Tijuana, Mexico- H1B Visa stamping experience

Recently I went through H-1B visa renewal stamping process in Tijuana with family. Here is end to end experience details.

Note:

Please refer to recent experiences (May 2019) shared by one of the readers in comment section. 

Step 1: DS 160 site

https://ceac.state.gov/GenNIV/Default.aspx

Supporting documents / information needed for reference while filling online DS-160 application:

  • Passport
  • I797
  • Online US travel history (you can download travel history from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/history-search
  • Previous experience details with dates
  • Education details with dates
  • Parents’ birth-date details
  • Contact person details in US

First fill your application. Verify, sign and submit. If you are travelling with family, click on “Create family application” after submitting your application.

 Tips:

  1. Save your application number in the first instance. The DS-160 site keeps refreshing. Every time you must authenticate with log in information. Sometimes it is irritating.
  2. Keep save and continue every 2-3 minutes to avoid loss of data in case of website refresh

 Step 2: Visa appointment site

https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-mx/niv/users/sign_in

  1. Create account
  2. Click on create new group
  3. Add all family members under one IVR
  4. When you hit payment option print instruction document shows up- save as pdf

Step 3: To pay visa fee:

Effective Aug 2017 US embassy Mexico stopped accepting credit card payments online. The payments must be made in Mexico at either Scotiabank or Banamex.

  1. Option 1: Cross border, pay yourself and come back same day. It takes max of 3 hours cycle time depending on the queue at border. (if your US visa is unexpired)
  2. Option 2: Online agents: You can use any agents.  (Some companies reimburse visa and agent fees)

I used Mark @ 956-455-3628 (he works out of Texas). Charges $50 for first application and $10 for every additional applicant.

Note: you can use other services like http://www.svrtj.com  

(Note: Mark is very responsive. Responds quickly. Picks up the phone immediately.)

 Step 4: Go back to visa appointment website

https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-mx/niv/users/sign_in

Once you book appointment it can only be rescheduled 2 times. So, choose your dates carefully

  • Select appointment dates.
  • The gap between ASC date and consular appointment dates should not be more than 7 days. Plan accordingly

Tips:

  • Take earliest appointment so that you get your passport on the same day. (I was successful in getting PP same day with 7:30 am appointment).
  • If you have any questions call US Visa customer support: 703-249-4628- For general queries and visa appointments over the phone
  • Select appointment in a such a way that you avoid coming back on Friday. (Fridays evenings are crazy at border crossing)

Step 5 : Get your Mexico visa

Applicable only if your US visa stamping is expired. No need if you have unexpired valid US visa. Mexico embassy confirmed that you cannot use i-797 on expired visa stamping.

San Diego – https://consulmex.sre.gob.mx/sandiego/index.php/visas?id=455

For other locations search by “Mexico consulate…” followed by city name. If you can not get appointments nearby cities, try Las Vegas embassy. They have walk ins for visa stamping.

2. [OPTIONAL] Get your Mexican tourist card: (FMM)

This is free at border if you stay for 7 days or less. Don’t waste your money.

Apply for tourist card: https://www.ivisa.com/apply-online/mexico

(More information on tourist card: https://www.tripsavvy.com/what-is-a-mexican-tourist-card-1588733)

Note: As per website, all nationalities need to have this tourist card. You will also get the tourist card at border. To avoid delays it is recommended to get visa card online.

Step 6: Start gathering all supporting documentation

For ASC appointment (Extract from ASC appointment letter)

  1. Current Passport valid for travel to the United States. The passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the period of stay in the United States
  2. Passport containing the most recently issued U.S. Visa (if applicable).
  3. Non-immigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page.
  4. Confirmation and Instructions page printed from this website
  5. Accompanying family members, unless entering the United States for another purpose, should present a marriage certificate (spouse) and/or birth certificate (for unmarried children under 21), as applicable
  6. Receipt Number for your approved petition as it appears on your Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker Form I-129 or Notice of Action Form I-797 from USCIS

