is around a hundred and sixty dollars and you cannot see the appointment dates before you pay. On the first page, there is a question that asks, “Are you traveling from another country to apply for a US visa in Canada?”. If you answer yes, you are probably going to find appointment dates which are three months later. If you answer no you are probably going to find a date in a week or two. In my case, when I answered no, I could find an appointment in the same week for almost all the consulates. When I answered yes though, the earliest available date for any consulate was in September. I did a bit of research on different forums and it appeared that if you are traveling from the US and have a valid address in the US, you can get away with answering no to this question. I chose to pick ‘no’ and scheduled a date on July 17th (on July 5th) in Toronto.
While booking appointments, you need to provide a DS160 (https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/) number. You just need to start filling up the form. You do not need to submit it before scheduling your appointment. Once you fixed your appointment location, you can change the location accordingly and submit the form.
I reached Toronto on July 16. I was worried a little bit about the port of entry questions as well. I did not buy a return ticket as I did not know how long it will take for the visa to be processed. However, it was extremely smooth. They asked me what is the purpose of my visit and how long will I stay. I told them that I have a visa interview and probably I am going to be in Toronto for a week.
Next day, I went for the interview. You are not allowed to take any sort of electronic devices or backpacks with you to the consulate. The consulate itself does not have any storage facility too. However, just a block down the street you can store your items at a convenience store for five bucks (cad) an hour. I took most of the documents that they could ask for ( passport, I-20, I-94, resume, transcripts, proof of enrollment, funding letters for the current semester, tax return for last five years, marriage certificate, printed copy of all publications and patents etc).
My interview was at 9.15 am. I reached there around 8.45. They took a look at my documents at the gate and asked me to come back to the gate at 9.00 am. I came back at 9.00 and entered the building where I had another document check. They said my photo was not up to standard and asked me to provide a new one. The same convenience store that provides storage, do photos too. I was back with a new photo in 15 minutes and continued the document check process. The only question they asked me was what was my legal status in Canada. I told them I am on a visitor visa and moved to the next window for fingerprints.
Afterward, I was in the main queue for interviews. Interviews were going on in four windows (7-10). I was called on window 7. The visa officer was a smiling white woman. The conversation went something like this.
VO: Hi. Good morning. How are you?
Me: Good. How are you?
VO: Good. What is the purpose of your visit to the US?
Me: I am a graduate student at _____. I am doing my PhD there in ______.
VO: How long have you been studying there?
Me: This is going to be my _____ year.
VO: Looking through I20 and passport. So where is your previous visa?
Me: It is in my old passport. Pushed the passport to her through the window.
VO: Do you happen to have a resume with you?
Me: Yes. Passed her the resume.
VO: Cool. How long do you have left? And what do you plan to do after graduation?
Me: About __ year. I plan to do ____.
VO: Interesting. Do you have any relatives in the US?
Me: Yes. My wife is in the same university doing her PhD.
VO: Great. Everything looks fine. Let me cancel the old visa. We are going to give you a new one.
Me: Great. Thank you.
VO was Looking at her screen. There was some sort of a small issue in SEVIS. She talked with another person in the back and he told her to mail someone. She did something for a bit on her computer. Then got back to me.
VO: When are you planning to return?
Me: Saturday (interview was on Tuesday)
VO: I am not sure it will be done before that. It could be done but we have to resolve a small SEVIS thing. You will probably get it early next week in the worst case.
Me: Is there anything I can help with? I can contact the school and ask them to send you the SEVIS information.
VO: No. We have all your information and everything is fine. We will resolve this issue ourselves.
She handed me a white piece of paper that provided me information about how to track my visa status and courier information.
I told her goodbye and went back to my hotel.
Updates to DS160 Status:
July 16: Application created
July 17: Application received (Interview date)
July 18: Application received
July 19: Application received
July 20: Application received ( I sent them an email inquiring about the status of my application)
July 21: Saturday
July 22: Sunday
July 23: They replied around 11 am that the case is still pending.
July 23 (1 PM): Administrative processing
July 23 (3 PM): Visa Issued
July 24 (10 am): Passport picked up by Canada Post.
July 25 (8.30 am): Ready for pick up
July 25 (4 PM): Back to the US.
Overall, the process went smooth. Took two/three extra days for clearing out whatever issue that was there on SEVIS. The forum that helped me the most was this - https://www.immihelp.com/experience/view-1-22-visa_stamping_canada_mexico.html . There is a lot of posts with H1B renewal which can help candidates for other categories too.
Repostingn the Exprience - Posted by Pravakar below - https://www.facebook.com/groups/F1.Visa.OPT.STEM.Extension/permalink/2156327681313013/