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Consular Corner: March 2008

by Liam Schwartz, Esq.

Top Ten Visa Wait Times at U.S. Consular Posts, March 2008

The consular managers in Recife, Brazil have much to be proud of: the post dropped a full 76 days and now reports a mere 13 day wait time. Quito shaved nearly a month off its wait times (and nearly two months since January). Only nine U.S. consular posts now show visa wait times exceeding two months- quite an achievement for the Department of State!
# Country US Consular Post Visa Wait Time Increase/Decrease from February 2008 Last Month Top 10 Position
1 Cuba US Interests Section Havana 731 days +6 days 1
2 Venezuela Caracas 162 days +43 days 5
3 Haiti Port au Prince 157 days 0 days 2
4 Jamaica Kingston 120 days +29 days 7
5 Ecuador Quito 105 days -29 days 3
6 Dominican Republic Santo Domingo 94 days -28 days 4
7 Brazil Sao Paulo 93 days +6 days 9
8 Brazil Rio de Janeiro 89 days -3 days 6
9 Brazil Brasilia 88 days +19 days 10
10 Canada Toronto 42 days New Listing New Listing
**Updated to March 4, 2008 and based on published Department of State data. The "visa wait time" is the estimated time in which individuals need to wait to obtain a nonimmigrant visa interview appointment at a given consular post.

Top Wait Times by Region:

  • The Americas (excluding Cuba): Venezuela/Caracas (162 days)
  • Europe and Eurasia: Belarus/Minsk (35 days)
  • Middle East and North Africa: UAE/ Dubai (35 days)
  • Africa: Congo/Brazzaville (24 days)
  • East Asia and Pacific: China/Shanghai (25 days)
  • Central and South Asia: India/Mumbai (16 days)

Shocked U.S. State Department Discovers Andorra Not In Africa

If you needed to schedule a work visa interview for a client from Andorra, which consulate would you contact?

If you don't know the answer, you may find comfort in the shocking response of senior State Department officials to the question of Andorra's location: (Take a minute to watch this - it's hilarious!)

BTW: schedule that visa appointment here:

Visas for Ransom

Would you believe that one of the factors motivating the Iranian terrorists, who took 52 U.S. diplomats hostage in Tehran for 444 days (November 1979 - January 1981), was obtaining U.S. visas? This was the case, according to Willard B. Devlin, who served at U.S. consular sections in Lima, Hong Kong, Santo Domingo and Baghdad, as well as in the State Department Visa Office:

WBD: One more consideration that was going on at the same time: the people who were holding our embassy personnel and our embassy as prisoners.

Q: You're talking about the hostages in Tehran.

WBD: Yes. The people who were holding the hostages, the Khomeini mobs, these people had as one demand that we issue visas to them, which we didn't, and to any other Iranians that we could under direct threat that if not, something violent would happen to these hostages that they held.

Q: This was not very clear, as I recall the news accounts and instructions we were getting.

WBD: No, it wasn't in those accounts at all.

Q: What was the purpose? The idea of the revolution was that the United States was a contaminating force. Why would anybody want to go to such a contaminated power as the United States?

WBD: Well, the whys and wherefores I don't know, because it's obviously contradictory. But life is contradictory, and that is one of the very strong things that came out.

Inexperienced Conoffs and Pushy Immigration Attorneys

No matter where they're posted, consular officers will likely deal with immigration attorneys at some point. Some conoffs welcome the input of the attorneys; others distinctly do not.

Dean Dizikes is from the "welcoming" school of consular thought. During his thirty-year career as a Foreign Service Office, Mr. Dizikes served sixteen years at American Embassies in five countries on three continents. Mr. Dizikes had this to say about his experiences with immigration attorneys (in the context of his serving as Acting Director of the Field Operations Division in the DOS Visa Office):

DD: One officer (in the Persian Gulf) had refused a visa in a case. I was called by an immigration attorney with a question as to whether this case should have been refused. As I did a little research, I ended up calling the post and finding out that the officer didn't understand that she couldn't be refusing. This was an Indian accountant who had lived in this Gulf country for 20 years, and the visa officer was telling him that he had to apply in India for his visa because he was an Indian. The immigration attorney, rightly, was questioning, because, of course, in fact, the poor man went back to India, was refused in India because he didn't reside in India and they didn't know how to evaluate his case, and then when he returned to the Gulf post, she used as confirmation the fact that he'd been refused in India and said, "You see? They agree with me. You're not eligible." In fact, what I did was call her and say, "He doesn't have to prove, number one, that he's going back to India, since he hasn't lived there for 20 years. He only has to prove that he's going to leave the United States."

Q: This is often the case with inexperienced officers having to make rather vital decisions.

DD: Yes. In this case, she is the consular officer in this post. It's her first tour. And then you have to question--not that you question the quality of her training, but I wonder sometimes.

