The verdict? Not dreadful at all.
I guess the ease comes from the fact that one can accomplish much online. To find out about the process and all the requirements of renewing my U.S. visa, all I had was to visit this site:
A quick trip to the BDO bank downstairs in our office building to pay for the application fee (USD 131) gave me the DS-157 form which I was to fill out manually. Next was to fill out the DS-156 form electronically through this site:
Then schedule an interview at the U.S. embassy through this portal:
The hardest part of the process came next--compiling all that paper work showing evidence of ties and financial status in the Philippines. Luckily for me, I had all the documents close at hand.
Wednesday last week, I arrived at the embassy by 6am for my 7am appointment. Although there was much waiting, everything was organized and the staff, quite efficient. Even as we were queuing up (and there were herds of us despite typhoon signal no. 2 in Manila that day), videos announced the step-by-step procedures to be followed by all. By 7:15 I was up for my interview. In perfect Filipino, the American simply asked me about how many times I had been to the U.S., and what work I had in Manila. I was done in about a minute.
The last step was to fill out a form for Air 21 so they could deliver my passport and visa to the office. The U.S. embassy website estimates a week for processing and 3-5 days for delivery, so I was surprised when I received a text from Air 21 the day after my interview to tell me that they were ready to deliver my package. A second text reminded me to prepare an authorization letter in case I would not be available to personally receive my stuff.
The next morning, I received a last text telling me that my passport and visa were already in transit, and that I could track my package by visiting the Air 21 site:
I had no time to do that though as the package had just arrived at our office.
I wouldn't say renewing one's U.S. visa is a delightful experience, but it isn't as difficult as some people make it out to be. It is precise and easy to follow. In my opinion, whatever negative thoughts people have about the process is influenced by their own anxiety on the possibility of being denied a visa.