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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Consular Corner: August 2008

by Liam Schwartz

We're proud to present the second in a series of interviews aimed at introducing the reader to the U.S. consular officers who interview our visa clients. This month's interview is with Rachel C. Graciano, the E Visa Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tel-Aviv, Israel. As is evident from her responses, a principal "managerial tool" Ms. Graciano brings to the complex world of E visa processing is a heightened sense of passion and focus for her work and her visa applicants.

Ms. Graciano is from Seattle, Washington where she studied history prior to entering the business world. She spent many years in the "dot com" industry, where she specialized in contract negotiations for a wide range of industries, including airlines, hotels, cellular communications and health care. After the fall of 2001 Ms. Graciano changed her focus to disaster response and humanitarian work before ultimately accepting a position with the Department of State in the summer of 2006.

Ten Questions With: Rachel C. Graciano
E Visa Officer
U.S. Embassy, Tel-Aviv, Israel

LS: The Foreign Service is your second career. What motivated you to leave the business world to represent your country abroad?

RCG: I want to do "good deeds" on a global scale. This is not meant to imply vast altruism but when you boil down my various motivations it is the simple truth. Combine this with the opportunity to serve the country that I love… I am fortunate beyond words.

LS: Two years in, how have the goals you hoped to achieve within the Foreign Service changed (if at all)?

RCG: My long term goals remain the same and I'm happy to say that the Foreign Service remains a great opportunity for me to gain experience, meet contacts and perform a service for my country. My short term goals have become more focused. Given the opportunity I know which languages I hope to study (French and Arabic), what part of the world I hope to serve in (Africa and NEA) and who's Bureau I hope to knock on the door of one day (Refugee Affairs).

LS: What things can attorneys do to promote an effective visa application process on behalf of their E visa clients?

RCG: While I can't speak for every post's policy when it comes to the application process for the E Visa - from my perspective at Embassy Tel Aviv it's very simple - please submit ALL the required documents. This will greatly facilitate moving your client's case forward and decrease the time between original submission and actual adjudication. We can't move forward in inviting your client for an interview until we have every piece of required documentation.

LS: What are the things which attorneys should not do if they seek to promote an effective visa application process on behalf of their E visa clients?

RCG: We love working with the attorneys here in Tel Aviv. This is more of a "please do" than a "do not" - I respectively request that attorneys respect the application rules that have been put in place. These rules are there for a reason and ongoing requests for "exceptions" neither facilitate the processing nor the relationship.

LS: Can you speculate as to how the numerical limitations on the H-1B visa category have impacted on your E-1 and E-2 visa application workload?

RCG: I ran the numbers recently and our E-1 and E-2 applications in Tel Aviv have grown exponentially in the past couple of years. My speculation, gathered from interviews and experience, is that some individuals are attempting to apply for both an H1-B and an E-1 Visa to see which they qualify for and can get first. The E-1 application process is more cumbersome but if the company and applicant qualify there is no numerical limit, the spouse can work, and the E-1 Applicant is not subject to a maximum of 7 years like he would be on an L-1.

LS: Do you support the growing trend among consular officers to utilize information about a visa applicant derived from internet social media such as FaceBook and blogs, in evaluating the applicant's eligibility for a visa?

RCG: Yes. And no. Frankly, the consular officer often doesn't have time to examine a Visa applicant in such an in-depth manner. We were hired for our judgment skills and our ability to make decisions based on the context of the Visa interview. Having said that, I believe that Facebook and other social networking sites can occasionally be helpful. To be honest, if a Visa applicant is trying to overcome 214 b but lists their hometown on Facebook as Tampa, FL - this individual is going to have some explaining to do. ..and that's a true story.

LS: What kinds of skills and attributes do you see as "musts" for E Visa Officers?

RCG: Like all Visa Officers, the E Visa Officer needs to exercise his or her judgment on each case and have the ability to support his or her decisions according to the law. The E Visa Officer needs to demonstrate professionalism and tact, even when unable to approve

LS: What experiences from your previous life have proven most helpful to you as a Foreign Service Officer?

RCG: Customer Service. This, I think, is the most valuable skill I transferred from my previous life into my life as a Foreign Service Officer. My "customers" have changed but I am still here to represent or serve them and I want to be able to do that with a smile on my face.