The other thing… is the attitude of officers toward attorneys in the whole process. My experience is the attorney can fulfill a perfectly useful role and in many cases with immigrant attorneys, you don't want to make them the issue. Some of the inexperienced officers tend to get wrapped up. Their ego gets involved with the attorney, who, after all, is advocate and wants a certain decision and may get pushy about it, and the poor relatively inexperienced officer may start attacking the attorney, which the attorney then uses as the issue, rather than the merits of his client's case. So what we try to do is explain to them that you don't have to give into the attorneys, but you also can't exclude attorneys from the process.

You also can't get too personally involved in the idea, which bothers a lot of Americans, why are you paying for something which is perfectly objectively done by us? That leaves aside the cultural thing. In most of the world, I think the perception is if you get a lawyer or you get someone to act on your behalf, you get something which you wouldn't get if you were just dealing by yourself. As Americans, we tend to say, "That's not true. Don't you understand? If you come to me by yourself, I'll give you the same answer that I would give your attorney." Well, that doesn't mean anything to the Greeks and the Iranians and Nigerians and Pakistanis, whose culture is based on knowing people to get things.

So we then get our officers in the situation where they are treating the attorney as though he's got no business--and, in fact, the next step is the short step of, "You're taking this poor person's money for no reason." Some officers, unfortunately, tell the attorneys that, and then we have to try and sort it out.

Immigration Attorneys: Incompetent and Unethical

The opposite school of consular thought on immigration attorneys is expressed by Willard B. Devlin:

Q: I almost hate to have this go on the record, but would you give me your impression of what you think of immigration attorneys?

WBD: Well, it is not a very high opinion. I think the immigration attorneys that I've met--and there are quite a few by now--very, very few have impressed me as being terribly competent in their own field. Ethically, I don't give them very high marks, so overall, my impression and opinion of immigration attorneys is, at best, negative.

First World In, ROW Out

Parenthetically, Mr. Dizikes also expressed a refreshingly honest assessment regarding the statutory presumption of immigrant intent set forth in INA 214(b):

We talk about issuing visas and adjudicating visas and being consistent, and yet you've got one world, which is Western Europe and Japan and Australia, and the rest of the world. That first world is made up of people who are totally legitimate….Yet in the rest of the world, there's no getting around it. The majority of those people are intending immigrants.
The Conoff is an SOB!

On the ground, the application of INA 214(b) can have strange effects on our clients. For example, this implementation can make grandfathers curse:

70-year old 'lolo' from the province was accompanied by a grandson to the US Embassy in Manila for his VISA interview. The lolo spoke not a word of English so the grandson translated for him. The Consul told the young man to ask his grandfather why he wanted to go to the States.

The grandson translated: "Sabihin mo gusto kong makita yung mga anak ko doon." "He said he wants to see his children there."

Fair enough, that's what the lolo's application indicated.

The Consul had another question. "Ask him why does he have to go there? Why can't his children just come and visit him here?"

The grandson translated this in Tagalog. Lolo replied: "Sabihin mo kasi ditto pinanganak yung mga anak ko. Nakita na nila ang Pilipinas. Gusto ko naming makita ang Amerika bago ako mamatay." (Translation: "Tell him, my children were born here. They've seen the Philippines already. I just want to see America before I die.")

The HEARTLESS Consul was unimpressed as he declared, devoid of any emotion, that he was rejecting the visa application "because the applicant was unable to speak any word of English."

The lolo was equally unimpressed. "Sabihin mo ito sa kanya at huwag na huwag mong papalitan ang sasabihin ko: "Putang ina niya, bakit siya nandidito eh hindi naman siya marunong mag-Tagalog! ?"

Translated, "He said: You son of a bitch, how come you are here... you do not know how to speak in Tagalog!?"

Taken aback, sense of humor still intact, the consul relented and approved lolo's visa application in pronto.

The Power of the Interview Window

The application of 214(b) can also make grandmothers cry:

The work here is all-consuming and very difficult. And this is without the next big hurdle: hitting the line. This will happen Tuesday, inshallah, and truth be told I'm a little scared. I actualy saw a crier - nay, a sobber today at the window. And this was an issuance! (For the record, she misunderstood the ConOff, and when informed of the actual decision, was decidedly relieved.) In any case, I'm a little intimidated by the window and the power it holds. On the plus side, I get a little walkie-talkie like thing that dings every time I press a button. Its like the DMV, but this time I'm in charge. Really, when daydreaming in highschool, thinking about that job way in the future, didn't we all dream of sitting behind bulletproof glass, making grandmothers cry and pushing a little button that goes "ding"? I know I did.
The Visa Interview: Negligent Homicide?

Indeed, the visa process itself can be fatal to one's health:

Remember, you haven't really hit the visa line big-time until you have an applicant croak on you. There are worse feelings in life, but they're usually named "mass negligent homicide" and "voting for Ralph Nader"…
The Most Important Quality for Conoffs

According to Dean Dizikes, judgment is the most important quality in the visa process:

Q: Particularly in the visa process, the personality structure of the individual consul can make a tremendous difference, how they take it, whether they have a sense of humor, whether they have an objectivity and balance. This is something that no matter what you do, you can't control. Yet their decisions are terribly important, which rests not just on an objective reading of the law, but also the personality.

