Consular Corner - October 2007
Top Ten Visa Wait Times at U.S. Consular Posts, October 2007*
FAM Paint Job
According to the Department of State, "Updating the FAM is like painting an aircraft carrier; one can never say that the job is done….We literally make changes every day. Additionally, it is sometimes necessary to issue guidance as cables…" http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05859.pdf
Given that these frequent updates to visa policy and guidance only add to the complexity of visa application procedures, it seems important for the public to learn of them in real time. Regrettably, the last time the public was alerted to changes to 9 FAM was back in August. The last visa cable made public was back in June; indeed, only three visa policy cables have been made public for all of 2007.
The Prevalence of Fraud
Fraud risks must seem everywhere these days for the consular officers charged with administering the visa application process. Take for the example a few recent examples:
Indian Posts: 20%
According to Peter G Kaestner, Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs at the U.S. Embassy, New Delhi, approximately one out of every five visa applications in India are found to be fraudulent. http://cities.expressindia.com/local-news/fullstory.php?newsid=255756
Addis Ababa: 90%
Relationship fraud is so rampant, that at posts such as Addis Ababa the percentage of sham Diversity Visa marriages is put as high as 90%. http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d071174high.pdf
Manipulation of Visa Appointment Systems
Recent reports suggest that outside brokers have attempted to manipulate online nonimmigrant visa appointment systems: in Kingston, for example, a growing number of online appointments apparently contain false information and are made simply to secure a place in the interview schedule. http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/html/20070613T200000-0500_124289_OBS_US_EMBASSY_WARNS_AGAINST_VISA_APPOINTMENT_FRAUD_.asp
Worthless Police Clearances
A recent GAO report on fraud risks presented by the Diversity Visa program indicates that consular posts in Accra, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Lagos and Warsaw consider police certificates "worthless" due to the prevalence of documentation fraud. http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d071174high.pdf
New Visa Fraud Terminology
The same GAO report introduces new terms to the visa lexicon:
"Pop-up Marriages" - Marriages entered into after the initial DV entry.
"Visa of Tears" -The name given to the diversity visa by Bangladeshi visa applicants preyed upon by unscrupulous visa agents.
Fraud and Consular Stress
According to Andrew Simkin, Director of the DOS Office of Fraud Prevention Programs:
"The techniques that consular officers use to fight fraud are varied. Probably the best technique is simple: the personal interview. The consular officer may ask all sorts of questions about the applicant's personal situation and reason for travel. Consular officers are trained to observe the applicant's demeanor during the interview to detect signs of emotion or nervousness that may indicate deception….We have a large and growing number of techniques and sources of information to combat fraud, but the most important element is good judgment. All that information needs to be evaluated by an intelligent, fair-minded, but skeptical consular officer. I know that we don't get every decision right, but the Foreign Service officers who are selected by the State Department to do this work are among the most talented and motivated people that America has to offer." Ironically, visa interviews are, for the most part, conducted by young junior officers at the start of a five year probationary period, working long hours under stressful and sometimes erratic schedules. At many posts, these junior officers interview dozens if not hundreds of applicants every day, in a job which is mostly thankless and often the target of negative perceptions by the local community.
These officers can be excused if they exhibit the kind of irritability, anger and inability to concentrate which the Department cites as signs of stress (see 7 FAM 1840). And they are without doubt the "most talented that America has to offer." But given the implications of their stressful workloads to national security, the real challenge appears to be keeping them among "the most motivated," exercising "good judgment" in case after case.
Apathy on the Fringes
One of the effects of the constant pressure on consular officers' workloads may be occasional apathy on the fringes. The GAO stated that "the involvement of the visa industry is perhaps the most problematic issue for State, and an area in which it most lacks control." http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d071174high.pdf
But one former insider writes:
"I am a retired Diplomatic Security agent and I was always amazed of the attitude consular officers had in dealing with visa fraud and the documentation from the local visa mills - most located close to the consulate. Granted the visa isn't issued when the false documents are detected but seldom is the applicant immediately reported to the RSO and/or local police. These are easy cases to prosecute and the image of a bogus applicant being detained/arrested in the waiting room would have a huge impact and possibly cut-back on other false applicants." http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/ask/79932.htm
No Rest for the Weary
Even well-earned rest time can be stressful, if not worse. One example: US vice consul Christine Jackson was reportedly robbed of her wedding ring and cash during a get-away to the Malapascua Beach Resort in the Philippines. http://www.gmanews.tv/story/61564/US-consul-pal-lose-cash-jewelry-in-Cebu-resort
The Local Cuisine Outlet
One outlet by which Foreign Service Officers can seek to relieve stress is through the local cuisine. "Prince Roy," one of our best officers in Asia, devotes much of his blog to local Chinese cuisine: http://www.princeroy.org/?cat=4
But even on his birthday Prince Roy had to hunker down on the visa interview line:
"So today is my birthday. I don't know about you, but it's just not a birthday unless it includes 240 visa interviews."
Why Foreign Service Officers Don't Generally Blog
Prince Roy is the exception: most Foreign Service Officers don't blog. Here's why:
"I'd imagine the reason there aren't dozens of FSOs blogging is that it would be very, very difficult to blog without at some point giving away what post you're at. Then, once everybody at Post knows it's you, it becomes impossible to ever say anything critical of the Department, much less individual officers. The Department doesn't like critics and a Junior Officer out there saying things that aren't exactly party line could get "punished" with a bad EER, which could result in denial of tenure. At best, the officer would be forever pegged as "the Blogger" and he'll have a hard time getting a good assignment in the future if every prospective supervisor in the Foreign Service thinks he could end up as the butt of some joke on this guy's blog. There's also the danger that "L" could get on your back, Free Speech be damned, if you're out there saying things that go against Department policy. Then, of course, if the Blogger is a consular officer, and word gets out about his identity, there's the possibility of harrassment from visa applicants, both prospective and already-denied ones.| https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=11660240&postID=113224366797696649
Cal and Condoleezza
By the way, if you're having a stressful day in the practice of immigration law, consider watching the interview with Cal Ripken, Jr., Secretary Rice and Under Secretary Hughes with your lunchtime sandwich: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LfZ5QHblBE Smile guaranteed, especially if you want to see the Secretary of State gush. And who wouldn't?
GAO Diversity Visa Report: A Postscript
One would think that the Department of Homeland Security would comment on a GAO report on Border Security, submitted to the Chairman, House Committee of Homeland Security. This, all the more so since a central finding of the GAO report is that there is almost no information about DV immigrants after they have entered the United States - an important issue squarely within the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security.
And yet, DHS declined to provide comments to the advance report provided to it by the GAO.
According to the GAO, "good government" is reflected, inter alia, in the core value of accountability to the American people. Responding to a Government Accountability Office request for comments, in an area within your public trust, seems to be a basic element of such accountability.
Kudos to the Department of State for its comments.
Quote of the Corner:
"Even though you find yourself in a life or death crisis, there is still room somewhere to have fun."
Department of State advice to consular officers in how to deal with major crises. http://foia.state.gov/masterdocs/07FAM/07FAM1800APA.PDF
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