ILW.COM - the immigration portal Immigration Daily

< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Consular Corner: May 2008

by Liam Schwartz

Note from Liam: Top Ten Visa Wait Times appear at the end of this month's column.

Are You Smarter Than A Junior Consular Officer?

No copying or peeking allowed, and no Junior Consular Officer teammates to "save" you…

1. The statutory basis for most nonimmigrant visa denials is:

a) INA 101(a)(15)
b) INA 214(b)
c) INA 222(g)

2. "FAM" stands for

a) Foreign Affairs Manual
b) Federal Administration Manual
c) Field Advisory Materials

3. What is the percentage of fraudulent visa applications at U.S. consulates in India?

a) 5%
b) 10%
c) 25%
d) 33%
e) 50%

4. "Pop-up Marriage" refers to:

a) A marriage entered into abroad after an initial Diversity Visa entry
b) A marriage entered into in the U.S. between a B-2 nonimmigrant and a U.S. citizen
c) A marriage entered into between a U.S. citizen and foreign national after meeting through an online dating agency.

5. The Visa Waiver Program currently includes which three countries from Asia?

6. "PIMS" refers to a database for:

a) Verifying USCIS petition approvals.
b) Retrieving names similar to that of the visa applicant.
c) Seeking approval for visa issuance to applicants who will be working with sensitive technologies in the U.S.

7. Following a nonimmigrant visa application denial, the consular officer places a stamp in the applicant's passport with the following annotation:

a) "Visa Application Denied"
b) "Application Received"
c) No stamp is placed.

8. A consular office may issue an F-1 student visa:

a) At anytime in advance of the applicant's U.S. studies.
b) No more than 120 days in advance of the applicant's U.S. studies.
c) No more than 30 days in advance of the applicant's U.S. studies.

9. The centerpiece of the new all-electronic visa application process is:

a) Form DS-160
b) Biometric collection at USCIS Application Support Centers.
c) Return of E, H, I, L, O, and P visa domestic revalidation processes.

10. Nonimmigrant visa fees currently stand at:

a) $100
b) $120
c) $131
d) $150
e) $205

11. Your client has just obtained a new passport, but still has a valid B-1/B-2 visa in her old passport.

a) The old visa is still valid, and the client is entitled to ask the U.S. consulate to transfer the old visa into the new passport.

b) The old visa is no longer valid, and the client must apply for a new visa in the new passport just like any other visa applicant.

c) No action item: any traveler with a valid visa in an expired passport and a new valid passport is welcome to enter the United States carrying both passports.

12. True or false: in communicating with consular officers, be sure to impress upon them that you are smarter than a Junior Consular Officer.

Note: answers appear at the end of this column.

You Can't Go Home Again

Many of the consular officers who have interviewed your clients over the past year are currently on home leave, on their way to their next assignment at a new consular post. The reactions of these officers to being back home covers a wide range of emotions:

Trembling in Revulsion

"Today is my first official day of home leave. This is a unique treatment of the State Department by which I will become an American again. The idea behind it is that two years in a foreign country and my sense of nationality and self-identity have become clouded and obscure. There is a tangible fear that perhaps I went 'native'. Sadly, it is true. When my dear mother prepared me a traditional southern US breakfast of scrambled eggs, grits and toast on Sunday morning, I angrily flung these to the floor and demanded idlis, dosa, pongal and sambar. And that donut-looking thing. After this, she timidly approached with bacon; like the good veg Brahmin I have become, I shrieked in horror. I fled upstairs and haven't ventured down since. I've draped myself in a lungi and am trembling in revulsion, cowering in a corner.

This home leave thing is fascinating. On an overseas tour we earn about 13 days per year, so for my two-year tour I have approximately 26 days. It is mandatory that we take it sometime before our next tour and it must be within the US and its territories. This is on top of my normal annual leave, mind you, and I still receive salary. I'll try to make the most of it, because all kidding aside, I have grown out of touch. I recognize none of the TV shows, or the latest popular bands. In the local newspapers I read commentary and letters to the editor and am amazed/dismayed how insular people seem to be. When I walked through Chicago's O'Hare airport the other day, in the hat you see in the photo above, I got a lot of strange, even hostile, looks. If the government is really concerned its returning diplomats are not Americans anymore, I think it should call for more desperate action: mandatory two-week cures at Branson, Missouri. After that, if I'm lucky I'll be as American as Yakov Smirnoff, Shoji Tabuchi, or the Acrobats of China.

So, So, So Nice

"I'm home. And relaxing. I've already spent several days doing basically as little as possible. And it's so, so, so nice.

Over the next couple weeks, I'll be hanging out with family and pets, making plans to do fun things like get together with friends, change my absentee ballot mailing address, go to the ballet, renew my driver's license, get my hair cut, etc, etc. It's kind of a nice list of things to do, believe it or not. I get to feel almost like a normal person for a couple of weeks, being able to call businesses or government agencies during business hours, actually go places in person, get paperwork done or receive packages in less than 4 weeks, explain what I want and expect to get it, and just basically act like a regular citizen again. It feels really, really good.

