Quote of the day/week/however long

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

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sorry, You May Not Make Up The Rules

Once upon a time, 9FAM weighed at least ten pounds and was bound in take-no-prisoners hard-cover blue.  Nowadays it is nearly weightless, being composed solely of pixels (unless a consular officer spots a clandestine print copy under a senior LES's desk which, if the officer has much sense, he or she will pretend not to have noticed).

One of the many advantages of copies on paper was the ability to write clarifying - and sometimes extremely funny - notes in the margins. One of the many disadvantages was the need to change out pages regularly as things were updated, and keeping a tedious record of transmittal letters for those changes.

 Now that FAM updates require zero effort on the part of consular officers, Madam simply cannot understand how some officers might get the most basic items wrong.

For example, 9FAM 42.33 N7 was last edited in October of 2011. How is it possible that an officer might understand that note in any way other than it clearly states? As in:

"The Department’s interpretation of the term “high school education or its equivalent” means successful completion of a:
(1) Twelve-year course of elementary and secondary study in the United States; or
(2) Formal course of elementary and secondary education comparable to completion of 12 years elementary or secondary education in the United States..."

And yet Madam recently learned of a DV applicant, a high school graduate by any possible interpretation of N7, who was refused the visa solely because he had received a D in some subject or other.

Now, an interviewing officer might personally consider a D grade to be a failure of some kind, having perhaps only received As and above in his or her own high school career. But the DV and the FAM don't care about an officer's distaste for less than stellar grades. A D is a passing grade, the applicant successfully mustered out of high school, and the visa should have been issued without even a superior smirk.

Madam would hope that the officer's error was caught and corrected by his or her supervisor and the visa was issued with courteous apologies. But since she actually heard of the refusal, what are the chances of that? If the applicant can quickly find and afford a knowledgeable immigration attorney, this refusal might be only an irritant, not a life-altering mistake. But what are the chances of that?

Please play nice out there. Other people's lives matter.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Feeding the Beast

One of a consular officer's many different recurring nightmares involves what's happening right now: the mission shuts down and, while American citizens will be served somehow, the visa applicants are out of luck.

It is extremely tempting to simply ask those wishful customers to re-join the queue at the far end, and start all over again, feeding the Backlog Beast.

Of course, such a tactic could create immense hardship for many of those customers; will complicate the appointment process; and will spark many, many email and telephone appeals both from the customers themselves and from every other office inside the mission as friends, colleagues, interlocutors, suppliers, informants, and distant relatives beg them to act as intermediaries. But that, as many might say, is just a part of the regrettable complexity of needing or wanting to travel to the US.

Or the consular section, when it re-opens, could essentially throw open the doors and double or triple its intake and processing until the backlog is gone and the office has returned to what should be its normal schedule of 2-5 working days for the first non-emergency appointment.

Can't be done? Of course it can. Both before and after the near-universal system of NIV appointments, alert, creative, courageous and humanitarian consular sections all over the world have been able to devise ways to suck in and spit out both successful and un- applicants as efficiently and effectively as a Dyson DC41. They borrow LES employees from other sections; they have a firm talk with the RSO; they shorten interviews by half or more (no, the applicants don't 'deserve' longer interviews that necessary in order to get value for the application fee); they refuse to listen to any 'Yes, but..." They get it done.

And the best consular managers are already working on that plan to catch up: are already lining up those LES; talking with the RSO; assuring interviewing officers that an NIV decision can actually be made, in 90% of cases, in less than one minute. By COB today, that plan will be in place and ready to spring up and trap the Backlog Beast.

The results of not feeding the Beast? Crowds of relieved customers and relieved colleagues; a huge cloud of local good will at every level of society and government; and grateful astonishment that the US mission would care enough about ordinary local nobody-specials to treat them as they would want to be treated.

Imagine that. Diplomacy at its finest, consular style.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

But Who Is S/He Really?

Madam remembers - with more than a little wicked glee - how often she was the only consular officer in the room, whatever that room's size, who didn't hate the Lottery.  How often, she wants to recall, did she hear other conoffs wail about how HARD it was to tell whether the applicants' bona fides were bona fide, since - gasp - we didn't know anything about them.

(Not knowing anything about them - she could only presume, since the complaining officers couldn't articulate otherwise - must have meant that there wasn't a CIS-approved petition to lean on. We all know how fraud-free approved petitions are, don't we?)

Well now there is a new reason to wail. Even though same-sex spouses and fiance(e)s will have approved petitions, Madam can't help but suspect that some of those same officers might now be suffering a new kind of worry: how can we tell if these purported relationships are real, or are just a new avenue for scamsters, and one that is at present so new and so sensitive that we fear to question it?

Maybe the same way we tell if all the other purported relationships we see are real:

We talk to the people involved, asking the same questions we would ask of any heterosexual couple.

If the petitioner comes to the interview, we observe the couple together.

We gather all our wits and decide if the relationship appears to be genuine.

Then we issue the visa.

Or not.