re: "a post that cannot be ignored"
Aw shucks, guy.
Here's what he has to say:
"Consul-at-Arms has a post that cannot be ignored, and for a couple reasons.
First, the obvious. One of his commenters suggested transferring all consular work to DHS. Speaking as someone who already works for DHS, I have to ask whether it's our good reputation within the federal workforce or the great press we get about our efficiency in performing our mandates that would make someone think that the department should have another bureaucratic unit shoe-horned into our organizational chart. Don't get me wrong -- I'd love to lateral into consular work in some underrated gem of a post. In fact, I'd already be ahead of the game in visa processing, as being an immigration inspector at the start of my federal career burned all the trust and faith in my fellow man completely out of me, so I'd be more than willing to reject every visa applicant who came to my window right from day one. Maybe I could even get Consul-at-Arms to put in a good word for me with Personnel."
Hmm. Perhaps you should look into taking the exam. They're revamping it a bit but it should be rolled out fresh this summer. All your previous government time will count towards retirement, but you don't actually get to start at the top of the profession starting out, for reasons you correctly note.
I hear this not infrequently; Entry Level Officers (ELO) who had significant accomplishments or authority in their prior career fields, wanting to charge out and do great things with all the talent and experience they bring to their new career field. They gripe and wrankle under the humiliating (to them) ordeal of having to start so far from the top.
"I can understand the idea that people who have already had a great deal of experience should be able to skip the dues-paying when making a lateral over to another organization. I can understand the idea, but I don't agree with it. The idea of working your way up the ladder is still around, but why do people expect to be able to switch ladders without stepping down a few runs along the way? Experience is the best teach, and those dues-paying jobs are not there to give people a place to wait until the good jobs open up. Skills may be transferrable, but knowledge and understanding of why things happen rarely is. What may seem to you like paying your dues is an organization's way of teaching you the nuts and bolts of how that organization works. This is particularly true of some of the more complicated bodies of law, like (you knew this was coming) the Immigration and Nationality Act and all the associated regulations, policies and procedures. One of the big problems DHS is having with its immigration functions is that people with superficially similar skills -- immigration and customs are basically the same, right? They both deal with borders -- were put into positions where they lacked the knowledge to excel. Ask any INS people in CBP or ICE about the transition, and chances are they'll talk about how Customs managers were put in charge of immigration projects. There was a steep learning curve there because these new CBP and ICE had little first-hand experience with the subjects they were now expected to oversee."
Telling it like it is, keeping it real. Thank you AiB.
Back when DHS was still a concept, I was a first tour JO (Junior Officer, what are now called Entry Level Officers for self-esteem or self-actualizational or other reasons which escape me). There was a certain amount of anxiety within the ranks of the Consular Corps as no one could be sure whether we would get rolled-up into the envisioned new department that was going to be stitched together in a fashion reminiscent of certain scenes in the Mel Brooks classic film "Young Frankenstein."
I, for one, was quite concerned that we could have to wear polyester uniform trousers. I hate wearing polyester. It's all about the natural fibers. But I digress.
One thing that doesn't get a lot of notice is that DHS, starting in Saudi Arabia but slowly, consistent with the availability of qualified personnel, is extending its visa oversight role overseas. State's consular officers continue to do their work, but there is a provision for DHS oversight consistent with the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) and AiB might yet find himself working overseas in that capacity.
An aside: DHS and consular folks at the working level, especially overseas, get on quite well. We have similar goals, our missions are complimentary, and when we combine our efforts the results are quite satisfactory.
"The second idea in the post was more provocative: a reverse Visa Waiver program. I don't know how that would work, but I like the sound of it. If the Visa Waiver program strips out the consular review layer of the process, the reverse could add another layer to it. Perhaps something with flaming hoops and moats filled with crocodiles. Then again, at some posts that's just how people get to the visa window in the first place."
I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote "reverse Visa Waiver program." That'll never fly. But there are some countries (and you know who you are!) where the levels of corruption and fraud and visa overstay are so significant that I sometimes wonder why we issue their nationals any visas whatsoever.
There's currently a major effort underway within Consular Affairs to realign personnel to where the heaviest consular workload currently exists. This is nothing new, CA has long kept an eye on where their people may be most productively employed and makes minor adjustments on a continual basis, adding an officer here and taking a position away there. But in the post-DRI era (where an increase in overall numbers of officers is, to put it kindly, unlikely), this is again a zero-sum game. As the demand for visa services in places like India, China and Mexico continues to grow rapidly, the shifts in personnel are becoming more substantial.
As one of my colleagues explained to me, it's not the poor peasant rice farmer in China who makes a hundred bucks a year who's causing the number of visa applications to climb. When a country's average income gets around three or four thousand a year, that's when the "Bright Lights" allure of traveling to America starts to hit hard. Personally, I think that's around the annual income where people start getting televisions and satellite dishes (whether their children are getting a balanced diet, shoes and education or not), cell phones and the like.
