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Consular Corner: June 2008

by Liam Schwartz

Note from Liam: Top Ten Visa Wait Times appear at the end of this month's column.

Are You Smarter Than A Junior Consular Officer?

The initial quiz in this series, published in last month's Consular Corner, generated very kind and thoughtful comments - thank you to all who wrote in. Hope you enjoy the June quiz!

1. The controlling criterion for determining a proper visa classification is always:

a) The duration of the proposed travel
b) The purpose of the proposed travel
c) The strength of ties to one's home country

2. If the U.S. consul interviewed your client in Tagalog, chances are the interview was conducted at the consulate in:

a) Manama
b) Manila
c) Mumbai

3. What famous Rock Band has the same name as the NIV classification for the spouse of a victim of criminal activity?

4. Which of the following is true?

a) A foreign diplomat has been assigned to run the visa section of her country's Embassy in Washington. Per Department of State regulation, a specific U.S. visa status is available to enable the foreign same-sex partner of that foreign diplomat to accompany her to the U.S.

b) An American diplomat has been assigned to run the visa section of a U.S. Embassy. Per Department of State regulation, special travel orders are available to enable the American same-sex partner of that American diplomat to accompany her abroad.

c) Both (a) and (b).

d) Neither (a) nor (b).

5. True or false: the consular officer MUST revoke a nonimmigrant visa held by a person who has been issued an immigrant visa.

6. The Department of State's principal lookout database used by Consuls to check names and visa eligibility is called:

a) CCD

7. According to the FAM, an applicant for E-2 treaty investor status should show the capacity to realize a profit within a maximum of:

a) 1 year
b) 3 years
c) 5 years

8. Which security advisory opinion procedure takes its name from the insect, the female of which bites off the head of its male partner following the act of mating?

9. Which of the following NIV categories does not possess an immigrant intent requirement either by statute or regulation?

a) E
b) I
c) O-2
d) Q
e) TN

10. Conrad waivers relate to which of the following visa classifications?

a) A-1
b) B-2
c) E-3
d) H-4
e) J-1

11. The name of the visa replaced by the machine readable visa (MRV) was:

a) Burroughs visa
b) Franklin visa
c) Lincoln visa

12. Complete this statement by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services:

"The context for all our efforts with regard to visa procedures continues to be _______"


"A few weeks ago, a pregnant woman in her last trimester waddled in to be fingerprinted. The trip to the United States must have been quite important to get this woman to the Embassy in such a condition. I remember when I was pregnant; I could barely get up from my chair once I was seated, much less have the patience to fall in line for a 2-minute interview. The pregnant woman was offered a wheelchair in the waiting area but she firmly refused the guard's offer. The woman was as overripe as a papaya ready to burst. And true enough, she got in front of my window and her water broke. The pregnant woman looked at me with a smile and said clearly, "Creo que se me rompió la fuente," then she simply slid down the floor. My Spanish may not be good but I knew enough to recognize that a pregnant woman had just said "fountain" and "break" in the same sentence.

Granted that no two days were exactly the same in my line of work, nothing like this had ever happened before. The guards did not quite know what to do; nothing had prepared them for such an event - should they clear up the waiting area of applicants or should they cordon off the area where the woman was painting the floor red? The visa line chief had the presence of mind to tell the guards to send all the applicants out to the covered area outside the interview lounge but this happened after a few minutes of confusion. In this place, that was all you really need for a story to catch fire.

The woman kept asking for "la señora;" asking for me, that is, which was curious. So I went outside the hardline just as the embassy nurse showed up from her second floor office. I did not realize until much later why the new mother needed my presence. I held the woman's rough hands while she pushed. That baby must have known there was a ready audience; the woman pushed for all of fifteen minutes when the baby crowned and quickly came out with a lusty cry. We had our first baby girl delivered right in front of Window #8.

The woman, Mayela Torres was wet with sweat and appeared exhausted but she had a beatific look on her face as she turned to me with the baby wrapped securely in her arms and started talking. "Is she saying what I think she's saying?" I asked Claudia, one of the local employees in attendance.

"She just said that -- now, her baby is an American," Claudia nodded, explaining that the new mother mistook me for an officer.

