How to Apply for a Spanish Student Visa at the Chicago Consulate

The first lesson I learnt while applying for a Spanish visa – so I could spend my Winter quarter studying at IE Business School in Spain – was this: you don’t want to apply for a Spanish student visa! The process can be complicated, and you may not get multiple entry visas that allow you to visit other countries within Europe. What I did instead was apply for a Schengen tourist visa, with Spain as my main destination. This option allows me to study for a period of up to 90 days in Spain, and to visit any of the European countries in the Schengen agreement: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. 

The process for applying for a Schengen visa is pretty straightforward; all the requirements are listed here. A couple of pointers on the application:

1. Original Local Police Invitation or Hotel Reservation: Your host school is likely to provide you with a letter stating that your accommodation will be taken care of when you arrive, and that letter should fulfill this document requirement.

2. Round Trip Flight Reservations: You can do a search flights on on Expedia, and then save the detailed information of a specific flight as a PDF. You don’t need to pay for the flight before saving as a PDF.

3. Health/Travel Accident Insurance: Kellogg has an international insurance offering that all students making international trips are required to purchase, and this was good enough for this requirement.

 Please feel free to post any questions you might have about the application process and I’ll do my best to answer.

I’d advise scheduling your visa interview about a month before your trip as Schengen visas are sent out about 2 weeks after the visa interview. From my experience, visa interview appointments at the Chicago consulate are pretty easy to get, and the atmosphere at the consulate is pretty laid back compared to other consulates I’ve been to. The US consulate is definitely the most hard core… 🙂

 

 

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Illinois Rules of the Road… For Immigrants!

When I moved to Austin a few years ago to start my new job, I immediately wanted a driver’s license, but faced two obstacles. First, I needed to find someone willing to lend me his/her car so I could take the driving test. I had just arrived in the city and didn’t really know anyone, but I was able to connect with a fellow Texas A&M University alum (go Aggies!) who was gracious enough to lend me her car. The second obstacle was passing the driving test itself. Now I had driven for a while in Nigeria before coming to the US, but I never really had to do parallel parking (it still isn’t my cup of tea) and I knew I was going to be asked to parallel park as part of my test. Thankfully, I got lucky and did a pretty good parallel park on my second attempt, passed my test and got my driver’s license. Life was good, and I no longer had to take the driving test again… until I came to Chicago.

My Texas driver’s license was set to expire by October 31st this year, so once I got back from my summer internship, I went to the DMV in Chicago to renew my license. The lady I met at the counter took my Texas driver’s license and my Nigerian passport and told me that I had to take a written test and a road test before I could get the Illinois driver’s license. This didn’t make sense to me, but I didn’t have some of the other documents with me at the time and so I decided to go home and not argue. When I returned a few days later with all my documents, I was told again that irrespective of the fact that I had a valid driver’s license from Texas, my foreign citizenship meant that I had to take a written test and a road test before I could get the Illinois driver’s license.

Just to be clear, Chicago Illinois is part of the United States, and Austin, Texas is also part of the United States. Furthermore, US citizens and permanent residents who moved from Texas to Illinois are not subject to this ridiculous law, and can exchange a valid version of their Texas driver’s license for an Illinois driver’s license. I have been trying to figure out if there is something immigrants drink that makes them lose their driving ability once they cross state lines.

Seeing that I wasn’t gaining any traction with my protests, I decided to take the written test and the driving test. As I didn’t bring my car to Illinois, I once again had to find a friend who was willing to let me use his car. I also had to practice parallel parking again just in case! (I wasn’t asked to do one though) I think it would have been really embarrassing if I failed the driving test after making so much noise about my driving record. 🙂

So now I have my Illinois driver’s license, and I’m hoping I never have to take the driving test again. It seems like I’ll be fine when I move to Seattle. Apparently the state of Washington is yet to understand that immigrants lose their driving skills once they cross state lines; they still exchange our valid out of state driver’s licenses for a Washington driver’s license.

Image by cyberdriveillinois.com

Visa Granted!

Another late post… Hey better late than never right? 🙂

work-visa-application-singapore-400x270

Yes! The hurdle is finally surmounted! Actually, getting a student visa shouldn’t really be a hurdle, except at the US consulate, where things could always go either way. I should know: I’ve gone through the visa process three times, and actually got rejected once! Anyway, that’s another story.

As someone who was already in the US on a work visa, one of the issues I struggled with for a while was if I should do a change of visa status right here in the US or go out of the country and get my visa stamped at a US consulate. As usual, US immigration issues don’t make a lot of sense at first glance so I’ll try to put some context around it.

Students who are already in the US on some sort of visa can apply to change their status to that of ‘Student’ while remaining in the US. This process takes about 2 months on average, and gives the advantage of not having to leave the country and go face a consular officer at any US consulate around the world. For a while I was tempted to use this option, but the downside is that even though your status is changed, there is no visa stamp on your passport. Therefore, whenever you have to leave the US, you will still have to go to a US consulate to get that visa stamp before you can re-enter the US. Since I knew I would be leaving the US during my MBA program, I decided to go home and get the visa stamp right away; one less thing to worry about. If you are a future international student and none of this makes any sense, that’s fine. It will in the future. 🙂

Unlike my first time, the visa interview for my MBA student visa was pretty straightforward and uneventful. It went something like this:

Me: Good Morning.
Visa Officer: Good Morning. Can I have you passport and application please?
Me: Sure (passes passport and documents over).
Visa Officer: Why do you want to go to the United States?
Me: I want to go to the US to study for my masters degree at Northwestern University.
Visa Officer: Wow Northwestern. Okay… (starts typing). What are you going to do your masters in?
Me: In business. I’m going to do my MBA.
Visa Officer: Why do you want to do an MBA?
Me: (Said some stuff about having a graduate technical degree and wanting to focus on the business side of technology).
Visa Officer: And this technical masters degree you have is from where?
Me: Texas A&M University.
Visa Officer: Okay (types some more). Are there any other schools you considered?
Me: Yes I applied to UC Berkeley, MIT Sloan, Carnegie Mellon University, and UT Austin.
Visa Officer: So why did you choose Northwestern University?
Me: (Said some stuff about collaboration, my interest in marketing and the strength of the Kellogg brand in Nigeria).
Visa Officer: Okay (continues typing. Picks up passport and starts flipping through). Oh and you’ve been to the US before right?
Me: Correct.
Visa Officer: Okay… have you ever been refused a visa to the US?
Me: Yes. I went to Ghana to apply for a student visa and I was refused because I didn’t have strong ties to Ghana.
Visa Officer: Okay that makes sense. How are you paying for your degree?
Me: I have some personal savings. I’m also getting some funds from my sister and these funds are already in my account. I also have a student loan guaranteed by the Kellogg School of Management.
Visa Officer: Can I see some form of evidence? Of the loan at least?
Me: Sure (passes over student loan letter).
Visa Officer: Okay this looks good. What do you intend to do after your MBA?
Me: I intend to come back to Nigeria and focus on the marketing of technology products.
Visa Officer: Okay. Your visa has been approved. You can go to our pickup location on Monday.
Me: Thank you.

Overall, pretty easy. Considering that a lot of people were getting rejects all around me, I think what made me successful was the fact that:

1. I was going to a reputable school.

2. I had a coherent story about my future plans.

3. My financial plan was simple and understandable.

4. I had been to the US before.

Personally I think every visa application has strengths and weaknesses. The rule of the game is to play up your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses as much as possible. If you have any student visa questions you’d like me to take a stab at, please post them below or send me an email at [eorigbo] [at] [gmail] [dot] [com].