H1 VISA stamping experience at Ottawa

Name
Hari Nayar
State
NY
Country
United States

My status: on H1, visa expiring in September 2007. Rajiv's team applied for my H1 extension and I had I797 approvals till 2010. I had an H4 extension approval done for my wife as well. There is no employer change from first 3 years on H1 to second approval.

I scheduled an interview for August-1-2007 at Ottawa. Note that I scheduled the interview about 60 days before my H1 visa expires. There was confusion regarding this to be acceptable or not and traded a lot of emails with Rajiv on this topic. There is a lot of conflicting information on the web - some saying this is not possible and others saying that it is possible. To find out the truth, I went to the USCIS field office in Buffalo, NY and posed the question to them - 'can one appear for an H1 interview, even though he has an H1 that is valid on his passport, and has approval for extension for the next 3 years?'. The USCIS field office personnel did not give a straight forward answer but said that it is not illegal and that they were not aware of any negative effects of doing something like that.

At this stage I consulted with Rajiv and decided to go forward with my interview at Ottawa.

Crossed into Canada through Thousand Islands (NY). I had reservations at the Marriot located at 350 Dalhouise street. This is a great hotel and the staff there are very polite and courteous. Additionally the consulate is only 5 mins walking distance from the hotel making things very easy. If you are into shopping you will find tonnes of stores nearby and can thus kill time. On the other hand if you want to work, the hotel offers free WI-FI...so you can continue with your work.

On the day of the interview my wife and I appeard at the consulate at about 8:00am. Our scheduled time was at 8:30am. The security guard asked us the standard questions - weapons, cell phones, fluids, remotes, keyless entry systems etc on hand or not? We were clear and walked in, went throug X Ray and proceeded to the interview hall.

First stop was at cashiers station were we surrendered passports, I797s and payment receipts from the bank. We were asked to wait in the lobby area. There were about 10 people in front of us. At one counter a lady was calling families to come forward for fingerprinting. When our turn came we got ourselves finger printed and then waited for us to be called for formal interview.

About 15mins later we were called. The consular officer was extremely polite and a very pleasant person. She wanted a letter from my employer and I presented that to her. She also saw that I had paystubs with me and requested to see them. I passed them to her. She glanced through it and said that we were all set and that I could come back next day to collect the VISA and passport. She stamped the existing VALID visa as 'CANCELLED WITHOUT PREJUDICE' on both my wife's and my passports. I asked her if such a stamp means my VISA was ever cancelled by the US government. She said "No, you have not done anything wrong and cancelled without prejudice stamp only means that we are issuing you a new VISA in lieu of this one". We thanked her and went on our way. Today afternoon we picked up the passports and the new visas with validity till 2010 are affixed to the passports.

A few points to note:
1. When you prepare your DS156, please ensure that the barcode is not smudged or covered by the photo. There were folks there with barcode issues who had to create whole new forms. The consulate was courteous enough to provide a computer and printer to do the task, but dont take that for granted.
2. There is very limited room to sit and wait for an interview. So if you have issues standing in line or have babies, kids please give yourself plenty of time.
3. It is possible to schedule and get an H1 VISA even if your current visa is valid. Infact this is the most sane thing to do. Worst case if there are issues with your new visa you will at least have a visa that may help you re-enter the country. For details regarding this one please refer to http://travel.state.gov and search for Foreign Affairs Manual, and view section "9 FAM 41.53 N9.2 Validity of H Visas".

Good luck to all trying to get their visas.

On a side note, a million thanks to Rajiv and his team for a job that is being splendidly done - in terms of supporting clients and the community by putting up a site, information and replying to numerous queries. We need more sincere organizations such as the "law offices of Rajiv S Khanna" to make the world a better place.

All the best.

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