For Visa interview

  1. Original passports
  2. I-797 (keep copies of I-797 with you, just in case)
  3. Degree / Masters certificate
  4. Degree marks cards
  5. Employment letter – dated recently
  6. Latest resume (Ensure that your current job responsibilities match with petition)
  7. Any RFE supporting documents like education evaluation, birth certificate, roles and responsibilities evaluation for the job etc..
  8. Copy of I-140
  9. Petition – complete print out
  10. Marriage certificate (H4 spouse)
  11. Copy of primary applicant’s I-797 (For H4, if H1B applicant is not accompanying)
  12. Birth certificate (H4 child)
  13. EAD card (H4- if applicable)
  14. Bank statements – last 6 months
  15. W2s – last 3 years
  16. Tax filing records for last year (optional)
  17. Previous employment experience letters. (just in case)

Step 7: Crossing into Tijuana

You can use many transport services or cross on foot. Some Uber drivers cross border.

(I used this river – Marco – 619-601-3992). Early morning (7-10 am) vehicle crossings are easy and vehicles are randomly inspected. (My driver just drove through the border!)

You can use Pedwest crossing for ped-crossing or San Ysidro Trolley side.

At the Mexico border you need to fill tourist card information. (FMM). Immigration officer stamps it and give you back exit card. This card needs to be submitted while leaving Mexico.

Staying in Tijuana:

  • Keep lots of $1 and $5 changes. Everyone accepts USD. ( $1~20 MXN peso)
  • Always use white taxis or Uber
  • We stayed at Hampton Inn by Hilton. It is 3 minutes’ drive from consulate and hotel has free shuttle service to consulate. All of morning and again at 3 PM to collect passports. But while returning you have to call Uber and catch taxis. Hotel prices are reasonable for the quality of services.

Eating out:

There are many small restaurants nearby (Walking distance) hotel.

Note for vegans: there is a great place to eat at food court called “Veggie smalls”. Most delicious vegan food ever! They make their own vegan burgers patties, hot dogs, chili sauce…

https://goo.gl/maps/KQL1JD596D52

Step 8: ASC appointment

  • Overall turnaround time 15-20 minutes
  • Be there exactly 15 minutes before your appointment. Keep your DS-160 and passport ready. Rest of the documents in your folder. Do not take phones, smart watches, food, stroller and avoid bags.
  1. Outside in the queue, ASC personnel help you organize documents
  2. Go inside, security check
  3. Go to first desk
  4. Your name, nationality and date of birth are verified
  5. Stand in queue for fingerprints
  6. At finger prints window;
    • Your name is verified
    • Finger prints
    • Pictures are taken

Caution: Do not wear necklace, earrings, nose rings. Any objects on face and ears should be removed

  1. Your appointment date and time is written on the DS-160 and all passports are clubbed together with one pin. Keep it that way.

Step 9: Interview day

Overall turnaround time 30 minutes

  1. Be there early. Sometimes if the crowd is small, they allow you in before your scheduled time. Do not take phones, smart watches, food, stroller and avoid bags
  2. Security check (feels like airport security check in, belts, shoes off)
  3. Walk into main building, go to first window to verify appointment time and a number is assigned
  4. Second window to verify I-797. It will be quick (3 minutes max.)
  5. Third window for finger print and photo. Usually slightly longer Queue as the process takes some time.
  6. Wait for your turn, keep looking at screens for your window number
  7. At actual interview window handover passport and I-797. Typical questions asked:
    1. Who is your employer?
    2. Any issues with your employer? Do they treat you with dignity?
    3. What is your salary?
    4. How long you have been on H-1B?
    5. Who were your previous employers?
    6. Do you have a degree? Can I see your degree certificate?
    7. What do you do in your company?
    8. Do you have EAD, can I see the EAD card? (For H4 EAD)?
    9. Do you work? (For H4 spouse)
    10. Can I see your I-140 and petition document? (If applicable)
    11. Where do you study? (H4 kids)

–If approved the officer at window indicates that your renewal is approved, asks you to come next day to collect passports. Give a slip of appointment to collect passports.

Important note:

We requested to give passports on the same day, giving reasons like kids and pets. But the officer firmly said that earliest would be next day 3 pm. But we wanted to try our luck, as our appointment was at 7:30 am. We went to consulate at 3 pm same day and got our passports. So, don’t give up, try your luck.!