Homeless in My Hometown

"I've been on home leave for a week now. But I still can't seem to relax and unwind. What does that say about me? Maybe my subconscious mind is desperately trying to make lists of things to do. But what is there to do when you're on home leave? Eat sushi. Check. Go to the mall. Check (twice). Read. Check. Attend nephew's little league baseball game. Check. Practice Arabic. Check. Catch up on new episodes of Lost. Check. Make plans with friends. Check.

I think part of the mental confusion has to do with being homeless. The innocent question, "where are you from?" leaves me tongue-tied. "I'm formerly from the Bay Area." "My family lives in Los Angeles." "I spent the last 2 years living in Bucharest." Any of these responses is accurate, but none adequately describes my unusual situation. I'm a homebody without a home.

Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy to be back in America (and to be able to eat an In-n-Out cheeseburger whenever the urge strikes). But along with the excitement I feel of being back in the States, there's an odd, indefinable sensation. It's almost like I'm not even a guest in my hometown, but I'm merely an observer.

Perhaps I'm being too philosophical about this. The "odd sensation" is probably indigestion and will pass just as soon as my body gets used to the suburban Los Angeles tap water.

Visa Denial Song

The ability (or lack thereof) to obtain U.S. visas has become a source of artistic inspiration for contemporary international artists. Take, for example, the Jamaican star Mr. Perfect, who had to cancel more than a dozen U.S. shows after being denied a visa. The visa denial process and subsequent feelings of frustration are memorialized in the new hit music video "Amerimaka:"

"They denied I a visa to travel to the USA/They say that I'm not qualified and I might run off and stay."

You can find the video here (be sure to ramp up the volume!)

Kingston Commotion

Hopefully, Mr. Perfect's visa denial did not incite the following commotion in Kingston:

Last month the U.S. Embassy announced a Walk-in Visa Reissuance program designed to expedite the reissuance of visitors' visas. The program had been scheduled to take place on Monday afternoons, allowing up to 450 applicants to renew their visas without appointments. Unfortunately, this service has now been suspended; according to the Embassy, this suspension was made "when a disorderly crowd of applicants were unable to form a line for access into the embassy compound. In order to prevent injuries to applicants and passers-by, embassy officials are investigating alternative methods of crowd control. Once a decision is made, the embassy will inform the public concerning the resumption of the program."

Visa Waiver Song

Artistic inspiration comes in many forms: the Korean Visa Waiver Committee (KVWC) has come up with the "Visa Waiver Song" which lauds the hardworking Korean people and the beauty of Hawaii. According to the song, "we count the days to come, our hope and prayer, join hands and go forward" towards inclusion of South Korea in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.

The musical score for the Visa Waiver Song can be downloaded here:$FILE/visawaiversong.pdf

The KVWC's "artistic inspiration" actually arose from a disturbing statistic: the number of Korean visitors to Hawaii, as high as 123,000 in 1996, has dropped to around 35,000 a year. This drop in tourism is attributed, in part, to perceived difficulties in obtaining U.S. visas.

Good news for song writers: the power of music is apparently such that last month the Department of Homeland Security signed a Memorandum of Understanding with South Korea, paving the way for South Korea's entry into the Visa Waiver Program.

Prose for VWP Wannabe Countries?

Love's a stream that knows no borders,
Passports, visas, lengths of stay,
Laws and papers, rules and orders:
All these lies it sweeps away.

The Fun of Fraud

Consular officers serve rotations in the Visa Section's anti-fraud unit, which is responsible for anti-fraud activities relating to the administration of visa issuances.

According to at least one consular officer, an anti-fraud rotation is "fun" and certainly comes as a relief from the numbing visa workload:

Workwise, I have been working fraud twice a week and regular interviews the other days. Fraud is fun because it gives me a chance to release my inner Columbo and catch liars. Although Peter Falk impressions just aren't the same in Spanish. While I am feeling proud that I am about to hit my 15,000th interview, I have no room to brag. One of the other officers just set the all time adjudication record at Buenos Aires and will do his 30,000th interview on Monday.

The Receiving End of Anti-Fraud

Visa applicants on the receiving end of an anti-fraud investigation find the process anything but "fun":

"The consulate's office was so difficult to deal with that I asked my senator's staff person if he felt she was given a mandate from the state dept. to try to make the process so difficult. I couldn't believe that a embassy staff person could be so horrible. He felt that it was just a case of one person with an agenda in a position of power and without any oversight."

The Price of Fraud

The U.S. Consulate General in Chennai, India has imposed a lifetime bar on travel to the United States on some 200 Indian film actors, directors and their companions who used false documents to apply for visas to the United States.

The Visa Fraud Video

Presumably, none of the "Chennai 200" was involved in producing the high-quality video on Visa Fraud, with Peter Kaestner, Counselor for Consular Affairs at the U.S. Embassy is New Delhi:

Honing Visa Interview Skills at DC Bars

The Washington, D.C, bar scene serves as a good place for prospective consular officers to hone their visa interviewing skills:

"I confess, at least 5,793 times a day I have the unsettling thought that I am in no way qualified to be a Foreign Service Officer. It is not outside the realm of possibility that I will show up at FSI in 15 days and be promptly laughed out the door. But Thursday night I at least managed to impress my grad school compatriots with my diplomatic abilities.