They start seeing American television, getting raised expectations, and hearing the stories about how much money they can make if they can just get to the United States.
3 or 4,000 dollars a year. That's when a hundred dollar visa application and a plane ticket comes into the realm of possibility.
And every single one of those visa applicants gets their very one personal interview with a consular officer.
Now there are a number of factors that go into determining whether someone overcomes the presumption of being an intending immigrant (INA Sec. 214(b) ). Income isn't the sole determining factor. But it is one that can be quantified a bit easier than some of the others and it does weigh heavier than some of the others, much of the time.
Post 9/11, every visa applicant has to show up for a face-to-face visa interview. Gone are the days when someone renewing a visa can simply mail in an application, to say nothing of the "Visa Express" option that brought so much misfortune to so many. And I don't think we should back off from that, before someone travels to the U.S., some person on our side of things needs to have physically seen this person applying for a visa so that we know they're not some complete figment of forged documentation and photo-shopped digital photography.
But maybe we can come up with some way to triage the ones who're not going to qualify before they get to the point of an interview. I'm just saying.
A more practical approach which would yield, I believe, immediate results would be to start factoring high-fraud countries out of the Diversity Visa (DV) lottery system. The DV lottery is a worldwide scheme where certain countries are evaluated as having been underrepresented in immigration numbers to the U.S. during recent years so that a certain number of thousands of visas are made available on a lottery basis. The individuals themselves have to meet certain standards, such as being high school graduates, but it really is kind of a screwy idea. This is multi-culti diversity gone quite awry, but with a little politically-incorrect tinkering could be made a bit better deal for us.
My idea is that countries which are evaluated as being high fraud risks get bounced out of the Diversity Visa lottery program for 10 years. Discuss.
UPDATE March 6, 2007:
Adventures in Bureaucracy has responded (to, er, my response).
"(H)is fears of being merged into DHS from its inception were largely based on wardrobe. Now he's got much better reasons to fear being merged into DHS! Besides, the polyester uniform pants weren't so bad. There was an allowance to buy them, it saved me heaps by not having to get them dry cleaned, and the things were virtually indestructible. And linen or worsted wool don't exactly hold up too well when you're down at the seaport boarding cargo ships."
The polyester thing wasn't my only misgiving, but it seemed to be that only I had any concern about it. As you might have noticed, I've done the uniform thing. Now, if we were going to go back to the original consular uniforms (early 1800's style naval uniforms of blue with red facings but no insignia of rank) that'd be stylin'!
One fairly senior consular officer (flag rank equivalent) tried to put my fears at rest, his words (as best as I recall):
"Don't worry about it too much. Even if they merge us into the new department, we'll end up running it within a very short time."
FSOs are nothing if not self-confident. That is something that gets selected for in our accession process. As a then-very new Junior Officer (back before that was changed to the more-correct "Entry Level Officer" or ELO) who'd spent literally years cracking the code to get into the Foreign Service, I did not relish the notion of that degree of a "bait and switch."
"(P)eople who are trying to get to the United States. The most interesting cases from back when I was an inspector often involved the frustrated middle class from places like China, India or Brazil. These were people who were willing to pay thousands -- or tens of thousands -- of dollars to get to the United States to work."
It's all about the raised expectations of rising middle (by local standards) class. They know in their bones that they can make a better life for themselves and their children if they can just make it to America. And they're right. They can. I think any DHS or Consular officer with a shred of introspection and sensitivity knows that, even sympathizes with that to some degree. We are, nearly all of us, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (in my case) of immigrants who came to America and made a better life.
The thing I tell people is while I don't not sympathize, while in many cases I don't even blame them, with the desires the intending illegal immigrants whom I deny a visa issuance (except for resenting the bald-faced lies somewhat, though I do try not to take those too personally, it's just business) here's the thing: I'm sworn to uphold and administer the laws and regulations as they're written. Not as I would like them to be written nor how I would re-write them myself. There is such a thing as consular discretion, but that has to be limited by the intend of the laws and regulations and is pretty limited to judgement calls within a narrow range of outcomes rather than ignoring the rules entirely.
"(He) does back away from his reverse visa waiver program, which is disappointing. I could totally see some posts forming gauntlets of Foreign Service Officers, armed with weapons cobbled together from obsolete office equipment. I don't know how much of a deterrent it would really be, but it would probably help the FSO's to blow off some steam."
The gauntlet already exists, complete to obsolete office equipment.
That's actually pretty unfair, while some of the legacy office equipment out their belongs in a museum exhibit, a lot of the computer stuff is nearly state-of-the-art.
But back to that gauntlet. It's the visa interview itself. In some places applicants take trains or buses or walk for days to get to their interview. We do try to make the process as humane as possible, with suprising success in some places. But the demand for visa interviews (actually for the visas themselves, but it's only the interview that's guaranteed) in places such as China and Mexico and Brazil is almost always going to grow to outstrip the resources that can be devoted to meeting.