"Rest for now, we'll talk about that later," I gently told the new mother as Claudia translated. "Claudia, you better get the American Services chief down here quickly and let the CG know what's going on before he sees this report in breaking news." While waiting for the ambulance to pick up the new mother and her baby, Budd Reis, who was in-charge of American Citizenship Services, came over to clarify to Mayela Torres that the embassy compound is not part of the territory of the United States, and that her baby is not an American citizen. Mayela Torres steadfastly believed that this man was wrong, and refused to listen to any more explanation. The Consul General came to congratulate Mayela Torres, who remained in denial even after the former reiterated that what Mr. Reis had told her was true.

That was only part of Mayela Torres' story. Apparently she had been refused a visa several times before. In one of her previous forays to the consular section, she sat next to a woman who told her that all she needed to do was deliver her baby at the Embassy, and she would be able to go to the United States as the mother of an American citizen baby. I hate to imagine what other good advice people hear while waiting for their turn to be interviewed here.

The Embassy may have seen the last of Mayela Torres when the ambulance took her away to recuperate at the Hospital de Maternidad, but this was Central America and that was not the end of the story. A couple of weeks after that fated day when Mayela Torres delivered her baby at the Embassy and she made front page news in the country's leading newspaper, I started noticing pregnant women coming in for their fingerprints and visa interviews. Who would have thought that a consular section could quickly resemble a maternity hospital? The public diplomacy staff all came out in force, the Consul General was on print and on radio, and even the Ambassador was interviewed on television, all explaining the requirements for American citizenship at birth to no avail. The streams of pregnant women continued unabated.

In this place, rumors could take on a life of its own no matter what you do. In Guatemala for instance, where rumors of kidnapping of local children and human organ trafficking were ripe, an American tourist was severely beaten, another one wrongly arrested, and still another one barely escaped a public riot. In this country, they were still waiting for the pregnant women to return to their good senses.

In the meantime, I was getting rather disturbed of looking at pregnant women hopeful that they would be the next citizenship "lottery" winner. "You're mistaken," I wanted to tell them; but did not. Perhaps in their hearts of hearts, they knew that, but their poor, dreamful hearts refused to recognize the folly of these dreams. Life on the other side of the border beckoned and they could not ignore the call."

Note from Liam: The above is from the outstanding series of short fictional stories with mostly a Foreign Service slant, by Diplopundit. See her wonderful blog here:

You Find The Terrorist

A bit of role-playing: you are a harried consular officer on a busy visa line. Which of the following four applicants for student visas are terrorists?

Country of Birth Age Gender What You Learn at the Interview
UK 22 Male Applicant was born in Bradford and raised in Leeds. A-student and a gifted athlete with many friends. "Proud to be British." Works at his family fish and chips shop. No history of violence or run-ins with police.
Belgium 38 Female Applicant was born a Catholic in the Belgian town of Charleroi. A well-dressed and well-mannered student. Converted to Islam after struggling to break addictions to alcohol and drugs.
Saudi Arabia 20 Male Applicant was raised within the Saudi upper class. Studied medicine in the Sudan, where his father was a diplomat at the Saudi embassy. Well-mannered and polite. Smart, well-connected in Riyadh, with excellent career prospects.
India 27 Male Born in Bangalore, India, applicant was raised in Saudi Arabia and Iran, where his parents worked as doctors. Trained as an engineer in India before pursuing master's and doctoral degrees in Britain. Worked for a blue-chip Indian outsourcing company in 2005-06 that serviced clients in the aeronautics industry, including Boeing and Airbus.

Answer: These are all real people, and ALL of them are terrorists…yikes, what a job these conoffs have! The names and terrorist activities of the four are described here:

A Foreign Service Officer made the following remarks about these four individuals:

"I remember well looking out of my visa window and seeing the more than 2,000 cases we averaged per day (I spent my first 2 years as an FSO in a "visa mill") as well as the pressure to go faster and the seemingly never ending faxes/letters/calls/e-mails from Congressional offices wondering why some constituents cousin/friend/lover/co-worker had been denied a visa. I have very little doubt that had any of the four individuals appeared at my window they most likely would have gotten a visa from me, and that if they had applied recently to come to the U.S. the decision would have been the same."

Sleaze-bag in Seoul

Umm, if it's not immediately clear who the terrorists are, is it really "clear" that divorced bar owners married to obese American women are "sleaze-bags" interested only in immigrating to the U.S.?

