Consular Corner: January 2008
Top Ten Visa Wait Times at U.S. Consular Posts, January 2008**
**Updated to January 1, 2008 and based on published Department of State data. The "visa wait time" is the estimated time in which individuals need to wait to obtain a nonimmigrant visa interview appointment at a given consular post.
2007 Visa Update Scorecard
As a result of changes since September 11, 2001, aimed at strengthening visa policies and procedures, the process for obtaining visas has become increasingly more complex. In recognition of such, the State Department has assured the American public that it is "striving to make the visa process as understandable as possible." This includes an effort "to make visa information readily available." http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_2664.html
According to the State Department, the talented young people applying various legal standards to our visa applicant clients are themselves being put to the test:
Visa work…. is the crucible that forges new and untested officers into strong officers. Visa adjudication helps new officers learn how to handle ambiguity, sharpens their decision-making skills, provides opportunities to cultivate emotional self-control, and teaches officers to become adept at reading people.UNCLAS STATE 035306 SUBJECT: PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE CONSULAR SECTION
The U.S. Marines also have a "Crucible." There, the term refers to the final intense physical and mental tests pushing new recruits to the extent of their will, courage and confidence. http://www.marines.com/page/usmc.jsp?pageId=/page/Scene-XML-Conversion.jsp?pageName=Strong&flashRedirect=true
For the Marines, the Crucible lasts 54 hours. For Foreign Service Officers, the crucible is often a two year assignment to the visa line.
Sisyphus in Seoul
The physical and mental price for being one of "the Few and the Proud" of the Foreign Service cannot be underestimated:
Some of my friends have asked me why I don't talk about my job much. I tell them that they probably don't want to know, and that it's really not that interesting….People say that the best and most amusing/extraordinary stories in all of State Department work come from consular work, but in Seoul the bland, factory-like nature of the work is not even conducive to that.Raw and Exposed
Visa work can be exhausting:
This job -- with its constant stream of people and constant talking with no real conversational progression -- wears me down over the course of the day, so that at night I feel exposed and vulnerable and very very tired. It's as if my skin is being sloughed off with every visa I adjudicate; it leaves me raw and exposed and completely drained. http://kakiser.blogspot.com/2006_04_01_archive.htmlA Hardened Heart
And visa work can harden your heart:
….there are days when I get really, really frustrated and need to vent, albeit slightly. This frustration goes beyond quoting arcane reg numbers and straight to the great man's inhumanity to man category. Obviously, today was one of those days. On one of my very last interviews, I called up three women ranging from 50ish to 7ish - that is, a grandmother, her daughter, and her granddaughter (or so they claimed). After interviewing them, judging them ineligible based on the law, and giving them the denial speech about three or four times, the grandmother says to me (with the universally-standard "I implore you" look) "Forget about them, what about me, can't you just give me a Visa?" And proceeds to repeat that until Security had to push her away. Like that is going to arouse any sympathy in my already hardened heart. http://diplodocus.wordpress.com/2006/04/18/begging-for-a-defenestration/He Who Smelt It…
The "crucible" of visa work for some Foreign Service Officers is in succeeding to do the job in decrepit (not to mention odorous) facilities:
The heaters (which we can't turn off) are emitting a smell not unlike a silent bout of flatulence in a small room full of close friends. Today, they kicked on while I was at the window interviewing two Brazilian applicants. As the offensive odor wafted through the little tray beneath the glass, I could see their nostrils begin to twitch. They glanced at each other, shot me a knowing look, and moved ever so slightly back from the window. "No, no; it's the heater..." I started, but as they didn't speak English…and as I don't know the Portuguese for "He who smelt it dealt it," I'm afraid they may have formed the impression that Americans eat a lot of cabbage. Luckily, just at that moment, an applicant two windows down reacted to her rejection by…kneeling on the floor, pressing her forehead to the ground, and crying out over and over "Please, I beg you!" Her awkward moment having effectively eclipsed my own, I quickly issued the couple in front of me while the guards came and dragged the unfortunate woman away. My hope is the Brazilians left talking about that and not about the smell. http://kakiser.blogspot.com/2006_11_01_archive.htmlLoneliness and the Long Distance FSO
The Foreign Service Officer's crucible can be one of loneliness:
