The US government offers a free service called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, another country. Through the program, you can enter information about your intended foreign trip so that the Department of State (DoS) will be in a better position to assist you in an emergency. The program also helps Americans residing abroad to get all the important information from the nearest US embassy or consulate.

The US government encourages more US citizens to avail this service. The registration process is very simple. All you need to do is create an account by clicking on the “Create an Account” link and then go through the instructions provided. You can have your own username and password through which you can access your travel data at any time. The account that you create will also have your personal information so that it can be saved and used again whenever you travel outside the US. The personal information section will have information about yourself, and will also have an emergency contact that is not traveling with you.

After you create your account, you can see your profile and will be able to add trips or overseas residences in order to register with a particular US Embassy or Consulate. By clicking on the “Add Trip” button or “Add Overseas Residence” buttons, you will be able to add this information. Go through all the pages, and provide as much information as you can. Though there are very few required fields, providing detailed information will be handy and will enable the US Embassy to help you more efficiently, when needed.

Remember that US consular officers will help Americans who encounter serious legal, medical, or financial difficulties. Though they cannot help or act as your legal counsel or representative, they can assist by giving the names of local attorneys and doctors and give loans to destitute Americans. They will also give you important information about dangerous conditions affecting your overseas travel or residence. They also provide non-emergency services, helping US citizens with absentee voting, selective service registration, receiving federal benefits, and filing US taxes. In addition, they can also notarize documents, issue passports, and register American children born outside of the US. You can check the websites of these embassies and consulates for additional information.


The Citizenship Test

Immigration has been a very important part of American history ever since colonists first landed on US soil more than 400 years ago. The civics test deals with important milestones and events in American history to make new immigrants feel part of this shared experience. As part of the citizenship process, one has to understand the system of government and the principles of American democracy. Citizenship applicants need to have a basic knowledge and understanding of how the US government works and how they can participate after becoming citizens.

A test of the English language is also a part of the citizenship test. Having the necessary vocabulary is expected regardless of the applicant’s language level. The vocabulary required for the listening and speaking includes words used in basic conversation, general commands, and about the information provided in the Application for Naturalization, Form N-400.

LISTENING – The applicant should be

1. Able to understand and act on basic commands.

2. Able to understand and respond accordingly to clarification commands.

3. Able to understand questions about everyday events.

4. Able to understand questions asked orally on the N-400 application and other relevant USCIS forms.

5. Able to understand the questions asked orally about supporting documentation.

6. Able to understand oral questions from the civics test.

SPEAKING – The applicant should be

1. Able to engage in basic conversations in English.

2. Able to construct clarifying questions.

3. Able to answer questions about everyday life and events.

4. Able to make statements about personal information.

5. Able to give complete answers and statements to the N-400 application questions.

6. Able to respond to requests for clarification.

7. Able to complete answers to civics questions.

READING – The applicant should be

1. Able to read and understand all relevant USCIS forms including the N-400 application.

2. Able to read civics items and answers.

3. Able to read vocabulary and sentences on the reading test.

4. Able to read directional and security signs at USCIS offices.

WRITING – The applicant should be

1. Able to write to complete all the appropriate USCIS forms.

2. Able to write dictated sentences on the writing test.

Indians seeking to go to the US will hereafter be subject to a simpler visa process. The US Embassy today announced a hassle free visa processing system that will simplify the fee payment and appointment schedules for a travel document. This system will come into effect from September 26. Applicants will be able to pay the visa application fees through Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) or even with their mobile phones. They will now be able to collect their documents from 33 document pick-up centers in the country.

For the convenience of the applicants, an online system has been introduced through which applicants can schedule their appointments online or by phone. If you like to schedule an appointment over phone, you can contact a call center. Representatives at these call centers will answer your queries in English, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Telugu and Punjabi.

Julia Stanley, Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs of the US Embassy, said. “It is our goal to make our visa process as efficient as possible to meet the increased demand for US visas worldwide…we are offering appointments by phone for the first time. The new global appointment schedule will offer group and expedited appointments.”

At a press conference, she said the main difference from the existing system is that those applying for the first time will have to schedule two appointments. One will be for fingerprint collection at an Off site Facilitation Center and the other would be for consular interview at the Embassy or Consulate. When asked about the safety of documents since there is more than one location involved in the process, she said the US has always accorded “highest possible security” on visa issues and would ensure all the documents are kept very safely.

The new system will provide applicants with more options when it comes to payment. The visa fees can be paid through ETA, mobile phone and also by cash at over 1,800 Axis and Citibank branches.
Applicants renewing their visa need not have to get their fingerprints done more than once. Stanley also expressed her hope that the number of applicants who do not need to visit the premises would grow significantly.

