Consular Corner: April 2009
AILA Rome District Conference in Tel-Aviv: As Good As It Gets
In what some described as "the best AILA conference ever," immigration attorneys and consular officers came together in Tel-Aviv to share information, exchange viewpoints, and deepen their appreciation for each other's roles in the visa application process.
Thanks largely to the unprecedented efforts of Tel-Aviv Consul General Andrew C. Parker and his wonderful staff, immigration attorneys were treated to an up-close and personal view of consular work:
Line officers described how they meet the daily challenges of the visa application process, including a insider's perspective on the human realities of visa work;
As if this wasn't enough: an Assistant Attache in the ICE Office of International Affairs, who flew in from Embassy Rome, enriched us with an explanation of ICE immigration priorities abroad. Participants even gained a renewed appreciation and pride for those who are driving U.S. policy in the Middle East, thanks to a stirring presentation by Deputy Chief of Mission Luis Moreno.
Legal practitioners provided a first-ever in-house training program for consular staff on issues such as impending updates to the SEVIS system, port of entry concerns, and the Administration's plans for promoting Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Best of all, lawyers and consular officers simply talked to each other.
For those dedicated to raising the level of discourse between consular officers and immigration attorneys for the benefit of visa applicants the world over - the AILA Rome District Chapter's spring conference 2009 was truly as good as it gets!
Greatest FS Achievement
Launched last December, The Hegemonist (http://www.thehegemonist.com/) has quickly become one of the finest of Foreign Service weblogs. One example: the interview by TH in which Steve, a 20+ year veteran of the foreign service, describes his greatest FS achievement. This description is reproduced below, with the permission of both TH and Steve.
"The career of a FS Management Officer is filled with significant achievements. I negotiated landing rights for the Space Shuttle in Cape Verde. I presided administratively over the construction of the world's first modular embassy in Bissau. I helped found three American schools and two cooperative medical clinics. I designed the compound where most American diplomats in Abuja reside. I helped reopen the American embassy in Belgrade. I helped create a plan that may someday ease retirement for 40,000 FSNs. Etcetera. All of these things I did in my official capacity on behalf of the U.S. Government and I am proud of them.
But the thing about the Foreign Service is that sometimes it places a person in a unique situation to do something that he or she might never otherwise have done. It places a person in the right place at the right time, to do something that has nothing whatsoever to do with his or her job, but is nonetheless important. And if you ask me what my greatest achievement in the Foreign Service would be, I would say that by the grace of God and the Foreign Service, I brought the nearly-extinct Jewish community of Mozambique back into existence.
To make a long story short, there had been a Jewish community in Mozambique for as long as anyone could remember, probably founded by Iraqi Jews before the Portuguese arrived. But certainly, throughout the Portuguese colonial period there had been a Jewish community, which in Maputo owned a synagogue, a school and a cemetery.
The first post-colonial government had, like many African governments, experimented with communism and that, combined with true post-colonial hatred of the colonial whites and their religions, had lead to the closure of the synagogue and either the emigration or the assimilation of the Jews. Most had left. Those that stayed had been raised agnostic. And time went on.
It came to pass that the Government ceased being communist, and sought better relations with the Western world, and eventually, wanted to establish relations with the Vatican. The Vatican said, in essence, "return to the churches that which you have taken from them, and then we will talk."
So the Mozambican government returned to the Christian communities their churches, and to the Moslem communities their mosques, but they could not find, anywhere in the country, a Jew to whom to return the synagogue.
Eventually they learned that the DCM of the American Embassy, Michael Metelits, was Jewish, and with some ceremony, they turned the keys of the Jewish properties over to him. And in his spare time, Michael found donors who donated funds to renovate the properties, and set the renovations in motion, but then he had to leave. So he turned the keys over to the only other Jew in the country: me.
In my spare time, I presided over the renovations, and did not think much about it (just one more GSO job, sort of), until one by one, people started showing up at my door.
One by one, they had seen the workmen renovating the synagogue, asked the workmen who was in charge, and been directed to me. And they all told essentially the same story. They had been born to Jewish parents, but in the communist period had been raised without any religion, and knew nothing about their faith. But they wanted to learn.
