Quote of the day/week/however long

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

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ali On The Corner

Madam is very fond of Ali, whose three sons and four daughters all earned masters' degrees from top US universities, their educations fully funded by 221(g)s.

In warm countries, Ali sits under a tree a few steps from the US consulate with a chair, a small table, and a manual typewriter.  In cooler countries, he rents a tiny office a few steps from the US consulate with a chair, a small table, a manual 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 first customer.

Here is Ali, at work on a visa application for Pakistan for some lucky customer.  You 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 and census registers.  He can write coherent and grammatical employment letters on any letterhead a consular officer 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 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.  For a reasonable fee, Ali will provide the form or letterhead, the data, the signature and the seal.  The applicant will return to the consulate and turn in the document.  The consular officer will issue the visa and the applicant will travel to the US.  Ali 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.

Wait a moment, you might say.  What do you 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.  Anything that is not required is irrelevant and 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, you might say.  I need a (job letter, property deed, bank statement) to be sure that the visa applicant is what he claims to be.

No, you absolutely don't need a document to tell you this.

Then how will I know that he is what he claims to be?

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


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you're back in your old form!

Madam le Consul said...

Oh dear. Am I going to get in trouble again? Thanks so much for the encouragement!

Anonymous said...

1. Ali will still have a job even if he never produces another fraudulent document to respond to a 221(g) request. Instead, he'll focus on training applicants to give fraudulent answers during consular interviews.

2. You seem to be against requiring documentary evidence on the basis that conoffs can't tell if their real or fraudulent. Why do you have so much faith that conoffs can uncover fraudulent oral answers but not fraudulent documents?

3. Documents are just another form of evidence. In the U.S. judicial system there is a strong preference for oral statements over written documentation as evidence. For example, the hearsay rule keeps out lots of documents. Still, courts recognize that documentary evidence is sometimes an important form of evidence. Why don't you? For example, let's say a B visa applicant says he's going to the U.S. to meet with a company with whom he has a contract to develop software. He wants to discuss the company's requirements. What's so wrong about asking to see a copy of the contract?

Madam le Consul said...

A job letter or contract is not documentary evidence. A visa interview is not a part of the US judicial system; a consular section is not a court of law. And Madam doesn't only oppose nonessential papers because an officer can't tell if they're real or fraudulent; she opposes them because they're a waste of time.

If, as in your example, a visa applicant has a contract, it is much faster and far more useful to ask him to orally summarize the terms of the contract, not just provide a copy of it; with the document in hand, the officer will not only have to read it and figure out what it says and what it means, but will still have to determine if the applicant knows what's in it. That will take far more time, and cause far more wear and tear on both applicant and officer.

Constance said...

To add to what MLC wrote, if a consular officer reads a letter, he reads a letter. If the officer talks to the applicant, he can judge the applicant's own understanding of his reason for travel, can judge whether he behaves and speaks like the sort of professional he claims to be, etc.

Anonymous said...

Huh? In what sense is a job letter or contract not documentary evidence? These are documents, and they are being submitted as evidence of an applicant's visa eligibility?

And next time a child applies for a dependent visa (F-2, H-4, J-2, etc.) is it your position that it's a waste of time to check for a birth certificate showing the relationship to the principal visa holder? The birth certificate isn't a "required" document under your above definition.

Madam le Consul said...

That is exactly Madam's position. It is normally a waste of time to ask for a birth certificate for ANY child applying for any sort of NIV - unless the officer suspects from the interview that the child might be someone else's, might be being 'smuggled' to a parent in the US who for some reason can't petition for the child, or the like. This would be as valid for a B2 as for an H or F.

Will an officer ask for marriage certificates from every couple whose applications state that they are married to each other? For marriage and birth certificates from every member of a traveling family? Please.

Documentary evidence is normally defined as "A type of written proof that is offered at a trial to establish the existence or nonexistence of a fact that is in dispute." But a visa application is not a trial and in the consular world, if an officer does not believe that an applicant, say, holds a certain job or is a member of a certain family, he doesn't have to prove his suspicions; he simply refuses the application under 214(b) which states, "Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for a visa...that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status."

Since an officer does not have to prove that the applicant doesn't qualify, he can go on to the next applicant. Asking the applicant to come back with a possibly spurious document to try to convince himself that he should issue when he already suspects that he should not is a crutch that no experienced consular manager will encourage.

dvejr said...

When I was in Seoul we discovered some people were reporting an income to the Korean Tax Administration that was much greater than their true income (which in fact might have been zero). They happily paid the small tax on that income and obtained a genuine tax document that "proved" their earnings - a document that would pass all anti-fraud tests because the document was not fraudulent. Then we issued the visa.
A birth cert would seem to be useful to establish that a child is eligible for a J-2 or an H-4, but when you think about it the piece of paper, even if genuine, does not necessarily belong to THIS child.
The general rules are: never ask an applicant to prove anything that you don't really doubt, and whatever document you ask for you will be given.

Anonymous said...

Oddly, the Department of State's own website, travel.state.gov, advises tourist/business visa applicants that they should have multiple pieces of "evidence." See this page for these "evidence" requirements:

* Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the United States;

* Evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad;


* Evidence which shows the purpose of the trip, intent to depart the United States, and arrangements made to cover the costs of the trip may be provided. It is impossible to specify the exact form the documentation should take since applicants' circumstances vary greatly.

* Those applicants who do not have sufficient funds to support themselves while in the U.S. must present convincing evidence that an interested person will provide support.

* Depending on individual circumstances, applicants may provide other documentation substantiating the trip's purpose and specifying the nature of binding obligations, such as family ties or employment, which would compel their return abroad.

And there's a whole section on "Documentation Needed - When Seeking to Travel for Medical Treatment" that includes plenty of evidence requirements that don't exist in 9 FAM.

Unfortunately, old document habits die hard!