I think the topic of the Foreign Service's pervasive loneliness only gets alluded to…. It happens to some of us, maybe 50% (though the number is increasing), the folks that enter the FS sans spouse/partner and, usually, young. They bring you in, assign you, and ship you off to the far corners of the world….. But if you're single, you're in for a shock - because when you get to post, you'll be in a foreign country, a foreign culture, an empty house and a life uprooted. While in Pakistan, I lived in a five bedroom house. Massive, larger than my parents home, larger than any home I had ever lived in, with servants and a driveway and oddly, no dishwasher, though it had a great kitchen otherwise. I loved it. And I hated it. It was a dream space where I could hear my voice echo, and a place that amplified the isolation of working in Pakistan, the difficulty in being alone. I'd never done it - from family to dorm, from dorm to group house, I'd always been in a space filled with the feeling of people if not their noises and the ephemera of their presence. Now, shoved in a house not meant for me, but meant for a family, the pain of being alone stabbed me, deeply. Still, the Foreign Service is a good life. The hard thing to get around is that it is not, at all, a job. It's a lifestyle, a choice one makes as much on how they want to live as where they want to live. Being this nomadic affects you, both in interacting with others at home and abroad and while sitting, at home, reading yourself to sleep after a long day of visa processing and before another, in a house that echoes… http://diplodocus.wordpress.com/2006/08/12/the-solitary-service/Crucible Insanity
As with John Proctor in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," what is most important for some Foreign Service Officers at the end of a consular tour is make a stand against the insanity of the town:
I had my own police experience just before leaving Jerusalem. There was a left turn that I made almost every day when leaving the consulate to head home. Suddenly the Israelis decided there should not be a left turn there, which takes you onto a four lane road, but you should instead go straight into a one-way, one lane road. Because apparently traffic is not bad enough.FSO Senioritis
The two year test of visa work can also exacerbate feelings of uncertainty:
The heat of the day is like a weight, so I take my adventures in the evening; 9:30 at night, and it still feels like biking through pineapple juice, the air forming a second skin on my body that lifts up and off whenever I coast down a hill. I find myself pedaling up slopes just to turn and rush back down them, molting the summer weather. Sated cicadas rattle the porch in their death throes, droning out an elegy for the season. Convenience store fireworks flare on every corner. My jeans stick to my knees as I pedal and pedal and pedal...Bionic Refusal Stamp
And visa work can turn your hand to Rubber:
Your hand has been replaced by a rubber stamp. What does it say? Wait...this is the truth! It says, "Infelizmente, según a lei americana, você não califica para um visto agora mesma." http://www.blogger.com/profile/04222388530162851424
Of Visas and Cattle
Visa work can indeed be enriching:
As I was refusing an applicant today he cut me off to say that if he didn't come back to Laos after his short visit to the United States, I could take his 80 cows/buffalo, tractor, and 3 hectares of land.Visa Work and Motherhood
But sometimes visa work can almost turn you against motherhood itself:
I may have to rescind my membership in the leche league. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for breastfeeding. But I was reminded again today that there is a time and a place, or at least a way, to breastfeed.Visa Consuls: A Moveable Feast?
No wonder some Visa Officers seem to go out of their way to approve an application:
…One of the embassy guards reported...that a recent Hmong applicant, unsuccessful in her application for a visa, was overheard saying "when I return back to my house I will pray for my god to eat Mr. Adamson." Mr. Adamson being my boss, and the unlucky recipient of such a curse. http://lifeonthemekong.blogspot.com/2006_06_01_archive.htmlThe More Things Change...
In 2001, the leading magazine for the federal managers and executives carried an article entitled "Rejected: The State Department's visa bureau may not be big enough or tough enough to keep terrorists out of America." Among the findings of the article were the following:
Visa processing tends to be viewed as a job for inexperienced junior officers, because it gives them a chance to practice their language skills and meet foreign citizens. Nonetheless, junior officers view visa processing as menial work. Consular affairs officers "have felt like they are forced to be working in a factory output-type situation," (former FSO John) Martin says. Recent reports by State's inspector general and outside reviews show that consular facilities in many locations are decrepit, lines for visas are long and visa officers are exhausted. http://www.govexec.com/features/1201/1201s4.htmSix years later, the on-the-ground reality for officers performing visa work appears largely unchanged and greatly unappreciated.
Quote of the Corner:
God would have hated visa work.
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