DD: Absolutely. That, to me, is the single most frustrating thing, is that this thing we called judgment is the most important quality in the visa process and in what most of the junior officers are doing, adjudicating. Deciding yes or no on visa applications is totally dependent on their judgment, and I don't know how you train people. You can't teach them judgment, I don't think. That's the frustrating thing. Some of them have it, some of them don't have it. Some of them are intellectually brilliant, but simply can't make these decisions either rapidly or consistently or rationally, and they shouldn't be doing the job because I don't think you can teach them that sort of quality. Others just have it. Why some have it and why some don't, I don't know.


But given the nature of the visa application process, a conoff might begin to feel that her judgment and balance have given way to Mush-for-Brains:

After a 4 month hiatus doing immigrant visas, I am back in the non-immigrant visa (NIV) saddle. The best part of doing immigrant visas is the slower pace. The emphasis with NIVs is on volume and speed. Get 'em in, get 'em out, kinda like a fast food restaurant. In Bucharest, this means each officer does at least 80 interviews by lunchtime (1:00). Compared to some other consulates, that may not sound like a lot. But visa mills tend to have more slam dunk cases - either clearly issuable or clearly not. In Bucharest, the vast majority of our cases aren't black and white and require some digging. The fast pace of NIV work has a few consequences. One, by the time I get to the cafeteria, I'm incapable of making another decision (the girl who works at the register usually ends up deciding what I will have for lunch). Two, it is mentally draining. Doing hundreds of interviews every week for 2 years turns your brain to mush. Three, I have to wonder if making important decisions in a matter of seconds will rub off on other areas of my life. Will I start making significant life-changing decisions based solely on a gut feeling or a perceived micro-expression on the face of friend?
FSO Senioritis The visa process can also cause consular officers to experience strange phenomena:


There's a common phenomenon among foreign service officers serving overseas. It's akin to what you might remember from high school - the senioritis that sets in the last few weeks before graduation. You know that each day brings you closer to your departure. And in the case of the foreign service, each day brings you closer to your next assignment.

For me, knowing that I have less than 4 months left in Bucharest has made it difficult to get really invested in my work. That's not to say that I'm slacking, it's just hard to get motivated. I've already started preparing for my next assignment in Baghdad. After reading Iraq-related cables and studying the Arabic alphabet in my spare time, visa interviews just don't hold much excitement. Maybe the NATO Summit that will take place in Bucharest in April will spice things up a bit.


I totally have the same condition as you. I just am caring less and less about another silly Peruvian visa applicant. Not that I am mean, but just distracted.

Junior Officers: No Free Lunch

Good looks, wit and wisdom can take young consular officers only so far; in the end, what they need to succeed in their job is a sense of perspective:

We had a problem with the young officers, because this was their first time in which they had been the object of rather lavish flattery, had been treated very royally by quite wealthy people in the community, had been guests at some rather fine homes, and they had difficulty appreciating that these people had friends who had friends who had friends who had friends, who wanted a visa, and that for these wealthy people, influential people, really, it was appropriate in their society for them to speak to a consular officer in behalf of somebody who was three or four or five stages away in terms of friendship, in order to facilitate a visa for them. The way the system worked was that, "I will do you a favor, you will do me a favor." And each person does favors for those above him and those below him. In this way, the favor for Jose Mendez, who is a barber, goes from one of his clients to another one of his clients, each up at a higher level, until it reaches maybe a general, a colonel, an owner of a large establishment, a member of the Foreign Ministry, even a member of the Cabinet, even from the president's office, and in order for that person at the end of this to be able to show that he has authority, has power, and can, in fact, do things for his contacts below him, he will approach the embassy on a visa case.

We would receive pressures from all of these people. The junior officers had a great deal of trouble recognizing that their popularity--and they were popular--was not based entirely upon their handsomeness and their wit and their wisdom, but that there was, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch.

New U.S. Visa-Processing Embassy and Consulates

Germany/Berlin: The new U.S. Embassy will open sometime after May 1, 2008. The move to the new Embassy at Pariser Platz marks the return to the original site of the U.S. Embassy after 69 years.

India/Hyderabad: The U.S. consulate in Hyderabad will be "up and running" by October-November 2008 and will offer the full range of consular services. The Hyderabad visa section will have as many as 15 interview windows (Chennai has 18). Hyderabad will be the fifth U.S. consulate in India.

Saudi Arabia/Dhahran: Visa services at the U.S. consulate in Dhahran will commence on May 3, 2008. Visa services will be offered in the morning on Saturdays, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.

Quote of the Corner

Santo Domingo is the place where, if you win a prize, first prize is two weeks in Santo Domingo. The booby prize is a year in Santo Domingo.

All rights reserved to the author.

About The Author

Liam Schwartz is a principal in Liam Schwartz & Associates, a corporate relocation law firm. He can be reached at:

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

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