Step 10 – Crossing the border

Pedwest crossing is the best option as it is not very busy. We crossed straight through. But it is longer walk compared to San Ysidro trolley crossing.

At border the entry was smooth. Immigration officers ask declaration questions like the purpose of visit. They ensure you are not bringing in any fruits or vegetables or seeds.

Next step is I-94 permit. Keep $6 change per passport. The process is very quick. 3 minutes max.

Overall it was great experience. No hassles. ASC and consulate people were professional and friendly.

Hope this helps. Good luck.

Note: Please leave your experience comments below, so that this will be useful for everyone.

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Healthy Food Plan- For growing younger

Healthy food plan

“You are what you eat”. Healthy living incorporates diet, exercise, breathing and meditation. Food and exercise help to keep the body healthier, younger and more vibrant. Breathing and meditation help to develop healthy mind and in attaining higher Spiritual Quotient (SQ- the new measure)

Food habits:

Most of the people are not aware what is being fed into their body. As some body said they are digging their grave with their teeth! Tongue is the only sensor most of us have and it is controlled by the mind which is influenced by environment. It’s easier to manipulate food habits by controlling mind. So I recommend you to work on your mind to shun some bad food habits and cultivate good habits.

Here are some concepts:

1 Proper oxygenation: comes from aerobic exercises.

  1. Water- Our body is 70% water. So drink at least 3 liters of water everyday
  2. Proper Nutrition: Understand what proper nutrition is. What ever is sold as nutrient by food industry is not real nutrition. Read raw food books to understand about nutrition
  3. Positive directed thinking: Keeps healthy mind and body. Do Yoga, breathing and meditation to achieve positive directed thinking..
  4. Alkalinity – maintaining the body’s pH balance: This is most important part. For every disease there only one root cause. Acidity of body. Our food is mainly acidic. Blood pH level is 7.365 which is alkaline. Body cells get sick in the long run and they do not perform the activities they are created for. That is the reason people get sick, get older and die. So the key is to maintain proper balance. With proper food habits we can always maintain healthy balance.

Most importantly eat your food with full awareness. Stop when your body says “No more”

Typical day plan.

Morning:

Drink 4-6 glasses of water – Preferably with Lemon juice

(Note: Exercise or walk if you have constipation problem before going to bath room. Take bath. – Keep one hour gap between water and next intake of food or juice)

Yoga, breathing and meditation – 1 hour (Try Sudarshan Kriya)

One Glass of Green Juice- 250 Ml

Mix and match any of the combination and blend them in a mixer/ grinder. Filter with a white clean cloth and drink immediately. Because photo chemicals in green leaves should be consumed immediately.

Base

Mix

Spinach

Coriander + Ginger + lemon

Fenugreek (Methi)

Cilantro + Lemon + Ginger

Radish Leaves

Celery + Lemon + Ginger

Kale

Asparagus + Lemon + Ginger

Bock Choy

Mint + Lemon + Ginger

Turnip Leaves

Dill + Lemon + Ginger

Mustard leaves

Curry Leaves + Lemon + Ginger

Wheat grass (You can grow them at home)

Water cress + Lemon + Ginger

Or one glass of vegetable Juice  with same combination

Base

Mix

Bottle guard

Coriander + Ginger + lemon + Cumin powder

Cabbage (Red and white)

Cilantro + Lemon + Ginger+ Cumin powder

Bitter Guard (Good for Diabetes)

Celery + Lemon + Ginger+ Cumin powder

Turnip

Asparagus + Lemon + Ginger+ Cumin powder

Cucumber

Mint + Lemon + Ginger+ Cumin powder

Lettuce or cabbage + Cucumber

Dill + Lemon + Ginger+ Cumin powder

Squash

Curry Leaves + Lemon + Ginger+ Cumin powder

Butternut

Water cress + Lemon + Ginger + Cumin powder

Ash guard

Mint + Lemon + Ginger+ Cumin powder

Preferably green juice in the morning and vegetable juice in the evening

Breakfast

You may have breakfast after 30 minutes. These varieties you can take in a smoothie glasses to work.

Two glasses of Green Smoothies- At least 500 Ml

Mix and match following combination. Add half the volume water. No need to filter. You have to drink or eat it like smoothie.

