I visited the US embassy in Belfast in December 2019 to apply for a US holiday visa. Due to my career, I could not afford to take the risk of lying on the ESTA form.
The reason I am not eligible to travel via ESTA is that in 2017 I was given a police caution for Class A possession. It's the only blot on my criminal record but I know the USA is strict about drug offences.
I had read as much as possible beforehand and my impression was that I was likely to have the visa refused there and then but that I would be recommended for a 'waiver of inadmissibility' which would take several months to be approved but which would ultimately be approved. For this reason I made no travel arrangements in advance but was hoping to book a holiday once the visa was granted.
Visiting the embassy was a horrible experience. You are not allowed to take your phone into the waiting room with you, and you have to sit in the room for (in my case) hours before being seen. There was no clock on the wall and no obvious order regulating who was seen first. I was seen last of everyone, even though I definitely did not arrive last! I was actually an hour or so early for my appointment.
When I was eventually seen, I had to go into a private room to speak to the immigration officer. Weirdly, he is standing behind a glass screen (as though you're cashing a cheque at the bank) and you just stand in front of him as there are no seats. He has all your documents in front of him and asks you a few questions about your offence. It feels like he is trying to catch you out or something. It was pretty nerve wracking.
Anyway, he told me he would not be granting me a visa (which I expected). He gave me a short spiel about how old the US drug laws are etc and said there is, however, a waiver available for my offence but - and this was the bombshell - he was not going to recommend me for it on this occasion, as the offence was too recent. He said he could not say exactly how long I should wait to reapply, but maybe 5 years from the date of offence, and even then I may have to undertake some sort of medical examination.
I am writing this post for two reasons. The first is that I want there to be an account online of a visa refusal at the Belfast embassy. If a post like this had been available before I applied, I would not have applied! I had only seen positive accounts online, which lulled me into a false sense of optimism! It wasn't cheap to travel from England to Belfast for three days for the purposes of the visit and there were the costs of the police certificate and visa fees as well. So heads up to others: don't apply unless there's been at least 5 years since the date of your offence. Obviously this doesn't apply to you if your offence was not a drug offence, or if your drug offence relates to a less serious class of drugs.
My other reason for writing this is to reach out to others for their experiences. Specifically, has anyone been rejected like me but then gone on to successfully reapply later? If so, would you please let me know what your experience was?