Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Don't Tell Them

A recent OIG inspection report on a mid-sized post presented some details on consular procedures not-quite-correctly adhered to and a few other minor problems, but then it finished with an item that warmed every single one of the cockles of Madam's heart:

"The Deputy Consular Chief and non-immigrant visa line officers held monthly adjudication training sessions over lunch. An officer read sample notes drawn from real cases, and others indicated how they would adjudicate the case, then discussed perspectives and reasoning. The exercise provided a relaxed, interactive setting for officers to learn non-immigrant visa regulations, develop interviewing skills, improve the quality of adjudications, and expand their understanding of how local conditions affect consular work."

Wait. What? A consular supervisor scheduling, preparing for, and conducting regular interactive visa adjudication training for line officers? 
Not hiding in his/her office behind an oversized monitor? 
Not lurking outside the front office waiting for the next opportunity to kiss the DCM's shoes (the ambassadorship being currently vacant)?
Not waiting until an officer makes a 'wrong' adjudication decision and then reprimanding her?
Not even doing the Lecture-and-Leave thing, but interacting, encouraging discussion, letting everybody else talk, not even, apparently, making a final announcement about how the case SHOULD have been adjudicated, but letting the people who have to do the work decide.

This is what genuine training is about: guiding intelligent people in non-fear-inducing ways to see what they do, how they do it, and how they might do it even better. Rather than browbeating or expecting them to guess, and God help them if they guess incorrectly.

Well, Madam can't think of a single snarky comment to make about this. Just

Monday, October 10, 2016

Yes, Tell Them

Not often enough, Madam and senior FSOs have complimented posts that publish articles and even regular columns in local newspapers and on local online forums, and send consular officers to speak at local schools, clubs and events. These ventures always include a lot of information about visas. In fact, whatever the main subject, the questions afterward always concentrate on visas.

 This is not a bad, risky, or dangerous thing. It does not promote surges in visa applications. It does not promote fraud by giving away secrets. It DOES dispel misinformation: the belief that the post doesn't issue visas at all; that officers' decisions are arbitrary and capricious;, that officers are in collusion with local travel agencies, politicians and prostitutes (yes really); that officers took assignments to that country solely because they did not like the citizens and wanted to somehow disrespect and insult them.

When there is an information gap, it fills itself in with - well - non-information. If any officer has doubts, a quick glance at the visa links on the Quora web site should disabuse her of them. That quick glance will introduce the officer to the dizzying complications of visas from the recipients' points of view. It will also introduce the officer to the continuing questions and misapprehensions of actual visa holders.

If those noble posts that do their best to inform the public - and those that still fear to - would thumb (mouse) through current Quora questions, they would be able to aim their public information even more accurately. They would also dispel fear to such a degree that the applicants would be able to think and respond to questions - and perhaps even qualify for visas - rather than simply chatter in terror.

And all the more credit to those posts for that, too.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ali Is Still in Business

For all the techno-amazing-ness of today's consular systems, Ali On The Corner is still a beloved fixture in many countries. His three sons and four daughters all earned masters' degrees from top US universities, their educations fully funded by hopeful NIV applicants.

In warm countries, Ali sits under a tree a few steps from the US consulate with a chair, a small table, and a rackety manual typewriter. In cooler countries, he rents a tiny office a few steps from the US consulate with a chair, a small table, the typewriter and a space heater. He doesn't put out a sign; he doesn't need to. He strolls to his work station - accepting respectful greetings from the queue of consular customers with great dignity - and sets up his typewriter every morning an hour or so before the consulate opens. Then he nods to his own first customer.

Here is Ali, at work on a third-country visa application for some lucky customer. One might notice that Ali was able to provide the blank form. He can also provide forms and fill in very convincing data for property deeds, automobile titles, bank statements, birth certificates, grade reports, school certificates, and census registers. He can write coherent and grammatical employment letters in several languages on any letterhead a visa applicant might prefer. He owns a fine selection of fountain and ball point pens, with which he can produce any sort of signature appropriate to a document. He also carries an impressive line of ink and wax seals.

So when a visa applicant has heard through the very healthy NIV grapevine, either live or on line, that he should present a certain document when applying for a visa, Ali will very kindly and efficiently provide that document. And if a consular officer refuses a nonimmigrant visa applicant 221(g) for any document that isn't required by the visa application, the applicant goes to talk to Ali.

In either case, for a reasonable fee, Ali will provide the form or letterhead, the data, the signature and the seal. He will deposit the modest fee - along with a dozen or two or three dozen other fees collected that day - in the education fund he has now opened for his grandchildren. And the applicant or re-applicant will (again or for the first time) try to get by on the weight of papers rather than truth.

Wait a moment. What does Madam mean by 'any document that isn't required by the visa application?'

Documents that are required before a visa can be issued are forms like I-797s, DS-2019s and I-20s. With the amount of legitimate, cross-checked information now available through the consular data base, even these are barely relevant to the decision process. Anything that is not required should not be asked for; if offered, it should not be accepted. Why? Because it is irrelevant, it is distracting, it invites dishonesty, it substitutes for actual knowledge, and it keeps Ali employed.

"But wait a moment," a consular officer might say. "I need to see a (job letter, property deed, bank statement) to be sure that the visa applicant is what and who he claims to be."

No, you absolutely don't need a document to tell you this. You need to talk to the applicant. If he can respond lucidly and smoothly to questions about his family, property, or business appointments in the US, he is extremely likely to be what he claims to be. If he greets such questions with a glassy stare and starts shufflling madly through a sheaf of documents, he is extremely unlikely to be. And that single moment of panic is far more telling than any ten-minute perusal of Ali's handiwork could ever be.

"But travel.state.gov says that 'additional documents may be required' right here! And those suggested additional documents include all the stuff you keep saying not to bother with."

And Madam stands by her highly-experienced opinion - and that of most of the most highly-experienced US consular officers on the planet - and would argue this point all the way to the Secretary's office if invited to do so, that none of these should be asked for or given.

"But CFR 41.105(c) says that if a document is presented, the conoff should consider it."

To consider: To think about something or someone carefully especially in order to make a choice or decision.To think about something that is important in understanding something or in making a decision or judgment. If considering a stack of documents that the application does not require takes longer than four seconds and involves actually reading one or more of them, the conoff needs to go back to ConGen.

"But how will I know that he is what and who he claims to be?"

You will interview him. And Ali's grandchildren will have to pay for their own educations.