LS: If you were assigned to set up a new E-1/E-2 visa unit at a U.S. consulate, what would be the top five action items you'd undertake to ensure a successful launch?

RCG: Hmm let's see:

  • Outreach to the business community explaining what IS and what qualifies for an E-1/E-2 Visa.
  • Training of the E-1 Officer to know what kinds of business are coming out of the host country and conducting trade in the United States.
  • Choosing an E-1 Officer who is truly intrigued by the E-1 Visa and what is involved.
  • A clear website for the public explaining the E-1 Visa and the application procedures.
  • An E-1 Visa Assistant to help with the day to day communication required in a busy E-1 Visa Unit - and one who is as capable and amazing as the one I've worked with in Tel Aviv.

LS: What has to happen during the work day for you to think during your ride back home: "This was a wonderful day at the office."

RCG: I'm very fortunate because I love my job. Many factors play into what makes for a good day but - A truly wonderful day for me is one where at least one of my Visa applicants is going to Seattle so I can take the opportunity to wax eloquent about Mount Rainier and Pikes Place Market.

Are You Smarter Than A Junior Consular Officer?

1. Which of the following is a designated "Superhard" language, considered by the State Department as exceptionally difficult for Foreign Service Officers (and other native English speakers) to learn?

(a) Albanian
(b) Chinese
(c) Farsi
(d) Russian
(e) Swahili

2. What is the name of the institution at which the consular officer interviewing your visa client has received basic training in subjects such as Immigrant Visas, Non-immigrant Visas, and American Citizens Services?

3. "I serve in the immigrant visa unit which issues more visas than any other U.S. immigrant visa unit in the world." This statement could be made by a consular officer serving at which post?

a) Ciudad Juarez
b) Guangzhou
c) Kingston
d) Montreal
e) Mumbai

4. What acronym is used by the Department of State for cables sent to diplomatic and consular posts?

5. In total, how many types of nonimmigrant visas are available?

a) 24
b) 36
c) 48
d) 60
e) 72

6. What is the common name for the list, submitted by Foreign Service employees, of job positions for which they want to be considered?

7. What is the period of authorized stay for Mexican nationals admitted to the U.S. with a Border Crossing Card?

a) 30 days
b) 90 days
c) 180 days

8. How many countries are now designated as state sponsors of international terrorism?

9. How far in advance to the start date or registration date as provided on the Form I-20 may one apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. consulate?

10. How far in advance to the start date or registration date as provided on the Form I-20 may an initial student apply for admission to the U.S. on the basis of an F-1 visa?

11. Who is the current Managing Director of the Department of State's Visa Office?

12. Which Academy award-winning actress, who served as Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, and was designated the first Honorary Foreign Service Officer in U.S. history, just celebrated her 80th birthday?

Lost In Little Bits

According to the Department of State:

"We know the benefit to America when they come to share their culture with us, and we issue visas to thousands of folk artists, musicians, people coming here to share little bits of their culture with us every year." http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_10082846

There is a growing perception that this benefit to America is being lost in little bits; two examples:

Chinese Folk Artist

"In May, He Guan Gyu was pinned under heaps of rubble for more than 24 hours after a massive earthquake struck China's Sichuan Province. It killed her parents and destroyed the factory where she worked.

Despite her suffering, He hoped to be in Bountiful (Utah) next week to sing the traditional songs of her Qiang culture at the International Organization of Folk Art's first youth conference. She is one of just 80,000 people who speak her native language.

Her dream was dashed when the U.S. State Department refused to give her a visa to travel to the United States - she didn't have the family ties and job to convince officials she would return to China." http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_10082846

Assuming this account of the visa denial is accurate: yes, INA 214(b) presumes immigrant intent; but consular officers are presumably hired for their discretion - and for their humanity.

Parenthetically, nearly 80 percent of the artists and experts who applied for visas to attend the International Organization of Folk Art's youth conference in Bountiful were denied.

Bushmen Denied Visas

"Three bushmen show up at the U.S. consulate in Lagos, Nigeria, after having been recruited to come to America to help the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton (Virginia) build authentic mud huts for a 1700s-era West African compound that will help the museum tell the story of the colonial African slave trade.

