Frequently Asked Questions About U.S. Visas
How much time does it take to get a visa?
Due to limited staffing caused by the request of the Belarusian Government in April-May 2008 to reduce our American personnel from 35 diplomats to 5, the Embassy holds visa interviews on Tuesdays and Thursdays only. All appointments are made by e-mail. Normally, it takes about a week to get an appointment from the day you send us an e-mail with a request. Successful applicants can receive their visas on the day following the day after your appointment from 4:00 p.m. to 4:20 p.m. However, we suggest applicants plan to apply at least one month before any proposed trip, because questions may arise that need to be answered before a visa can be issued.
How long does the interview last?
An interview will last approximately 5 minutes. As the consular officer gives equal time to each applicant, you may expect to wait some time for your interview.
Do I need a notarized letter of invitation in order to apply?
The Embassy does not require applicants to provide an invitation from a party in the United States. If you choose to present an invitation or letter from your relative, friend, or business contact in the U.S., please bring it with you on the day of your interview. Please do not send invitations or letters directly to the Embassy. Since invitations are not required documents, they may be presented in any format, such as email or fax. There is no need to notarize an invitation, and there is no standard format or requirements as to its content.
What additional documents do I need to qualify for a visa?
There are no specific documents required to be issued a visa. However, under U.S. immigration law, every person who applies for a nonimmigrant visa is presumed to be an immigrant who intends to remain in the United States. The applicant has the burden of overcoming this presumption. To do so, an applicant should be prepared to present evidence of strong family, economic and social ties that indicate they will return to Belarus. For example, an applicant might want to show that he owns an apartment, has a job, earns a certain salary, has a spouse or children by presenting documents to back up their claim. However, simply presenting a massive amount of documents does not mean an applicant will be qualified for a visa. The consular officer looks at the overall situation of the individual before making a decision.
What is a U.S. visa?
Applicants should note that a U.S. visa is only permission to apply for entry at a port of entry in the United States; it is not permission to enter. It is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials at ports of entry who determine if a person can enter the U.S. and, if so, how long they may remain.
What do the dates on my visa signify?
For example: "My visa is valid until October 10. If I enter the U.S. on October 9, how long can I stay there?"
The visa validity period (from the ISSUE DATE to the EXPIRATION DATE) determines the time period in which visa holders may apply for entry to the United States. It does not mean the visa is valid for a three, six or twenty-four month stay. The time of stay in the United States is determined by U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials at the port of entry, who normally allow a maximum stay of 6 months on a B1/B2 visa. In the above case, with a visa that is valid until October 10, this visa holder still can travel on October 10 and, if admitted for six months, stay legally in the United States until April 10.
Why are visas to Belarusians issued only for one year?
American visa legislation is based on reciprocity, meaning the American Government is prepared to issue visas to a certain country’s nationals for the period and the number of entries that the respective country's government is prepared to issue visas to American citizens. Thus, the period of time for which a U.S. visa can be valid and the number of times it can be used (number of entries) depend on the reciprocity agreement between the U.S. and the country of citizenship of an applicant, and the class of the visa for which he is applying. For example, to a Belarusian national a B1/B2 visa might be issued for one year with multiple entries; to a Russian national for two years with multiple entries; to a Polish national for ten years with multiple entries, etc. (Country Reciprocity Schedules are subject to change depending on changes in the U.S. visa policy and bilateral agreements between the U.S. and a respective state).
What is the processing fee and the visa cost?
It costs $160 (or $190 for petition based visas) to apply for a visa, and this is not refundable, regardless of whether or not you qualify for a visa. It is called the machine-readable visa, or “MRV” application fee, and has nothing to do with the cost of the visa itself. The cost of the visa varies depending on the nationality of the applicant. American visa legislation is based on reciprocity, which means that American government will charge you for your visa as much as your country's government would charge an American citizen for the same kind of visa to your country. For example, a B1/B2 multiple-entry, one-year visa would be free of charge if issued to a Russian national, while a national of Belarus would have to pay $100 dollars for the same kind of visa.
Which tourist agencies work with the Embassy?
Every applicant, whether traveling with a group or by himself, must appear for a personal interview. No visas are issued through tourist agencies.
Can a foreigner apply for a visa in Minsk?
Due to the low numbers of U.S. diplomatic staff permitted by the Belarusian government, a foreigner may apply for a visa in Minsk only if he or she meets the criteria outlined here. Additionally, he or she must have long-term residency in Belarus that is documented in their passport. As is required of every applicant, citizens of other countries must also demonstrate significant ties to Belarus that would bring them back to the country following a visit to the United States.
Does the U.S. Embassy issue immigrant visas?
The U.S. Embassy in Minsk does not handle immigrant visas. Applications for immigration must be filed with the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw.
How can I get a job in the U.S.?
