Today, I went to Berlin to renew my student visa. For the last few weeks, I had collected letters, filled out forms, taken passport pictures and paid fees. Compared to five years ago, everything was a bit easier.
The main form was the DS-160, and it was filled out online. All I had to bring was a print-out of a barcode. The problem with the DS-160 web page, though, was that it asked for information like all the dates of when I had entered and left the US during the last five years… and the website timed out after 30 minutes of inactivity.
Everyone in my department was very kind and helpful, in particular my advisor Corky, my committee member Walid Taha, and the department chair Joe Warren, of course. Today at the embassy, everyone was friendly too.
I was a bit worried, because five years ago, I encountered quite the “Giftzwerg” there: She asked me “Do you have forms X, Y and Z?” and I said “Yes.” She returned my papers and said “No, you don’t.” which really confused me. What she meant to say was “Do you have ONLY forms X, Y and Z, and nothing else?” She clearly enjoyed being cryptic.
But today, I encountered no one like that. A young woman checked our documents outside, in the slight Berlin rain, and she noticed two problems: I still had my I-94 form in the pass, and she said that was “a big no-no”, but I told her it was a multiple entry I-94 form. She asked me to discuss this with her colleagues inside. Then she was looking for the receipt that I had paid the SEVIS fee. But I told her I had been a student for so long, I didn’t have to pay the SEVIS fee, I was grandfathered in. I had a print-out from the ICE website  too, had I needed it.
Next were a metal detector and an X-ray machine and a couple of Marines checking passports, and then I was in. There were only three visa applicants before me. I handed my passport and a few pieces of paper to a woman behind bullet-proof glass (I think it was the same woman who worked there five years ago; last time, she commented that she had the same birthday as me) and sat down to wait for my interview.
Maybe half an hour later, I was called to another window, and a male consular officer (the only one I’ve ever dealt with) got me ten-printed. Then he asked me what I was doing in the US (“I’m a PhD candidate in computer science and work as a research assistant at Rice University.”). Next, he asked me a bit about my research and how much work I had left to do. He said he got a PhD too, and that it took him longer than it will take me.
Then he already told me my visa had been approved and that the embassy will process my passport and mail it back. Great! Thanks, everyone, for your help.
Today, on Wednesday, just a day and a half after my interview, I received my passport with a new visa stamp.