Clients scheduled for U.S. consular visa interviews often ask if they may interview in the local language of the country in which the consular post is located or if they must interview in English. Another common question is whether an applicant can bring an interpreter to the interview. Determining which language to interview in is often a very important question which can affect whether a visa is approved or denied.
Before diving into which language to interview in, a few preliminary points should be noted. First, it is sometimes important to differentiate between Consular Officers and locally hired consular staff. The latter are usually responsible for gathering and sorting documents for the Consular Officer and interpreting the interview, if needed. The Consular Officer, on the other hand, will be the one conducting the visa interview and adjudicating the case. It is perfectly fine to communicate with the locally hired staff in the local language, and not in English. Second, visa applicants should be kind and respectful to the locally hired consular staff because they often have a lot of influence on the outcome of cases as they can inform the Consular Officer of noteworthy items. Third, especially in marriage-based and fiancé(e)-based cases, if allowed, the Petitioner should also attend the interview. Fourth, as previously noted, each consular post is unique and has its own rules.
Interview Languages at U.S. Consulates and Embassies.
Generally, both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants are allowed interview in either English or the local language of the country’s post. For example, at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, applicants are permitted to interview in either English or Vietnamese. Although their proficiency in the local language may be limited, Consular Officers are generally trained to conduct interviews in both English and the local language of the post. When needed, Consular Officers will rely on locally hired consular staff to interpret. Generally, visa applicants are not allowed to bring an interpreter to the visa interview unless the applicant does not speak English nor the local language well enough to participate in the interview. In addition to the aforementioned interpreter exception, some consular posts may allow into the consular post other persons not named in the appointment interview letter. For example, the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City also allows the following persons to attend the appointment:
- The petitioner.
- The parent/guardian of any applicant under the age of 17.
- The parent/guardian of any applicant who is mentally/physically challenged (handicapped).
- The son/daughter/caregiver of elderly applicants (over 70 years old).
- An interpreter if the applicant does not speak English or Vietnamese well enough to participate in an interview.
When Should a Visa Applicant Attempt to Interview in English?
Ideally, nonimmigrant and immigrant visa applicants should interview in English during their consular interview, even though they may be allowed to interview in the post’s local language—of course, interviewing in the post’s local language may be required and perfectly acceptable if the applicant speaks no English at all and the visa does not require fluency in English. Interviewing in English helps show the Consular Officer that the applicant is a serious visa applicant and less likely to become a public charge in the U.S. if granted a visa. Accordingly, an applicant with intermediate or advanced English communication skills may want to practice his/her English before their interview to be able to effectively interview in English—for immigrant visa applicants who may be eligible for U.S. citizenship via naturalization in the future, which requires passing an English test, this is a worthwhile effort. During the interview, applicants can always politely ask the Officer to repeat a question they did not understand the first time—if an applicant does not understand a question, they should never guess what the Officer asked and answer, as it could result in unknowingly committing fraud/misrepresentation. On a related matter, visa applicants should not memorize and recite their answers, instead, their answers should be natural and not appear rehearsed.
When Should a Visa Applicant Definitively Interview in English?
In certain circumstances, not interviewing in English may severely hurt the visa applicant’s case and lead to a denial. Unless there is a very good reason why the visa applicant cannot do so, visa applicants are strongly encouraged to interview in English under the following circumstances, among others:
- The applicant’s student visa requires English proficiency.
- The applicant’s work visa directly or indirectly requires English proficiency.
- The applicant’s petitioning fiancé(e) or spouse only speaks English.
What to Do if a Visa Applicant Cannot Interview in English?
Some visa applicants may not be able to interview in English because they know no or little to no English. If such an applicant does not fall into one of the above-mentioned circumstances where he/she should definitely interview in English and his/her visa does not require English proficiency, such as for a tourist visa, then interviewing in the post’s local language should be fine. However, if that is not the case, then the visa applicant must have a good reason why he/she does not have adequate English communication skills to interview in English. For example, if a visa applicant cannot communicate in English but his/her petitioning fiancé(e) can only communicate in English, the visa applicant will have to explain how they can communicate with one another to be able to show that they have a genuine fiancé(e) relationship.
 The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only and subject to change. Nothing stated in this article is formal, specific legal advice, and nothing herein should be viewed as creating an attorney-client relationship. Furthermore, please note that every U.S. Consulate/Embassy is unique and may have different rules and requirements. If you require legal advice specific to your case, please contact Attorney Van Ryan Ngo.
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