Quote of the day/week/however long

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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Of Course I Refused Him - He Used an Attorney!

Regarding Anastasio Somoza Garcia, the ruthless (but non-communist) dictator of Nicaragua, in about 1939 FDR purportedly remarked "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

While Madam hopes that her faithful readers will never suspect that she herself would use language of that color, she uses it here to press a point: your (president, child, wife, dog, recalcitrant rosebush) not being perfect for one of any number of good reasons is not necessarily a reason for you to ditch (him, her, it) out of hand.

In that same line of thinking, the fact that a visa applicant has employed an attorney to help with the paperwork does not automatically mean that the applicant is up to no good.

While there are many good reasons to remember that old warning that one might become known by the company one keeps (Aesop, Proverbs 13.20, your mother), Madam, for all her dislike of incompetent and shady immigration attorneys, still fully understands the reasons why a perfectly honest, legitimate applicant for consular services might choose to use the services of a - preferably competent, honest - one.

Madam suggests that one think of it this way: When you need your lawn seeded, you might try to do it yourself. Or you might find that your own skills lean more toward - say - baking, sewing, training cats, balancing budgets, ruling small nations, or drying the points of your '63 MG after driving through a puddle, and will choose to employ someone who is far more certain to turn your mudhole into a lush green paradise than you are.

That is not a bad idea. It is not a criminal idea. It might cost money, but the last time Madam looked, very few Americans were totally adverse to the thought of spending money for something they wanted.

And while consular officers are aware of (and sometimes even read through and understand, although not always) the complex paperwork that many visa applications require, they sometimes lose track of the first moment they faced such a stack in ConGen and thought blindly, "Sh*t! I knew I should have taken up organic farming!"

... or maybe not.

In any case, Madam, for all her aforementioned dislike of (some) immigration attorneys, would nevertheless caution consular officers to think twice about refusing an applicant for the sole reason that he or she chose to hire someone else to fill out forms neatly and - one innocently hopes - correctly. And she hopes to never again hear what she heard so often, for so many years, "Of course I refused him. He used an attorney!"

Sunday, September 8, 2013

People, Process, Product

Madam has only rarely been attracted to much younger men, but she will admit to you right now that she has a serious thing for Marcus Lemonis.

This man, a successful businessman of Greek extraction, is featured on a television series called “The Profit.” Madam strongly suggests that every consular manager find this series on whatever kind of media he or she can, and mainline it.

 Madam's new heartthrob, LISTENING to an employee

Why should a ‘reality’ show about improving mid-sized businesses matter to consular affairs? Because, believe it or not, like it or not, consular business IS business. You have employees. You have customers. You produce products. You might call these assets FSNs or LES; applicants; visas; passports; notarials. Nevertheless, disregarding business nomenclature, disregarding sensible procedures, disregarding the lessons of well-run businesses, can lead to dysfunction, carelessness, inefficiency, resentment, ineffectiveness, malfeasance, and self-generating and repetitive crises. Not to mention catastrophically bad IG inspections.

What is Lemonis’ magic? Listen to him explain:
“The boss must be the first person in in the morning, and the last person out at night."
"You have to run the numbers."
"Respect your people, your process, and your product."
"Treat your people right. Treat your customers right. Treat your product right."
"Under-promise and over-deliver.”

Nonsense, some consular manager might say. I don’t manage a factory.

Um, how can Madam say this kindly? Yes, you do.

You should want to promote quality, efficiency, and courtesy. 
You should want to produce the best possible product as quickly and correctly as possible.
You should want to put great people into great jobs, and let them run with them. 
You should want to give 90% of your attention to the 90% of customers who are good ones. The bad customers – those whom it can be so much fun to dig into, to investigate, to discuss, to interview at length, to talk about while the ordinary, uninteresting, honest customers fall asleep in the waiting room – need to go wait over there and have some coffee, it’s going to be a while.

You should want to be Marcus Lemonis.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Thoughts on AILA - Regretably, Not the Beachwear

Some time ago, Madam wrote a very brief polemic on the subject of immigration attorneys. Today, for the benefit of some who were still living out there in the real world when the piece first wandered into the blogosphere, and who might be even slightly impressed or intimidated by folks who will write a single letter in six different fonts, and wear mid-priced suits that were actually altered to fit in America, she will take a moment to include here a slightly longer version that she hopes makes the same point:

With apologies to the half-dozen highly competent immigration attorneys that Madam knows -- what the heck is with the rest of them?  Is there no test of competency or even basic knowledge before an 'immigration attorney' can hang a shingle?

At AILA conventions one can only be stunned by the incredibly clueless questions some attorneys ask, and the information they offer (or, to put it more vernacularly, the nonsense they try to sell. Loudly.).  In panel presentations, it is not uncommon that many audience members are so ignorant of the law and so instantly hostile toward US consular representatives on the panel that their fellow attorneys have to shush them and drag them back into their seats.

Back in the office, one of these alleged attorneys might send a letter - in the various fonts alluded to above - that expresses high and mighty indignation about a case that hasn't been going his/her way and which - since the attorney can't be bothered to find relevant legal decisions (or since such decisions don't exist) quotes - at length - decisions that actually have no bearing on the case.

Those same - or other - letters might also and frequently quote - at length - from interviews that the attorney did not attend, punctuated by not-so-subtle insults and implications of consular incompetence.

Mes enfants, do not let them intimidate you.
Tales from within AILA's ranks has entertained and delighted Madam for a few years now -  AILA spending nearly a million dollars a year to hire lobbyists to push or oppose certain state-level bills without polling the membership to determine what the majority believes their position should be; AILA attorneys desperately seeking from one another advice on how to present fraudulent applications so they will fool consular officers; AILA itself presenting only one candidate for its internal offices; AILA apparently holding board of governors' meetings - supposedly open to all members - in exotic places to which most members cannot afford to travel; AILA banning certain mouthy members who complain about the above activities from the group's internal message board - fun business, and, Madam hopes, sufficiently indicative of AILA's apparent skill and professionalism that consular officers will be able to successfully resist the temptation to feel in any way intimidated, troubled, or impressed when attorneys' letters and visits loom.

Read, listen, and think for yourself. Good job.

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.