Base

Greens

Mix

Banana + Apple

Spinach

Mint

Carrot + Straw berries

Kale

Dill

Green Apple +Green Pear

Bok Choy

Vanilla Extract

Kiwi fruit

Fenugreek Leaves

Coriander

Asian Pear + Banana

Radish leaves

Almond milk

Grapes (pealed)

Turnip leaves

Cardamom powder

Mango

Mustard Leaves

Goose berries (Not for sweet smoothies)

Chikoo

Stevia

Red Cherries + carrots

Honey

Papaya

Agave Nectar

Plum

Tips:

  1. Always mix same color vegetables and greens
  2. For strong and sour smoothies do not use sweeteners
  3. Use your judgment about taste
  4. the fruits and Greens should be 45% each and additives should not cross 10%
  5. As far as possible use white and green fruits for your smoothies
  6. Add less water so that it feels like smoothie
  7. In the mid morning eat apple or any small fruits

Or Eat Sprouts and fruits

  1. Green Grain sprouts (Moong daal)
  2. Peas
  3. Soaked Almonds

Lunch:

Starch

Green Chutney

Raw curry

2 chapattis

Avocado + Coriander + tamarind + olive oil

Tomato + Onion + Coriander + Tofu + salt + Cumin powder

Ciabata Bread- Half loaf

Red capsicum + garlic + Tomato + Avocado + carrots + olive oil

Sprouted green moong + Coconut  grated + tomato + paprika + salt

Boiled Potatoes pieces

Tomatillo (Green Tomato) + Avocado + Coriander+ garlic + olive oil

Any Soaked grains + salt + coconut grated + grated cucumber

Boiled bottle guard pieces

Cucumber + Avocado + Green Tomato + Mint+ salt + Cumin + olive oil

Big bowl of salad + soaked almonds + Tofu pieces + salt + pepper

Whole wheat breads

Baked Tofu curry

Jowar Rotis

Brown Rice

Oat meal

Cracked wheat

9 grain mix

Malt (Raagi Mudde)

Lettuce or cabbage large salad

Spelt Chapathis

Note:

  1. If you do not get Avocados use starchy vegetables like steamed pumpkin, Bangalore brinjal, green tomato, bottle guard- this is to have good thickness. You can add Tofu (Soy yoghurt or Soy curd)
  2. All are independent tables. You can mix and match
  3. Make sure you use plain oats. Not the sweetened ones
  4. As far as possible use organic from whole foods
  5. Add 1-2 cooked curry to your diet apart from the above
  6. No fried items

Evening

6:00 PM – Vegetable juice as mentioned above or herbal or green tea. (No caffeine)

6:00- 7:00 Walking or light exercise, house chores  play with kids, if not finish all pending works.

7:00-8:00 – Help in cooking or cook by yourself

Dinner Menu

As mentioned in lunch menu- Any one cooked food and add variety of curries.

Eat large portion of salads with home made salad toppings or chutneys

Prepare daal with little oil or prepare sambar or rasam

Finish your dinner at least one hour before going to bed. 2 Hours is ideal.

8:00- 8:30- Relaxing, reading, spending time with kids- Do anything which keeps your mind in the present moment. Avoid TV shows. They will occupy your mind

Before sleeping practice 8-10 Ujjai breathing sitting on the bed.

Indian passport renewal with BLS international- Experince – Best Practices and Lessons Learned

[Edit 5/3/2016]Indian consulate changed the provider. Please follow link below.

Alert: TRANSITION OF PASSPORT SERVICE PROVIDER OUTSOURCING AGENCY FOR CONSULATE GENERAL OF INDIA, SAN FRANCISCO – http://www.cgisf.org/page/display/318

I just finished complete passport renewal process with BLS international. It was stressful experience due to the confusion BLS international has created.

[Edit (2/8/16) : Many people reported that BLS has improved a lot in its service. You may want to check their website thoroughly before making any decisions. But the instructions in the blog still are current.]

Here are some great confusions BLS created

1. Notary requirements in case of minor change of appearance

2. Airway Bill No – 90% of people get confused with this nomenclature. Not sure where BLS got this name

3. Number of photo requirements

4. Contact number for BLS- Never worked

5. Multiple dispatch and return slips. No instructions for delivery of documents

and many more (please list in comment section if you come across.