It's important to remember two key facts from above. The men were recruited for this endeavor, and they were recruited because they are natives to communities in Nigeria where the prevailing home architecture involves mud huts. Which is to say, they don't exactly have the economic means to be traveling the world, one, and two, they don't speak any English. So naturally, when they show up at the consulate at the appointed hour, everything that can go wrong does, and the short of the story is that they're not coming now, and probably won't be." http://augustafreepress.com/2008/07/03/bushmen-denied-visas-putting-frontier-museum-project-on-different-track/

BTW: The Frontier Culture Museum bills itself as "an outdoor, living-history museum and educational institution of the Commonwealth of Virginia….The Museum's exhibits serve as the settings for interpretative and educational programs designed to increase public knowledge of the diverse Old World origins of early immigrants to America, of how these immigrants lived in their homelands, how they came to America, and how the way-of-life they created together on the American frontier has shaped the success of the United States." http://www.frontiermuseum.org/visit.php

In other words, the bushmen exhibit was meant to teach us more about ourselves as Americans and the wonderful country we have created. Another bit, another benefit, lost…

Travel Agents Are No Saints

"The involvement of the visa industry is perhaps the most problematic issue for State, and an area in which it most lacks control." This statement, made by the GAO in the context of Diversity Visa fraud, may also apply to the non-immigrant visa context, as evidenced by the following account of a former India-based "visa agent":

"Before I unleashed myself onto the world, I used to work with a visa agent while still in college. My organization (don't know if I can call it that, we were only six people you see) worked as visa agents to some of the countries' leading IT firms. Since this city happens to be home to practically every consulate for countries all over the world, work was plenty.

I have a personal grudge against the US consulate, not because I'm anti-American or anything but simply because after waiting for months to just get an interview date, they ask you for every possible document on earth. It's one thing to ask for bank statements and Pan card photo copy it's another to ask for your house agreement, car agreement, fixed deposit so on and so forth.

Some forms are a piece of cake others go on forever. The thing that would cheer me up at the end of a tiring day was to read the question on the visa form. 'Are you a terrorist? If yes, please elaborate…..'

I don't think they have that question anymore, will have to call up some old friends and check. If you have an uncle or aunt at the Consulate level, then even if you've answered yes to the terrorist question, you'll probably get that visa, nepotism penetrates everything, consulates are no exception.

Mind you, travel agents are no saints, make no mistake they are all out to make money, they lie, they forge signatures on the forms, they create fake insurance and e-tickets, they sometimes create fictitious details of your spouse to fill up the form, I know because I've done it all…" http://bombaydiva.blogspot.com/2008/08/bon-voyage.html

Out Of Africa

From a Foreign Service Officer in training:

"One of our briefings we had today was on U.S. Policy and Interest in Central Africa. It was given by Ambassador Robert Gribbin. He was presenting a summary on each of the countries in central Africa. At the beginning of each presentation the presenter is given a class roster showing where each of the class members has been assigned. When the Ambassador got to Chad, the exchange went like this:

Ambassador Gribbin: "I understand one of you is going to Chad…."

Bob: I put up my hand and said "I'm going in August"

Ambassador Gribbin: "You have my condolences".

Class laughter………

A few minutes later in the presentation…….

Ambassador Gribbin: "The best thing you can say about Chad is……It is a mess"

More class laughter.
http://foreign-service-bob.tumblr.com/post/33485765/you-have-my-condolences

Visas By The Hour

Non-immigrant Visa (NIV) Officers at high-demand posts in Mexico are expected to conduct 120 interviews per day (20 interviews per hour at windows, 6 hours per day). And that's even before they get to their desks to begin their "real" work, like reviewing applications, composing Advisory Opinion requests and most importantly, responding to correspondence from immigration attorneys. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d081006.pdf

Visas By The Window

The new consular facility in Ciudad Juarez is set to open next month. The new facility will increase the number of Non-immigrant Visa (NIV) interview windows from 11 to 23.

