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Consular Corner: April 2008

by Liam Schwartz, Esq.

Top Ten Visa Wait Times at US Consular Posts, April 2008

The consular unit at Embassy Ecuador has talent: Quito has shaved off a whopping 85 days from its visa wait times since the start of 2008. Elsewhere, wait times at Recife, Brazil soared by 72 days. Interestingly, all of the top ten wait times are attributable to consular posts in the Americas region.

# Country US Consular Post Visa Wait Time Increase/Decrease from February 2008 Last Month Top 10 Position
1 Cuba US Interests Section Havana 731 days 0 days 1
2 Venezuela Caracas 177 days +15 days 2
3 Haiti Port au Prince 137 days -20 days 3
4 Jamaica Kingston 113 days -7 days 4
5 Brazil Rio de Janeiro 88 days -1 day 8
6 Brazil Sao Paolo 86 days -7 days 7
7 (tie) Brazil Recife 85 days +72 days New listing
7 (tie) Brazil Brasilia 85 days -3 days 9
7 (tie) Dominican Republic Santo Domingo 85 days -9 days 6
8 Ecuador Quito 78 days -27 days 5
9 Canada Toronto 42 days 0 days 10
10 Canada Calgary 40 days New listing New listing
**Updated to April 7, 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.

Top Wait Times by Region:

The Americas (excluding Cuba) Venezuela/Caracas (177 days) Middle East and North Africa UAE/Dubai (35 days) Europe and Eurasia Belarus/Minsk (34 days) Africa Congo/Brazzaville (24 days) East Asia and Pacific China/Beijing (20 days) Central and South Asia India/New Delhi (15 days)

Disney Channel Diplomacy

Sharpey Evans of "High School Musical" has apparently joined the Foreign Service and begun adjudicating your client's visa applications:

How do you define diplomat? What comes to your mind? Wikipedia defines a diplomat as: Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between accredited persons (the diploma of the diplomat) representing groups or nations…. What a long reality it's someone who is slammed with stress that must act cordial and usually not viewed with fabulosity... How is one supposed to be fabulous in a country that's third world? You can try but you'd look like the idiot. I'll take Diplomat Dawn as an example. DD (Diplomatic Dawn, not Designated Driver), lived in Washington and loved to shop her heart out on fabulous stilettos, expensive handbags, and read her Time magazine weekly and attend diplomatic receptions on the 8th floor. DD moves away, 14 hours away with the North and South Atlantic separating her niche. She's removed from fashion, diplomacy in Washington, and online shopping. How can you be diplomatic when all of this is taken from you? Dial up sucks for DD, and she cannot access her myspace (catastrophe)… The new Foreign Service is composed of young, professional, fabulous, and UN diplomatic diplomats… People perceive diplomats as people who are always attending receptions with other foreign dignitaries, but why don't people think about the person that's standing at the visa window listening to lie after lie to get a visa to the U.S.? Experience is good, the removal from technology is depressing, not to mention driving expensive fast SUVs back home. Not every diplomat serves in Paris or London, most choose to rough it out in the bushes in Africa. DD and I share a close friendship and suggested the creation of t-shirts, next should be a television show on 'the fabulous diplomat'.

To which DD replies:

Diplomat Dawn loves your blog post... Now that's the challenge- maintaining an acceptable level of fabulousity when living in a not so fabulous 3rd world country. Do you- go native? Or do you throw caution to the wind and live it up in the style only U know how to do??! These Damn Africans are not ready for Deliciously devilish diva diplomat DAWN!!!!!!!

Diplomat Dawn at the Embassy swimming pool?

Going Native

As per Diplomat Dawn: "going native" is a phenomenon encountered by foreign service officers, which can have unwanted consequences on visa processing. David Seminara, in describing one of his colleagues on the visa line in Macedonia, as follows: George was a wonderful guy, smart, talented, and a world class diplomat, but most who knew him also agreed that he had "gone native," a common phenomenon that afflicts diplomats who grow a little too fond of their adopted countries. George knew everyone in Macedonia and Kosovo, and he had such fondness for the people that it caused him to give a lot of poorly qualified visa applicants the benefit of the doubt.