Since I went through this whole process for minor and adult passport renewal, I wanted to share my experience and best practices, so that you need not have to re invent the cycle.

Here are clear steps, should be executed by priority number, so that your application process becomes quicker.

1.Buy 2 envelopes –

Delivery envelope 1: dimensions approx. 14″ x 1o” or any nearest available dimensions. It should be able to hold passport and A4 size papers

Return envelope 2: dimensions approx. 8″ x 6″ or any nearest available size package. It should be able to hold passports only

  1. Take money order for needed fees on “BLS international Services Ltd” for prescribed amount.

here is the snippet from BLS website

Service Type Service Consular Fee ICWF fee BLS Service charge Total
Regular Charge Ordinary booklet – 36 pages $75.00 $3.00 $13.20 $91.20
Jumbo booklet – 60 pages $100.00 $3.00 $13.20 $116.20
Tatkaal Ordinary booklet – 36 pages $225.00 $3.00 $13.20 $241.20
Jumbo booklet – 60 pages $250.00 $3.00 $13.20 $266.20
  1. Get 8 copies of passport photos. Here is the requirements for photos
  2. Fill application at   https://passport.gov.in/nri/Online.do
  3. Save and exit or print the application.  Paste pictures where needed and Make sure you have signed on all needed locations
  4. Print 3 copies of  Nationality verification form . For SFO – 2 copies of printed and filled Nationality Verification forms (Photos pasted) for all categories of reissue of passport http://www.passport.blsindia-usa.com/forms/SampleNationalityForm.pdf . Make sue that you print exactly as per old passport. Paste pictures
  5. Photocopies
No Document Copies Notary required
1 First 5 and last 2 pages of passport 1 set No
2 Visa page in passport (not mentioned in the checklist, but there are instances of applications are rejected) 1 No
3 3 copies of printed and filled Nationality verification form and photographs 1 set No
4 Proof of residence (utility bill or Driver’s license) 1 Yes
5 I-797 Approval Notice/ I-485 for Children. All I-20 or F1 applicant need to provide address proof or school dorm letter 1 Yes
6 In case of minor – Change of appearance – 1 regular copy and another copy with photo notarized by one of the parents 2 copies Yes – 1 copy

For additional documents regarding other situations refer to BLS checklist

  1. Download change of appearance statement here. .

(in case of minors one of the parents need to notarize the minor. So please take your Id and passport to notary)

  1. Get the documents notarized. Minors need not have to accompany to notary.
  2. Now comes the last and most difficult and confusing step. BLS order form.

Some steps to handle this

Airway bill no = tracking number

  1. Easiest way is create a login with FedEx or UPS (I did with FedEx and it was easy).
  2. Log in with credentials and select create 2 way shipping
  3. Enter all the details including your package dimensions, from and to address. DO NOT check “This is residential address” for your home address. They charge you extra!(it is kind of weird)

To address for SFO is

BLS India

Passport, USA
4837 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94118

  1. Enter weight as 1 lb
  2. Select kind of delivery service you want. (I have selected 2 day Mon-Fri delivery. It is the cheapest option)
  3. Print out your label (this is a very slow process and sometimes FED-EX server does not work. So have patience)
  4. Follow same steps above to create return label by clicking on “create return label)
  5. Once you have both tracking numbers,  go to the BLS order form. . Enter details of Airway bill / Tracking number
  6. You will see another dispatch slip from BLS online. Take print of it and save screenshot for future reference.
  7. Both FED-EX and BLS dispatch slip from BLS should be pasted on your To and return packages
  8. Once you have your packages ready place your existing passport along with all documents + return envelope in the bigger TO envelope.
  9. drop at any FED-EX location

Some important end notes:

  • Photos :There are confusing statements in checklist. For easy transaction send 7 photos. 3 on the nationality verification form, 2 affixed to application, 1 change of appearance (if needed) and 1 extra photo. If you have 8, it would still better.
  • Make sure that you have filled the application with EXACT word to word, as per your old passport. Otherwise either application will be rejected or they call you with “No Caller Id” phone. If you miss the call, the application would be returned. (The person called me twice for this. Fortunately I picked up the phone.)
  • BLS never picks up the phone, so do all the application process diligently before submitting. Its better send late than sending half-done application. Since they are getting kicked out, it is more important.

