I sat down to write a blog entry, but kept subconsciously inserting random visa case comments. So, I’ll take another crack at an actual entry later.
Category Archives: Consular
My work here is usually pretty repetitive and once I explain it once, there’s not much of interest to add, blogwise. There are, of course, crazy applicants but due to pesky privacy laws, I can’t post about them on the interwebs. Though, ask me about the lady that called the police on herself and the guy who was arrested for hitting his wife in the face with a pie sometime. 😉
Today, however, I had the chance to do something a little different. As most of you have probably heard, there was a 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Japan, followed by a massive tsunami. The State Department has set up an e-mail address to respond to inquiries from American citizens in Japan in need of help and to families and friends of US citizens who are trying to get in contact with their loved ones. There are lots of people in Japan working on this and lots of people in DC working around the clock on it as well, but through the wonders of technology, there are also people at consulates and embassies all around the world working on this.
So, I spent the better part of the afternoon triaging these e-mails, entering contact information into the database, and routing e-mails to the correct office or person for follow up. Since there are embassies and consulates all around the world, the State Department can use time differences to their advantage and as I’m leaving work, someone in the Asia is getting in to work on a weekend and pick up where I left off. It was neat to work on the Japan Task Force and to know that I’m helping out my coworkers in DC and Japan by easing the burden on them, and helping to ensure that e-mails from US citizens in trouble are getting responses quickly, and helping their friends and family in the US get in contact with them.
Foreign Policy magazine has a great article on its website about what the US Embassy in Cairo is doing for Americans stranded in Egypt. I encourage you all to read it. One of my friends from my initial training class at the State Department is posted in Cairo and has been working insane hours to help get people out of Cairo and provide information and services to people still there. Another friend has also been working intense hours at the Consulate and airport in Istanbul to help Americans arriving on evacuation flights and to coordinate with the Embassy in Cairo. A coworker here had 2 hours notice to leave his house and get on a flight to Cyprus to help with evacuation flights from Cairo arriving there. A lot of times, the image of foreign service officers is one of attending cocktail receptions and fancy parties, but we’re posted all over the world in all kinds of conditions and this article talks about some of the amazing work foreign service officers do when Americans are caught in a crisis overseas.
I am serving as a consular officer while I’m in Mexico, which means that I’m adjudicating visa applications. I have worked in both the non-immigrant visa (NIV) and the immigrant visa (IV) sections since getting here. Non-immigrant visas are visas for people who will not be immigrating and will leave the US after a certain time. Tourist visas, student visas, and work visas with a limited validity are all NIVs. IVs are visas that allow the person to take up residency in the US after the visa is approved and to stay indefinitely as long as they don’t do something to have their residency revoked. IVs include family members of US citizens or permanent residents and employment visas that allow the person to continue to work in the US indefinitely.
NIV and IV applications start with different assumptions. For most catagories of NIVs, the law stipulates that it is assumed that the applicant is an intending immigrant unless they convince the consular officer otherwise by demonstrating strong ties to their home country and possibly by showing that they’ve had previous visas and have not misused them. In IVs, the required documentation has been reviewed and approved by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before it gets to us and it is assumed that the applicant is eligible for the visa unless the consular officer finds that the applicant has committed some sort of fraud and does not have the required family relationship or employment qualifications or that the applicant is otherwise ineligible for the visa due to any of the other visa ineligibilities (more on visa ineligibilities in the future, probably).
There are pros and cons to adjudicating both types of visas. In NIVs, the burden of proof is on the applicant and you can refuse a person under assumption that they’re an intending immigrant if you doubt their intent. For example, if someone claims to be an accountant but doesn’t know anything about what an accountant does and claims to make a salary much higher than an accountant would make here, they haven’t convinced the officer that they are who they say they are. If you can tell that the person is not being honest about their encounters with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), you can also refuse them because they haven’t convinced the officer that they’re being truthful about possible ineligibilities or other things on their application. Also, there’s not much paperwork involved, so you’re expected to move through those cases a lot faster which can be draining.
In IVs, you have to review all of the paperwork they’ve submitted to USCIS and resolve any possible ineligibilities. So, you see fewer people in a day but spend a lot more time with the cases and can’t just refuse someone because the story doesn’t add up. So, if you can tell that the person has entered the US illegally multiple times, but they refuse to admit it, you can spend a lot of time going in circles with them about what exactly happened before finally determining which, if any, ineligibilities apply in their case. IVs can be more frustrating than NIVs when you have to spend a lot of time trying to get the truth out of an applicant or find that someone’s permanently ineligible for something minor that happened a long time ago but they can also be a lot more rewarding when you adjudicate a visa that reunites someone with their family or allows a young child the opportunity to have a brighter future in the US than they likely would have in their home country.
So, that’s how I spend my days at work.