Far below the radar of yesterday’s hot news and tomorrow's birdcage lining is the humble truth of professional FSOs all over the world getting up in the morning and getting on with their jobs. The fawning, semi-accurate newspaper pieces extolling FSO service in dangerous places are fading to two-paragraph op-eds, if even those. The emailed/Skyped assurances and explanations to anxious friends and family members have been proffered, misunderstood, explained and re-explained. There are no mobs howling, no guns firing, no virtual terror, no genuine terror, no murder, just today’s queue of applicants for the services to which most of them are entitled.
And what are we doing about that?
A totally arbitrary wander through the “Visa Wait Time” page at travel.state.gov present posts where the wait for an ordinary B1/B2 visa appointment – not the visa itself, just the opportunity to apply – ranges from one to 118 days. Now, math was never Madam’s strongest subject so please correct her kindly if she gets this wrong, but aren’t 118 days almost 17 weeks? Aren’t 17 weeks about four months? Madam’s mind boggles at the number of desperate/disbelieving/dismayed/disgusted calls, emails, and button-holings that every member of the embassy staff must receive every day, begging for or demanding either an earlier appointment or a referral. She wonders if anyone in the building has time to do anything – such as their actual assigned job responsibilities – other than fighting to hold back this flood. She wonders – although she probably doesn’t need to – how this issue makes the post look in the eyes of the people they are there to serve.
This post apparently processed about 40,000 NIV applications in 2011. With, let’s say, 365 days per year, 104 of which are weekend days, we are left with 261 weekdays of which there might be, let’s just say, 30 holidays. That makes for about 173 visa applications per working day. Even if the number of applicants increased by 15% in 2012, that still means less than 200 per day. Unless there is only one interviewing officer working, Madam fails to grasp how the post can explain this to the public without prompting outright derision, or if it even bothers to explain it to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, an august but long toothless body that has not, in many years, had the wherewithal to order a consular chief to get out of his/her comfy chair and out from behind the computer screen, open the office door, roll up the sleeves, and provide some of the customer service he/she is paid to provide. And in the meantime, set a decent example for the troops for a change, just because.
Sheesh, Madam mutters. Go away for a little while, and when you come back it’s still as Mr. King so rightly explained, SSDD.