"We had this one couple that, my God, they'd been interviewed I don't know how many times, and none of us would approve a petition. It was really wild.... This was an American woman from Guam who must have weighed 300 pounds, absolutely homely as sin, never had been married. At least according to her, she had never been married. Who knows what the Guam civil records had. But she was petitioning for some sleaze-bag bar owner out in Itaewon, who had been married three or four times, but never to an American. It was clear--it was clear--that this guy in Itaewon was paying this woman in Guam to file the petition. They would come in, we would interview them, then they would raise holy hell when we didn't approve it. They would just cause a huge ruckus out in the waiting room, and we'd always have to have them escorted out. They'd show up again three or four months later, hoping that a new change in personnel in the consular section would help them out.",+Elizabeth))

No Merci from Mère

Voilà, even when the consular officer issues the visa, she gets flack…

"A French girl who I had refused, I had suspected she was a possible au pair, and I had refused her. Then she'd come back in and applied again. We had a very interesting conversation, and I thought perhaps I'd really misjudged her. I went ahead and issued the tourist visa.

Lo and behold, about four or five days later, she walks back into my office with her mother, and her mother was absolutely livid. I said, "What on earth is wrong? Why don't you come into my office and we'll sit down and discuss this." So we sat down. It turned out that the girl had gone off to the United States with a B-2, arrived in JFK, and had her luggage searched, because INS at JFK did not believe her. Lo and behold, she had an au pair contract in her suitcase. So they put her on the next plane back.

Her mother was furious with the American government because the mother had wasted the money on the plane ticket, and she wanted to know what we were going to do about it and what the family needed to do to get the girl back into the United States. I just threw up my hands at that point and said, "Listen, the girl has already lied to me. Now you're asking me to counsel you on how to break our laws again? Get out of here!" (Laughs) It was just outrageous, absolutely outrageous. But it was also very French.",+Elizabeth)

What's a Girl to Do in Bahrain?

"So...had to spend some time at the American Embassy today....haven't been there in awhile and I couldn't help notice a few changes had been made.

1. A very long list of things not allowed inside...which means for those of us not aware of this long list...a long walk back to the carpark to leave all the forbidden contraband behind. Now I can understand the reasoning behind making visitors park half a mile away from the entrance (America is not high on the list of the world favorite neighbors)...but does anyone who comes up with these parking guidelines ever consider that Bahrain practically combusts during the hot summer months...and scheduling passport hours from 1 pm to 3 pm just sounds like pre meditated homicide. By the time I managed to stumble my way back to the blessed cool interior of the Big Square Box aka American Embassy...I was hallucinating and babbling incoherently....and of course the water dispensor cups were all finished. Which leads to point 2...

2. There is one long really wide couch running alongside the wall in the waiting room...not sure why its that big...I realize that American butts are growing at an alarming rate these days...but lets get real. When you sit on the thing...your feet barely touch the floor and, for us shorter legged people...the backs of your knees dont hit the edge just your left with your legs sort of splayed out in front of you. I figure its to keep you uncomfortable and unable to form a plot to rush the windows or something like that....but after walking for a century in the hot burning sun...I was happy to just sit...splayed legged and all...but no water to keep my poor tongue from sticking to the roof of my mouth...which leads to point 3...

3. My desire for some water was quickly replaced by my desire to recycle some water I had all ready drank earlier in the day...I remembered from earlier visits that a bathroom was just outside the waiting room area...but was rather caught off guard when I was informed that bathrooms were no longer open for public use......Okay!

So lets get this straight....after hiking through the hot blazing sun and losing at least a marathons worth of sweat...not once but twice...and not even getting to quench my parched tongue before collapsing on a couch designed for the Jolly Green Giant...and being informed that the wait for my turn and subsequent action would no doubt take awhile (over 2 hours)...I was now informed that should I feel the need to "go"...I would be shit out of luck...nice! all know what happens the moment you realize you cant have something...of want it more. dilemma....wait out my turn and try not to think of water or any form of liquid there of...but feeling dehydrated from the trek was forcing me to think of nothing else...and ignoring all desire to "go" even though I would have given my little pinky toe to fullfill that one urgently needed desire asap...or trek back to the parkinglot and possibly induce heat exhaustion and the death of some much needed brain cells not to mention suffer the strict security procedures all over again...twice all ready you know...just to find relief...but would result in my turn no doubt being passed up and being made to wait it out longer...or be forced to come back another day....hmmm lets see...choices choices...whats a girl to do...?