Visa Gods

Louis P. Goelz, a former Director of the Visas Office, on the reaction of some junior officers to the visa line: … I met so many of them who find that they're able to make decisions that they would never be able to make in any other circumstance, and to me they were sort of playing God. You know, "This is a nice person, so therefore he gets a visa." "This person isn't so nice," or, "he doesn't dress well, we don't want him in the States." That kind of thing that you have to interpret the law, that's what you're there for. There is an immigration law and it tells you who is qualified, and who is not. If they qualify, they get a visa whether you like them or not. But so many of the junior officers get to a point where they figure they're the giver of all visas, etc., etc. Some go one way, giving everybody a visa, others go the other way, they don't want to give any visas.

Divine Presence in the Visa Application Process

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether junior officers really are god-like, many visa applicants believe in divine presence in the visa application process:

Take, for example, the following applicant:

We went early (before 10am) to come ahead of our 1:15 interview at the US Embassy in Manila. We are confident with the scheduled interview since everything we have is TRUTH. Anyhow, the Lord was very gracious to spare us from the possibility of error (due to jitters) during the interview. To our surprise, the embassy officer readily approved our application; He did not even care to see our other documents. I'm pretty sure there's divine intervention right there!

…and this one, too:

And the Lord's hand was before us; we found favor in the eyes of the embassy officer. We got our visas!

Some visa applicants in India even believe that offering prayers to Lord Balaji ("the Visa God") at the Chilkur Balaji temple outside of Hyderabad will ensure the success of U.S. visa requests:

The Color Purple

Parenthetically, can an applicant's attire actually set the tone for the visa interview, as hinted above by Louis Goelz?

Since I was wearing my purple LSU colors as a jacket, the consul (who I learned surprisingly attended LSU and is a tiger herself) asked me the question, "Why did you choose to go to LSU?" Nonetheless our whole 5 minute conversation was about the Tigers and their chances this football season. She did not even bother to look at my supporting documents and granted me a visa.

Disgust and Disappointment: A Mother Scorned

Even "divine" visa officers must take a deep breath when faced with a choice between the inherent rights of motherhood and the statutory requirements of INA 214(b):

I didn't know how it felt to be denied a US visa until it happened to me.

Disgust and disappointment reeked in every fiber of my being, self pity loomed and for the first time in my life I felt so rejected and dejected. All I wanted was just a US non-immigrant visa for myself and my grandson, so I could proudly witness and bask in the honor of seeing one's daughter march in full regalia during her graduation at the University of Arizona where she took up her Masters degree in Agricultural Economics as a Fulbright Scholar.

Upon my query, I was told by the consul that she is not fully convinced of my reason or purpose of going to the US of A. What can I do? I have read that one should not argue with the consul, as they are highly trained for their job, so I nicely thanked her just the same, (so Filipino of me!) despite the turmoil I felt inside of me that time. Oh, how I wanted to challenge her to let me wear a tracking device, just to prove my sincerity. But pride and gnawing pain took the better of me, I meekly rested my case..

No matter how much I try I just can't fathom and understand why wanting to attend one's child graduation is not compelling enough to deserve a US visa. Why???

In April of 2006, I was issued a visitors visa by Japan when all I wanted was, to visit my eldest daughter, who was then an exchange research scholar for only a year. I don't see why the US could not grant the same privilege to a mother like me who has all the right to attend a very important milestone in a child's and a parent's life.

Having been widowed early in life, I am proud to say that I alone raised and sent all my three astute daughters thru college. They are all professionals now in their own right, two of them are about to graduate with their Masters degree, (UofA and UP Los Baños) both on full scholarships to boot, while my eldest who has also earned some masters units is now working in Japan as an English teacher.

The consul misjudged my intention, despite stating that I am now early retired from government service and started a small business out of my gratuity pay. I think, she surmised I will illegally stay having no stable source of income yet.

But for heaven's sake!! I opted to retire early, because I no longer see the need of working my bones off after sending all my children thru school plus the fact that I have to raise and take care of my 7 y/o grandson by my eldest daughter who happens to be a single mom, too.

What hurts most was, I was denied outright…without being able to present my daughter's letter proudly informing me that she's dedicating to me her forthcoming graduation and begging us to come, plus the fact that she wanted to set an example to her nephew so he would value the need of a good education. It was one painful, defenseless defeat, I tell you!

A law-abiding mother should never, ever be deprived, oh no, not at all, of the privilege of seeing one's child graduate from school, wherever in this world that happens to be.!1F3E273C5683921!176.entry

Of Iraq and Toronto

In order to satisfy its growing staffing needs in Iraq, the Department of State is compelled, in essence, to rob Peter to pay Paul:

The Department of State employs only about 6,500 active-duty Foreign Service officers, about the size of one military Brigade, and these officers staff all U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide. State does not have a reserve corps or barracks from which to deploy: State employees are forward-deployed. Filling a new FS position in Iraq means a job somewhere else in the world needs either to be vacated or left unfilled.