We were attending an informal departmental function at a local restaurant/bar. I was talking to a group of four other women when two men - total strangers, somewhat tipsy, not in our program - walked up to us and introduced themselves.

Guy #1: Hi! I'm Jason* and this is Steve. We just thought we'd like to come over and talk to you ladies. I'm doing the introductions because I'm the slighly less drunk of the two of us.
Girls: *Dead silence*
Sara: Wow, I'm really impressed by your straightforward approach! Unfortunately everyone in this circle is taken, but I admire your effort.
Guys: Oh, ok...thanks. We just thought we'd give it a try.
Sara: Really, if I were single and 10 years younger, I'd totally chat with you.
Guys: Ten years! No way.
Sara: Trust me, I'm old enough to be your mom.
Guys: No way! We don't believe you!
Sara: I'm afraid so. How old are you?
Guys: Twenty-one.
Sara: Yeah, it would be weird, but it's totally possible.
Guys: Well you've aged well!
Sara: Thanks so much. Anyway, again, I admire your approach. I'm sure it will work well with another group of girls, so good luck with that.
Guys: Thanks!

Then I turned back to the group and one of the girls said, "Wow, you handled that like a total pro!"

I'm crossing my fingers that that's how things operate in the foreign policy world, too."

My Best Moment

One source of frustration for consular officers is that they can almost never be sure that a given visa approval or denial was absolutely correct. The following is one of those rare cases, in which the consular officer at the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam can sit back and smile, knowing that she definitely "got it right":

"What has been my best moment? I have never ask myself this question. I wonder whether it was my 16th birthday when my parents made me feel really happy and surprised by celebrated a wonderful party for me, or when I graduated second school, and I still remember I was very excited…..But I think they are not. When I close my eyes and think about what is really my best moment, I see four happy and satisfied faces, they are my parents faces, my teacher, and me on the day when I was successful on the visa interview in order to study abroad.

First at all, I thought about my parents when the US consul said he gave me a chance to study in America. I can imagine how happy my mom and my dad felt. They just looked at me and laugh a lot. They said they proud of me. Because when my parents were young, they couldn't get a good education, so they hope I can do this. They gave me so long hug, and that was so sweet, warm, and wonderful. I'll never forget this moment.

Another person whom I thought about was my chemistry teacher. When I was in second school, I was shy, and lack confidence. But I met her, we hit it off and got along well. She taught not only chemistry but also the reasons in the life. She encouraged me a lot. She helped me more confidence and advised me to study in the US. I still remember her word : " If you are unsuccessful in the first time just try the second time, the third time, again and again. You will be successful". When I told my teacher that I get this advance for my study, she was very happy.

Beside that, I thought about my future. I can get a good education, great opportunity to learn how to stand and step on my own foot. My goal is becoming a pediatrician in the future, so I think studying in the US will give me a great chance to make my dream come true.

I think succeed in this visa interview is the best thing that I did."

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

Quito, which has dropped off the list, has now reduced its wait times by 107 days since the start of 2008. Wait times at Caracas, on the other hand, have bulged by 66 days over the past three months. Riyadh and Chisinau become the first representatives of the Middle East and European regions, respectively, on the Top Ten Wait Times list in 2008.

# Country US Consular Post Visa Wait Time Increase/Decrease from Apri 2008 Last Month Top 10 Position
1 Cuba US Interests Section Havana 769 days +38 days 1
2 Venezuela Caracas 185 days +12 days 2
3 Haiti Port au Prince 125 days -12 days 3
4 Brazil Brasilia 108 days + 23 days 7 (tie)
5 Dominican Republic Santo Domingo 95 days +10 day 7 (tie)
5 (tie) Jamaica Kingston 95 days -18 days 4
6 Brazil Rio de Janeiro 94 days +6 day 5
7 Brazil Sao Paulo 87 days + 1 day 6
8 Brazil Recife 85 days 0 day 7 (tie)
9 Saudi Arabia Riyadh 63 days New listing New listing
10 Moldova Chisinau 54 days New listing New listing

**Updated to May 5, 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 (185 days)

Middle East and North Africa
Saudi Arabia/Riyadh (63 days)

Europe and Eurasia
Moldova/Chisinau (54 days)

East Asia and Pacific
China/Beijing (35 days)

Cameroon/Yaounde (30 days)

Central and South Asia
India/New Delhi (22 days)

Answers to "Are You Smarter Than A Junior Consular Officer?"

1. (b)
2. (a)
3. (c)
4. (a)
5. Japan, Singapore and Brunei
6. (a)
7. (c)
8. (b)
9. (a)
12. If you even hesitated, then stand up, look in a mirror and repeat three times: "I am not smarter than a Junior Consular Officer!"

Quote of the Corner

"You know, you spend two years on the visa line somewhere using language "X"… You deal in the fundamental language of the country, and you better understand it… you learn a few curse words along the way, and it's very helpful. Because, you should know that the person who just smiled at you said something terrible about what your mother might have been up to…"
Ambassador William E. Ryerson

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.