I must admit though that the people working in the passport and visa section of the embassy were efficient and charming. They had smiles on their faces (well they weren't treking back and forth to the parking lot were they) and took time to chat with each customer...making the wait a little less boring hearing the stories and whatnot. So I waited out my turn...kept my legs crossed(rather difficult when your legs are splayed as well) slurped some water from my hands...and eventually got my business sorted out...and left the place feeling better then when I arrived...not an easy thing to do when conducting govt business at the best of times."

E Visas in Toronto

A good example of the quality of the people who join the Foreign Service and eventually interview your visa clients is provided by the following announcement from the U.S. Consulate General in Toronto.

"The U.S. Consulate General in Toronto is pleased to announce that Vice-Consul Claudia Baker has assumed the position of E Visa Officer and Chief of the Immigration and Investor Visa Unit at the U.S. Consulate General in Toronto. She replaces Laura Scheibe, who will be leaving Toronto for her new assignment in Washington DC at the end of the month.

Claudia Baker graduated from the University of California, Berkeley as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and with degrees in Latin American Studies and Psychology. She has a Masters in International Public Health from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a Masters in Social Welfare from the University of California with a fellowship in Forensic Mental Health from New York University. Her work experience includes managing health promotion programs for NGOs in Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua, ten years of US government service with the Department of Veterans Affairs and extensive work as a court-appointed evaluator and expert witness in death penalty cases. She also managed mental health services provided by the Red Cross to survivors of the 9/11 disaster. Ms. Baker joined the Foreign Service in January 2004. Her prior postings have been in Asuncion, Paraguay as Assistant Public Affairs Officer, where she was awarded the Franklin Award for outstanding contributions to improving mutual understanding between Paraguay and the United States through cultural diplomacy, and in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where she served as Vice-Consul. She will be serving as a Vice-Consul at the U.S. Consulate General in Toronto, Canada through November of 2009.

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

Visa wait times in Rio de Janeiro plummeted by 60% over the past month, and now stand at only 38 days. In parallel, Riyadh's wait times skyrocketed by nearly 60% and the post has now risen to #5 in the Top Ten. Wait times to watch: Beijing, which has experienced sharp rises in visa wait times as both the Summer Olympics and the opening of the new Embassy complex approach.

# Country US Consular Post Visa Wait Time Increase/Decrease from May 2008 Last Month Top 10 Position
1 Cuba US Interests Section Havana 769 days 0 day 1
2 Venezuela Caracas 145 days -40 days 2
3 Haiti Port au Prince 125 days 0 day 3
4 Brazil Brasilia 106 days -2 days 4
5 Saudi Arabia Riyadh 98 days +35 day 9
6 Brazil Recife 95 days +10 days 8
7 Brazil Sao Paulo 92 days + 5 days 7
8 Dominican Republic Santo Domingo 84 days -11 days 5 (tie)
9 Jamaica Kingston 69 days -26 days 5 (tie)
10 Switzerland Bern 68 days New listing New listing

Editor's Note: Errors in the table above were corrected on June 20, 2008.

**Updated to June 2, 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 (145 days)

Middle East and North Africa
Saudi Arabia/Riyadh(98 days)

Europe and Eurasia
Switzerland/Bern (68 days)

East Asia and Pacific
China/Shanghai (58 days)

DRC/Brazzaville (24 days)

Central and South Asia
India/Mumbai (17 days)

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

1. (b)
2. (b)
3. U-2
4. (a)
5. True
6. (b)
7. (c)
8 Mantis
9. (b)
12. September 11, 2001.

Quote of the Corner

"Gays and lesbians too continue to love and have faith in this country even though this country STILL does not love and have faith in us. We are STILL expected to ride at the back of the proverbial bus, and I recognize that other minorities are in similar positions. What has happened is not that the country has recognized that discrimination is wrong so much as it has replaced the socially acceptable targets of derision and discrimination. I hope soon though that our country will love and have faith in all of us, and in particular, recognize the greater patriotism is takes to serve a country that does not keep faith with you."

"Digger," a Foreign Service Officer, on the inequities facing gays and lesbians at the State Department. Digger's superb blog can be found here:

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.