Hope this is useful. Holds good until new service provider comes into picture!

Updated based on recent experience with one of the readers

Below are few things that I learned
1) It’s always better to use UPS instead of FedEx since UPS pickup happens daily from BLS office while FedEx pickup needs to be scheduled. Though both works UPS will be faster.
2) Getting Affidavits done at UPS store is quite easy
3) I got the thumb print stamp from Amazon for my daughter (5 year old)
4) I used ePassportPhoto.com to get the photos shipped to nearby Walgreens. I already had the soft copy of picture from India from my last Visa application
5) Make sure to use Affidavit of change of appearance for children

Continue reading Indian passport renewal with BLS international- Experince – Best Practices and Lessons Learned

50 things to do while camping outdoor

 

 

 

Since childhood we always loved camping away from home. The craving for living in the wild is very ancient for human beings. Camping outdoors brings out some sort of joy. It also gives an opportunity to understand how few things we have taken for granted are so difficult come by when we are on our own.  That observation helps us to appreciate everything we have at our disposal.

Taking your kids for camping  teaches them to live close to the nature along with real fun. The pleasure of setting up the camp tent, camp fire, dance, fun, definitely motivates kids to camp outdoors given an opportunity.

There are many Campoholics out there, owning RVs or big tents. Given an opportunity they are off to camping! Because they know importance of outdoor camping.

Some of the benefits are;

1. Get away from daily mundane activities

2. No TV / iPad / Phone / video games – (parents with younger kids can relate to this)!

3. More oxygen to breathe and less pollutants

4. Great family time and socialization

5. More time to think about important

6. Good exercise

7. Exploring the nature and wondering about the creation

there are many other benefits you can list of.

What to do to maximize the benefits:

This is a question every new camper faces. Especially families with kids always need to keep the whole family and friends engaged. Here is a list things you can do while camping. Add if you need to.

 bbq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning is the key to success.

  1. Hiking – do your home work on trials and familiarize
  2. Biking
  3. Boating ( If available)
  4. Dancing around camp fire
  5. Morning Yoga
  6. Mediation sessions
  7. Scary stories at night
  8. Dumb charades
  9. Shadow puppets for kids
  10. Horse riding
  11. Find beautiful stones / rocks at lake /mountains
  12. Photo walk for people with cameras
  13. Play dart
  14. Sleep, Snore crazy under the tree in the afternoon!
  15. Play cards or UNO
  16. Play limp and tag
  17. Climb a tree
  18. Create swing to tree branch using thick rope Here is a video
  19. Play Frisbee
  20. Everyone plays one movie act
  21. Talent show by kids, like Piano, dance, drama anything they are good at
  22. Water balloon fight
  23. Create sundial with a stick
  24. Create and sleep in  Hammock
  25. Everyone creates a picture and pins it to tree to compete.You can have our neighbor to pick up the winner
  26. Kite flying
  27. Write crazy poems on a funny subject
  28. Somersault on grass
  29. Play soccer or kick ball
  30. Wear animal attire or face paint and try to communicate in animal language
  31. Sip chai / coffee watching sunset
  32. Share the most stupid thing you ever did in your life (most embarrassing thing)
  33. Singing competition
  34. Feed the ducks / birds (bring breads or grains)
  35. Kids blow bubbles. (Bring lots of soap liquid)
  36. Fashion show with weirdest dressing (example Men wearing necktie on bare chest  with reverse cap and high heeled shoes.)
  37. Lemon and spoon race
  38. Design a solar stove
  39. Dress like tribal people
  40. Make Cone / leaf garlands
  41. Make crafts with leaves and sticks
  42. Make holes in the ground and connect then from different directions, pour water and see how they meet.. Create vortex
  43. Skipping competition
  44. Create a new language with reversing or mixing alphabets or adding a weird double alphabet between
  45. Mimic the birds, actors, celebrities, politicians
  46. Laughing Yoga. here are some tips
  47. Play volleyball
  48. Play Badminton
  49. Tug of war
  50. Hula hoop Here is video for beginners

 

Flying kite
Flying kite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep having Fun!