So I, a Conservative and very American Jew of moderate religious education, began a class in my house one night a week, then two nights a week, and I eventually ended up being the de-facto rabbi for the Jewish Community of Mozambique.
I took them through one full year, including the first Passover Seder since independence (attended by the Mozambican Minister of Culture and Religion) and the construction of the first succah since independence (which made the South African papers). I was even interviewed, as the leader of the Jewish community, to give the Jewish opinion on the movement for the independence of East Timor.
And when the year was over, and my tour at an end, the group elected a leader, and I gave him the keys. By that time, we had also found a congregation in South Africa who agreed to donate a Torah, and a rabbi who agreed to visit the synagogue regularly."
Body Language, Baseball and Visa Interviews
There is a must-see video of an interview in which Miguel Tejada of the Houston Astros is caught in the middle of an apparent fib regarding his age.
This interview must be a small taste of what it's like when a consular officer suspects that an applicant is being less than upfront with the facts at a visa interview.
The video can be accessed at the following link:
One consular officer who viewed the video had the following comments on Tejada's body language:
"Interesting to see his somewhat unnatural eye-blink the first time he says his age... and then the tension on his upper lip when he realizes that the reporter has his real birth certificate (around 0:40), followed immediately by a kind of pucker (as though he wants to physically push the document away from him). Not to mention, of course, all the glances to the side as he tries to think of what to say.
The best part, though, is at 0:33... watching this reporter, who is clearly a pretty nice guy, feel really uncomfortable about having to confront Tejada so directly -- something I can definitely identify with!"
Parenthetically, the issue of baseball players allegedly misrepresenting facts on visa applications has been in the news lately - see, for example the following:
9 FAM -The Transparency Rolls On
The March 2009 Consular Corner noted the dramatic increase in transparency on the part of DOS in notifying the public of changes to visa regulations, policy and guidance. This welcome trend has continued and increased; over the past month, published changes to Volume 9 (Visas) of the FAM have included the following:
1) Extensive new guidance on the rules for processing certain foreign adoption cases:
2) Clarification on which aliens are ineligible to benefit from the automatic visa revalidation provisions of 22 CFR 41.112(d):
3) Reminder that consular officers may no longer accept Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, from aliens who have lost their "Green Cards" while traveling abroad:
4) Restatement of CLASS Refusal Lookout Codes:
5) USCIS regional and field office contact information for consular officers:
Get a Visa, Save a Life
On why for some VWP-eligible individuals, obtaining a US visa can save their lives:
"A US visa could be a lifesaver, a former diplomat has warned, two months ahead of hurricane season. Gail DuQuesnay, US consul in Cayman for nine years until 2006, fears that many residents are unaware that they may not be airlifted or take an air ambulance to the US without the necessary paperwork.
"What a lot of people don't realise is that on a British passport or a Cayman passport that does not hold a US visa in it, they can never be air-ambulanced."
"That is a very, very important thing that a lot of people should be made aware of because, when I was US Consul, we ran into a lot of problems." This could become particularly relevant, said Ms. DuQuesnay, as hurricane season approaches June 1 recalling the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, four-and-a-half years ago.
"People had to be airlifted and they did not have US visas," she said, explaining that a waiver would not be enough in times of trouble. "The Electronic System for Travel Authorization or the Visa Waiver Program is only valid on a commercial carrier. It is not valid on anything private and an air ambulance is considered private.
"Everyone should have a US visa," said Ms. DuQuesnay, "because you never know what's going to happen."
Five Years for Burroughs
This month marks the fifth anniversary of the final, drawn-out demise of the Burroughs visa. As a reminder of the days of visas with indefinite validity and imperfect security features, we reproduce below the text of the pertinent visa policy telegram.
UNCLASSIFIED STATE 153916
1. Consular officers are reminded that all Burroughs visas with indefinite validity had their validity limited to 10 years by regulation, 22 CFR 21.112(b)(2). Therefore, no Burroughs visas have been valid since April 1, 2004. Posts should reach out to local airlines, immigration authorities, and other relevant agencies to remind them of this fact.