Leaving other foreign service jobs vacant or unfilled at other consular posts has an immediate, tangible impact on our visa applicant clients. Witness, for example, the situation in Toronto, pursuant to the following update graciously provided by Consular Chief Jeffrey S. Tunis:

We expect a severe staffing shortage this coming summer, which will cause us to reduce our already overbooked visa workload. By early July we will be short five consular officers, leaving us with four to cover all citizenship, passport and visa work. We hope to be fully staffed sometime in mid-Fall 2008, but dates are still unclear.

Given our severe staffing shortage we will likely suspend our business expedite appointments and further reduce appointments for applicants without a connection to Canada. Applicants who have no permanent residence in, or long term connection to, Canada should seek U.S. visas in their home country.

In order to reduce congestion, reinforce the integrity of consular processing and relieve pressure faced by staff members, we plan to limit physical access to the visa waiting area only to:

  • Visa applicants with appointments and
  • One helper or translator for any visa applicant who is disabled or illiterate in English;

All other interested parties, to include relatives, friends, travel agents, advisors and attorneys of applicants, must wait outside and away from the consulate entrance.

In addition, we must limit telephone access to calls that we initiate or solicit. We will no longer accept unsolicited telephone calls from attorneys, visa applicants or other interested parties to any of our staff.

Attorneys and others may email inquiries to, or call Canada 900-451-2778, the U.S. 900-443-3131 or by credit card 888-840-0032 from either country. We will individually reply in about 2-4 business days to only those email inquiries that we deem to be valid and need a specific reply from us.

Our goal with these changes is to remove distractions and free up more of our limited resources to allow us to adjudicate and process visas in an efficient and polite manner.

Visas 24/7

In responding to their own overbooked visa workload, some posts have even begun experimenting with weekend appointments:

Kingston: B-1/B-2 Visa Renewals

James T. Heg, Chargé d'Affaires at Embassy Kingston, reports as follows:

In response to the growing demand for visa appointments, the embassy decided to innovate and schedule a special Saturday-only visa renewal opportunity for holders of 10-year multiple-entry visas on March 8.

Of the 1,048 holders of 10-year visas who had registered as instructed and were interviewed on March 8, 95 per cent had their visas renewed.

Kuwait: Walk-in student visa interviews
Embassy Kuwait City has begun conducting student visa interviews without appointment on Sunday mornings only. Applicants for student visas who have received their I-20 enrollment form or who possess a formal acceptance letter from their university may come to the Consular Section for their interview without an appointment on any Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. starting April 6, 2008, and ending July 27, 2008.

Diplomatic Frankness

William D. Morgan, on the difference in serving as consul general in Paris after Beirut:

"The dangers of being blown up are reduced."

Paperless Processing and Pachyderm Procreation

At the dawn of the Information Age, the State Department took the bold technological step of computerizing its consular procedures. Speaking in 1992, Louis P. Goelz recalled the process as follows:

Q: As you moved into this computer thing, did you find acceptance, resistance, or were there categories of those consular officers who liked computers, those who didn't, or did you find this?

GOELZ: We had all kinds, of course. The younger ones tended to accept them, and to look forward to working with them in the future. Older officers tended to be sort of wary of them. They weren't exactly scared, but they weren't quite sure if you could really trust a machine.

Q: I live by the computer but its scary because things can happen.

GOELZ: Things can happen but the thing is, that's where its at. This is the way its going to go. This new arrangement that we have which I'm associated with now, the ultimate goal is paperless processing.

Decades later, paperless visa processing is still being put forward as an important goal. Indeed, under the joint vision of Secretaries Rice and Chertoff, a "paperless" visa system is one of the primary tools for ensuring that America maintains secure borders and open doors in the Information Age: A critical obstacle to cooperation across the Federal government is to integrate data created by different agencies for different systems and different purposes. State and DHS are knocking down this technical barrier…..These improvements open the way for "Paperless" Visa Processing.

Back in the day, Franklin D. Roosevelt observed that dealing with the State Department was akin to "watching an elephant become pregnant--everything's done on a very high level, there's a lot of commotion, and it takes 22 months for anything to happen."

Is this what he had in mind? All rights reserved to the author.

About The Author

Liam Schwartz is a principal in Liam Schwartz & Associates, a corporate relocation law firm. He can be reached at:

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.