If you happen to see any suspicious activity, make sure to report it to the Police. Reporting such activities in a timely manner will help stop major crimes or terrorist attacks. Once you report, local law enforcement officers will be able to respond immediately and start assessing the situation. Citizens should always have it in mind to call the local law enforcement. If there is a life threatening emergency, you always have 911 to call.

Giving detailed information about the suspicious activity as much as possible will be of much help. Giving a brief description of the activity along with the date, time and location of the activity will be very useful. In addition, physical identification of persons you observed and any descriptions of vehicles will certainly prove handy.

Remember there is an active national strategy for information sharing. The Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI) is a collaborative effort led by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Bureau of Justice Assistance, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement partners.

This initiative helps law enforcement in preventing terrorism and other terrorism-related crime by gathering, documenting, processing, analyzing, and sharing SAR information. The NSI is a standardized process for identifying and reporting suspicious activity in jurisdictions across the United States and also serves as the unified axis point for sharing SAR information. If you are afraid to report such activities, remember that you can report anonymously. DHS also has other reporting avenues for reporting incidents.

To report crimes to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (his) you can call 866-347-2423 (from the U.S., Mexico and Canada) and 802-872-6199 (from other countries in the world).

The nationwide “If You See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaign was launched to raise public awareness about giving information on terrorism and terrorism-related crime, and to stress the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the appropriate local law enforcement authorities. The campaign was initially used by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). It then licensed the use of the slogan to DHS for anti-terrorism and anti-terrorism crime related efforts



green card lotteryRegistrations for the DV-2014 Program will commence on October 2, 2012 at 12:00 noon, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) and end on November 3, 2012 at 12:00 noon, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).

To qualify for an immigrant visa through the DV lottery program, you should have a high school completion certificate or should have worked for two years in a qualifying occupation. Remember, you should have completed a twelve year course of primary and secondary education equal to a twelve year education in the US. The DV lottery program grants 50,000 diversity immigrant visas to people from various eligible countries.

You can try your luck by taking part in the DV-2014 program. If you are keen in immigrating to the US, you may use the DV lottery program conducted every year. Even if you do not have a US citizen or green card holder in your family to sponsor you, you can get a green card through the DV lottery. Another important point is that not all the individuals are eligible to take part in this program. The US Department of State has a list of eligible countries from where very few persons have moved to the US in the past and only persons from such eligible countries can file applications to participate in the DV lottery program.

Make sure you go through all the eligibility requirements and file the application only if you are eligible to receive an immigrant visa to immigrate to the US. You should also be admissible into the US. Just winning the lottery alone does not make you eligible to get an immigrant visa . You are required to go through various processes. You should provide certain civil documents to prove that you are eligible.

Also make sure you submit only one entry to participate in the DV lottery program. If you submit multiple entries, your entries will be rejected. However, you can submit separate entries for yourself and your spouse if each meets the eligibility requirements separately. If one of them is selected, the other will get derivative status.

All the entries will be numbered separately at the Kentucky Consular Center. A computer will then select randomly from among all the entries received for each geographic region. All the entries have an equal chance of being selected.

Through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) persons from certain qualifying countries can come to the US and stay for a maximum period of 90 days without a visa. This program was established to eliminate unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulating the tourism industry, and permitting the Department of State to focus its resources in other areas. There are some eligibility requirements to be met for nationals of VWP countries to travel without a visa on VWP. Some travelers from VWP countries are not eligible for this program. VWP travelers should have a valid authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before they travel, are screened at the port of entry into the US and are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program. As of now, 36 countries qualify for this program.

To qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, a country has to fulfill many security and other requirements. It includes enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the US and timely reporting of both blank and issued lost and stolen passports. VWP members have to also maintain high counter terrorism, law enforcement, border control, and document security standards. Satisfying these conditions alone will not make a country eligible as designation as a VWP country is at the sole discretion of the US government.

Nationals of the qualifying countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program may use this program under these conditions:

  • They have received an authorization to travel under the VWP through ESTA
  • They have the correct type of passport that has a validity of six months past their expected stay in the US. There are other passport requirements for all categories of passports — regular, diplomatic, and official – when the traveler wishes to enter the US for business or tourist purposes (for a maximum of 90 days)
  • Their stay in the US is for 90 days or less and for the purpose of tourism or business.
    Note that Foreign media representatives seeking to engage in that vocation in the US do not qualify under this program, as the reason for their stay will not qualify as “business”. Such persons have to get a non immigrant media (I) visa. In addition to this, travelers planning to work or study cannot travel on VWP
  • If traveling by air or sea, they do so on an approved carrier and have a return trip ticket to any foreign country.
  • They have to demonstrate sufficient funds to support themselves while in the US.

Travelers admitted under the Visa Waiver Program and who make a short trip to Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island are allowed to re enter the US under the VWP for the balance of their original admission period. VWP nationals resident in Mexico, Canada or adjacent islands are normally exempted from requirements to show onward travel to other foreign countries