2. The last indefinite-validity Burroughs visa was issued on March 31, 1994. In order not to inconvenience travelers, it was decided at that time to allow persons with valid Burroughs visas to continue to use them for 10 years from date of issuance, and a regulation was promulgated to this effect. During this 10-year period, immigration inspectors were able to admit persons carrying Burroughs visas one last time, but were to instruct travelers to obtain a new visa for any subsequent trips to the United States. All indefinite-validity Burroughs visas became invalid after March 31, 2004. All other Burroughs visas should also have expired by that time.
3. The Department has received reports of travelers still attempting to enter the United States using Burroughs visas, often fraudulently. Posts should remind local airlines, travel agents, immigration authorities, and others that Burroughs visas are no longer valid for entry into the United States, and any traveler attempting to enter with a Burroughs visa will be denied admission at a port-of-entry.
U.S. Opens Visa Section to the Libyan Public
The Visa Section of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya has been reopened, 29 years after it was closed. Ambassador Gene A. Cretz announced the opening of the Visa Section to the Libyan public on April 2, 2009. Libyan citizens will no longer have to travel to Tunis for consular services.
Are You Smarter Than A Junior Consular Officer?
1. True or false: a derivative family member may precede the principal immigrant visa applicant in entering the United States.
2. Certain J-1 exchange visitors are subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement provided for under which section of the Immigration and Nationality Act?
(a) INA 212(a)
3. True or false: an alien whose B-1 visa may expire a month after entry into the United States, could be admitted by a CBP officer at a port of entry for a stay of six months.
4. An unexpired Permanent Resident Card may be presented for admission to the U.S. provided the alien is returning from a temporary absence abroad not exceeding:
(a) 3 months
5. True or false: the fact that a student's proposed education would not appear to be useful in the home country is a valid basis for refusing an F-1 visa.
6. In the visa context, what does the abbreviation "MRIV" signify?
7. Certain non-American employees of the US government may qualify for Special Immigrant status after having been employed for a total of at least how many years of U.S. Government service abroad?
(a) 5 years
8. True or false: the nonimmigrant visa under which an individual was admitted and overstayed becomes automatically void.
9. Under current policy, Consular Offices are encouraged to issue full validity visas, and are advised to exercise their discretion to limit visa validity "very sparingly." Name one of the reasons given in the FAM as the basis for this policy.
10. True or false: a valid R-1 visa issued prior to November 25, 2008 may be used for reentry to the U.S. from abroad, even if not supported by am R-1 petition previously approved by USCIS.
Top Ten Visa Wait Times at U.S. Consular Posts, April 2009
In parallel to the end of the Semana Santa holiday surge, wait times in La Paz plummeted 43 days in the past month (to 15 days). Havana's wait times have dropped 46 days from the start of the year.
On the other hand, Belfast wait times nearly quadrupled in size (thankfully, they were low to begin with). All four non-boutique consular posts in Canada are in this month's Top Ten list.
In response to reader inquiries: the Top Ten list provides a snap shot of wait times, generally taken on the first Tuesday morning of the month following Monday updates from consular posts. The list does not necessarily reflect wait times as at the date on which the Consular Corner is published.
Top Wait Times by Region:
The Americas (excluding Cuba) Venezuela/Caracas (222 days)
Answers to "Are You Smarter Than A Junior Consular Officer?"
1. False. 9 FAM 42.73 PN5
5. False. 9 FAM 41.61 N4.3
6. Machine Readable Immigrant Visa
9. (a) The host government may retaliate by imposing more stringent visa validities and numbers of entries on U.S. travelers to that country; (b) The practice could lead to complaints that consular officers are biased; (c) The need for the alien with a limited visa to reapply for a new visa may also result in an unnecessary increase in workload.
Quote of the Corner
"I believe that as long as the brick outhouse is standing in Camacho there will be 60 people in the Peruvian countryside who will not be swayed by the anti-United States rhetoric that one hears these days in South America."
An FSO reflecting on one of his proudest achievements: being part of an Embassy project which constructed a new brick toilet at the edge of a small town destroyed in a massive earthquake.
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