Quote of the day/week/however long

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

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Off The Rails Again. And Again.

A run-through of post inspection reports will, more often than not, expose a tiresomely familiar villain: the visa referral. That is, unfortunately but predictably, one of the most likely threads to appear in even the most exemplary consular sections' assessments. And it might get better after an IG ding, but it seems to never stay better for long.

As modified and refined over time - most recently, only two months and three days ago - CA's visa referral policy is clear, direct, and (kind of) simple. 9 FAM 601.8 now even ends with a painfully detailed priority appointment requests program (601.8-4) that is nearly as long as the referral section.

But still.

In a typical recent report, the IG noted that the post's referral system had been 'troubling' before a new consular chief arrived, but that incoming individual very promptly and admirably 'took steps to correct and explain' the program. Even so, and for all his/her efforts, it was still not in sync with 601.8-1 through -3 when the IG came to call shortly after. The IG correctly did not note - but Madam has no such compunctions - that the post's two previous inspections, reaching more than 12 years into the past, had carried similar scoldings.

What is the problem? It has four main components, each equally daunting, and so are listed here in no particular order:

1. The difficulty of having to tell one's supervisors, all the way up the chain to the ambassador, that they must do something that the don't want to do, in a way that they don't want to do it. FSOs are selected for their ability to patiently compromise and give way if necessary, but 601.8 brooks none of that from officers who might be the lowest-ranked and most vulnerable - and the most expected to give way.

2. The shameless pressure, hinted threats, and covert and overt bullying practiced by higher-ranked FSOs who might indeed hold consular officers' futures in their hands.

3. The meticulous handling required of referrals by sections that are often swamped by conflicting priorities, insufficient staffing, rampant fraud, and overly-complex internal procedures that (always) build up complexity over time.

4. The need to make local VIPs understand that their embassy contacts cannot simply give them visas; however fond they might (pretend to) be of each other, there is only one procedure and it cannot be avoided or averted.

What's the cure?

Sadly, 601-8 is the cure. It is hard and ugly and frustrating and exasperating; it makes foes of people that embassy officers and conoffs need to have as allies; it never shuts up and goes away; it's never done once and for all.

And it's the rules.


And by the way, never mind that if a post's NIV interview appointments were up to date, 601.8-4 would not be necessary. That is a whole 'nother dragon.

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.