See "Work Visas". If you are a student, you may be eligible to participate in summer exchange programs that are designed to provide students from all over the world with the opportunity to earn some money working at seasonal summer jobs (for around 3 months), followed by a grace period for travel and tourism in the U.S.A. for up to one month. For further details about Summer Work and Travel programs and their operators in Belarus, please contact the Consular Section of the Embassy.
How many bottles of vodka can I bring into the United States?
Can I take some sausage and 'salo' as a treat for my relatives in the United States?
Can I bring fruits and vegetables from my own garden to treat my relatives in the U.S.?
How much money can I bring into the United States?
How can I bring my cat/dog into the United States?
You may bring into the U.S. (without duty/tax charges) one liter (33.8 fl. oz.) of alcoholic beverages if you are 21 years old, if it is for your own use or as a gift, and if it does not violate the laws of the state in which you arrive. Federal regulations allow you to bring more than one liter of alcoholic beverage for personal use, but you will have to pay duty and Internal Revenue Service tax. You MAY NOT bring fresh, dried or canned meats or meat products from most foreign countries. Also, you may not bring in food products that have been prepared with meat. It is best not to bring fresh fruits or vegetables into the United States. If you plan to do so, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/travel/ or www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/permits for information.
Cats must be free of evidence of diseases communicable to humans when they are examined at the port of entry. If the cat does not seem to be in good health, the owner may have to pay for an additional examination by a licensed veterinarian. If you are bringing your cat to the U.S. on an airplane, you should check with the airline about their requirements for transporting animals. Many airlines require a certificate of health from a veterinarian. Dogs, too, must be free of evidence of diseases that could be communicable to humans and may require rabies vaccination. Please visit the U.S. Customs question and answer page for more information.
You may bring into or take out of the country, including by mail, as much money as you wish. But if it's more than $10,000, you will need to report it to Customs. Ask the Customs officer for the Currency Reporting Form (CF 4790) (PDF). The penalties for not complying can be severe.
If you have any questions about U.S. Customs regulation visit U.S. Customs Web Page http://www.cbp.gov.
I have just come from the U.S. where I was on an exchange program sponsored by U.S. Government. My J-1 visa says "Subject to a two-year residency requirement." Does that mean I cannot travel to the US for 2 years?
No. What it means is that you are not eligible to apply for and enter the U.S. on a work visa (H or L – see "Work Visas") or immigrate to the United States until you have resided or been physically present in your country of residence for at least two years after coming back from the U.S. You may travel abroad, including to the U.S., as much as you would like, but you must accumulate an aggregate total of 2 years (730 days) of physical presence before you may return on a work visa or acquire permanent resident status. This is outlined in the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act section 212(e).
The Consular Officer spoke to me only for two minutes and then denied my application for a visa. How can one get any impression of a person in such a short time?
Unfortunately, due to the cost of visa operations and the low number of diplomatic staff permitted in Belarus by the Belarusian government, the consular officer cannot devote more time to interviewing applicants and reviewing visa applications. Therefore, you must try to present your case in a concise but comprehensive manner. Furthermore, your documents are being reviewed from the moment you file your application and pay the consular fee. In other words, before your application reaches the officer's desk, it has been pre-processed and reviewed by other people.
Can my American friends, relatives or business partners help me to get a visa?
Your friends, relatives or business partners may provide a letter of invitation or support. However, this cannot guarantee visa issuance. Visa applicants must qualify for the visa according to their own circumstances, not on the basis of an American sponsor's assurance.
Who can influence the Consular Officer to reverse a decision?
According to U.S. immigration law, no one can reverse a consular officer’s decision. Neither the Head of the mission, nor other state officials and governmental bodies can influence the consular officer's decision. Their intervention can be only of a recommendatory or informative nature. The U.S. Department of State has the authority to review consular decisions, but this authority is limited to the interpretation of the law, as contrasted with the exercise of judgment. The U.S. Department of State has no authority to contest a consular officer’s judgment, merely to intervene if a consular officer has issued or refused a visa in contravention to U.S. law.
I had all the documents about my job, property and relatives. I think I have very strong ties. Why was I denied?
According to Section 214 (b), "…every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status." In other words, the consular officer must be convinced that the applicant does not intend to immigrate to the United States. If you were denied a visa, the information you presented was not enough to convince the officer that you intend to return to Belarus after your trip.
Does the U.S. Embassy assist people in finding their relatives in the U.S. or solving legal issues like tracing inheritance, etc.?
The U.S. Embassy in Minsk has neither the authority nor the means to perform such services. You may contact BELINYURKOLRGIA lawyers (+375-17-334-45-08 or 334-46-93) and/or the Belarusian Red Cross Office (+375-17-294-85-17).
Does the U.S. Embassy provide apostilles?
The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Minsk cannot provide apostilles. Please see our page on apostilles for more information.