Visas and Immigration- my 2 cents.
Over the last few days Smiley has produced a three part tour de force on matters immigration. By and large I agree with everything he had to say, but have a few matters I’d like add to, counter or perhaps disagree with.
In his first post
Smiley offers a few pointers as to what State can do to further enhance the fine work done by consular officers around the world. He offers more, and more advanced training along with better access to federal agency data bases as rooms for improvement, and he is correct in both accounts. To that I would add the need for increased education at home and abroad for consumers of visa services, and the setting of expectations when it comes to immigration services. I remember well my days in a visa mill (pre- 9/11) when officers were routinely expected to “interview” 250-300 applicants per day, a few minutes for each case, tops. Many of our applicants were rejected for lack of proof that they would return home. The smarter among them had someone in the US who would write to a Congressman or Senator who would then send a letter to us. With the enormous caseload and unwillingness to buck Congress we would most often simply overturn the denial and issue a visa.
This practice is so common you can read about it
on mail order bride web sites. I wonder what American voters would think about their congressmen doing this. One more than one occasion I was tempted to annotate a visa: Issued after three denials due to Congressman XXXX’s interest in the matter
. While we do make every effort abroad to educate the public on visas- visit any Embassy’s website and you’ll see what I mean, it is often to no avail whatsoever. The mythology of the American visa and the visa system is a powerful thing in the poorer parts of the world.
In part two Smiley addressed “Supply and Demand”:
In my mind, the problems facing our customs, immigration, and consular personnel can be distilled to a rather simple form: supply and demand. The demand for entry into the US, both legal and illegal, far outstrips the supply of people and resources we have to handle it. This is the main reason that we have long waits and lines at consulates and embassies around the world and masses of people illicitly traversing our borders daily. Unfortunately, the finding a solution to this problem is more complex than simply hiring more people and allocating more funds.
He is correct again that the supply does indeed outstrip the demand and that is the reason for long lines and waiting periods to even have an appointment. But I take issue with the idea that S&D of visas is why we have “masses of people illicitly traversing our borders daily.” It is supply and demand of an entirely different reason that causes this- the supply of jobs that are offered to illegal immigrants creates the demand for workers. Nearly all illegal immigrants enter the U.S, to work- dry up the supply of jobs and they’ll stop coming in droves. Our failure to curb illegal hiring in the U.S. makes a mockery of the entire immigration system. The number of people in the U.S. who have over stayed their visa and entry period is enormous- millions of people have entered legally and then simply remained to work.
Smiley offers some possible solutions to the imbalance between supply and demand in post two as well:
Clearly, posts like this need more bodies to handle their visa loads. In order to accommodate the additional personnel, posts would need to upgrade their infrastructure, create more space, hire more guards to handle the increased inflow of people, and possibly hire more local staff. All of this is difficult, but not impossible. The main question, however, is where to get the additional US-based adjudicators.
That is indeed one answer. Another is to reduce the number of applicants for non-immigrant visas. How might one do that? By simply imposing a waiting period for re-application after a denial- say 90 days after the first, 120 after the second and 180 after the third and each subsequent. As the non-immigrant system stands now any applicant can (and often does) re-apply as soon as they can secure an appointment. It is not uncommon at some visa mills to open an applicant’s passport and see the "Application Received" stamp (the sign of a previous denial) four, five or even six times. While most of these applicants with more than three denials are summarily rejected (that is not to say that everyone who is rejected once is rejected for life- but there are many chronic applicants) they have still taken a place in line and extended the wait for an interview. At $100 per interview that adds up for the applicant and for the Department- although to be fair those funds are earmarked to support Consular services. So why has such an enforced waiting period not been put in place? I was never able to get a good answer- it is simply not discussed.
Smiley also offers this solution to the problem:
Another possibility is to hire visa adjudication specialists, similar to the financial management, information technology, and general services specialists that the Department already employs. These specialists would, as their name implies, specialize in handling visa cases, and could be sent around the world as needed to fill staffing gaps.
I have heard this from a few sources- sort of the equivalent of an NCO corps in Consular Affairs, and it has potential. More than one type of visa adjudicator (beyond FSO) already exists:
... CA has creatively arranged a variety of support personnel beyond straight line consular officers to manage the crush of visas and U.S. citizenship services. There has been an innovative medley of resources to fill gaps, including professional associates (hired family members); consular associates, who are equivalent to consular officers; Civil Service visa adjudicators, notably in Mexico; foreign language fellows (individuals who receive federal educational assistance and have a commensurate service commitment); foreign affairs specialists; retired annuitants; and Civil Service excursion tours. While some of these measures have a stopgap quality, CA argues, quite credibly, that it's better to have these options available than not to.
The Civil Service adjudicators are probably most analogous to Smiley’s proposal, at the Mexican border posts where these folks are employed (they live on the U.S. side) they are managed by an FSO (who lives on the Mexico side of the border). They are skilled, proficient and professional. Could enough of them be fielded, with the requisite language skills, to serve world wide? I have no idea, but it is worth considering.
I hope you all found Smiley’s three posts as interesting as I did, and that this post has enhanced those by my colleague. I imagine we will get off the immigration horse for a while after this, but I had to throw in my two cents.