The Department of State assumes that NIV officers typically conduct 23, 400 visa interviews per window per year. Accordingly, the new facility in Ciudad Juarez should be capable of undertaking well over 535,000 NIV interviews per year. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d081006.pdf

Impressive New Consuls General in India

Kolkata

On July 31, 2008, Ms. Beth A. Payne began her assignment as U.S. Consul General in Kolkata, India. In 2003, Ms. Payne received the State Department's Award for Heroism for saving the arm of a fellow Foreign Service Officer after a hotel bombing in Baghdad. She was also named the State Department's Consular Officer of the Year in 2004 in recognition of her work in Iraq. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ms. Payne worked as a staff attorney for the National District Attorneys' Association's National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse. She is also a former Peace Corps Volunteer. Ms. Payne received a M.S. in National Security Studies from the National War College in 2008; a J.D. from American University's Washington College of Law in 1988; and a B.S. in Special Education from Pennsylvania State University in 1985. http://kolkata.usconsulate.gov/bio.html

Mumbai

Paul Folmsbee, the new Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai, is a former nationally ranked squash player, a wide receiver on his college football team and a licensed pilot. Prior to his assignment to India, Mr. Folmsbee was the Department of State's Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader for Sadr City in downtown Baghdad; previously, he was the Country Director for the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement program in Islamabad. He holds a BA in Public Administration / Political Science from Tabor College in Kansas. He also holds a Masters Degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Oklahoma. http://mumbai.usconsulate.gov/cg_bio.html

Barred for Insulting Consuls

"MANILA, Philippines -- The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has barred an Israeli-American national from entering the country for insulting and harassing staff of the Philippine embassy in Israel.

Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan said 72-year-old Albert Rosenfeld was placed in the bureau's blacklist on the request of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Assistant Secretary Domingo Lucenario Jr. of the DFA's office of consular affairs said Rosenfeld should be blacklisted for "disturbing the peace and harmony" at the Philippine embassy in Tel Aviv and "besmirching the honor of government officers."

Lucenario told Libanan a circular has been issued by the DFA to all its posts worldwide not to issue a Philippine visa to Rosenfeld.

The circular was issued after Ambassador to Israel Petronila Garcia wrote in a letter that Rosenfeld shouted invectives at embassy staff after he was asked to sit in the waiting area while his son's Philippine passport was being processed last June 22.

"Don't talk to me you, are nobodies! I am a medical doctor, a citizen of the US and Israel," Garcia quoted Rosenfeld as saying." http://globalnation.inquirer.net/news/breakingnews/view/20080812-154173/Foreigner-barred-from-RP-for-insulting-consuls-in-Israel

In response to the above item, an American Foreign Service Officer suggested: "Oh, tourism to the states would drop drastically if they refused entry to anyone mistreating U.S. consular staff!"

Top Ten Visa Wait Times at U.S. Consular Posts, August 2008

Caracas wait times have ballooned by 55 days over the past two months. Wait times at Chinese posts are down, at least temporarily: the fact that every consular officer who could, probably called in sick to watch Michael Phelps at the "Water Cube," will show up in next month's wait times.

# Country US Consular Post Visa Wait Time Increase/Decrease from July 2008 Last Month Top 10 Position
1 Cuba US Interests Section Havana 769 days 0 day 1
2 Venezuela Caracas 200 days +40 days 2
3 Haiti Port au Prince 100 days 0 days 3
4 Dominican Republic Santo Domingo 88 days +3 days 4 (tie)
5 Brazil Sao Paulo 84 days +7 days 5
6 Saudi Arabia Riyadh 82 days -3 days 4 (tie)
7 Columbia Bogota 80 days New Listing New Listing
8 Brazil Recife 72 days +8 days 7
9 Brazil Rio de Janeiro 59 days -6 days 6
10 UK London 47 days New Listing New Listing

Updated to August 4, 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 (200 days)

Middle East and North Africa Saudi Arabia/Riyadh (82 days)

Europe and Eurasia UK/London (47 days)

East Asia and Pacific China/Beijing (38 days)

Africa Nigeria/Abuja (35 days)

Central and South Asia Nepal/Kathmandu (21 days)

Answers to "Are You Smarter Than A Junior Consular Officer?"

1. (b)
2. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI)
3. (a)
4. "ALDAC" ("All Diplomatic and Consular Posts")
5. (e)
6. The "bids" list,
7. (a)
8. Five: North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan and Iran.
9. 120 days
10. 30 days or less
11. June Kunsman
12. Shirley Temple

Quote of the Corner

"Sometimes life sucks - on stage, off stage, in the FS and elsewhere in this universe - even when you're just standing on the sidewalk. I think the trick is simply not to get run over (or get super-glued inside the doghouse) so that you can get on to the next gig."
Diplopundit 6/27/08
http://diplopundit.blogspot.com/


About The Author

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


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


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