Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lessons from a Newbie

Today was my first day on the visa line doing actual, real-live interviews. Although I didn't actually do near as many as my colleagues who have been doing this for a long time, I still feel pretty accomplished.

Unfortunately, I somehow managed to get every kind of bad (read: difficult) case possible. Let me make a quick list of things I learned today - things they don't teach you in ConGen, mind you. (I loved ConGen, don't get me wrong - there are just some things you don't learn until you get in the "real world.")

First. Working on the Mexican border is a whole different ballgame. There should really be a separate section of ConGen, or at least a special class, about border-specific visa work. Like, in class, when they tell you to consider a person's financial solvency (i.e. capability of even affording a trip to the U.S.) when making a determination. If you're in, say, the middle-of-nowhere Mongolia, then sure, whether or not they have the money to afford the trip can help you make your decision. Well, here at the border, it costs a whopping $0.25 cents to cross the border. Hmmm.. I'd say pretty much everyone can afford that, don't you?

Second. While comparing photos of people, there is a HUGE difference between "Not Adverse" and "Not a Valid Match." One means the pictures on the screen in front of you are not of the same person, and one means that it is the same person but that it's not a bad thing. This may or may not be how I managed to accidentally declare someone a terrorist today. Oops. (Don't worry, I fixed it later.)

Third. People who grow Sorghum making freaking incredible amounts of money.

Fourth. In reference to #1, we see just about every nationality here at the border. Today, in order and one after another, I saw at my window an Indian, a Nepalese, a Venezuelan, some Mexicans, and another Indian.

Fifth. Having an occupation of "I sell used stuff" is not uncommon.

Sixth. I'm a softie. My colleagues say my heart is too big. I put a lot of "human interest" (aka emotion) into the cases at my window. This all translates into making it very hard to say no to someone, and then feeling bad afterward. I've been told this will change quickly. ;)

Seventh. I'm a dream crusher. In regards to #5, when I say no to folks, sometimes it really does crush their dreams of America. Just call me Dream Crusher Andrew.

I think that's it for now. I have certainly learned a lot more than this, but most of it is about visa and immigration policy which I'm sure you couldn't care less about. So I'll leave it at that.

Until next time...peace.


  1. Andrew- thank you. As I consider a possible career in the Foreign Service, I appreciate your stories. I'm a softie too, being a "dream crusher" sounds tough.

  2. Don't let this be a discouragement, though. While it's true that sometimes it's hard to say no, it's also incredibly gratifying to say yes! :)

  3. After 35,000+ visas adjudicated and nine months as a fraud manager, my personal experiences -- both reviewing my own decisions and those of others -- are that human interest and emotions are your enemy. Granting a visa based in any small part on the fact that the decision would be kind is very likely to be a bad issuance. So: tread carefully!

  4. Ditto what diplodocus said. I've seen it all and have long since stopped feeling guilty about denying "humanitarian" cases. Your emotions will start to eat you alive if you don't learn to remove yourself from the interviews. Not to worry though, after your first few truly horrific fraud cases you too will become quite jaded!

  5. I am a consular coned officer. I hope that your consular managment has advised you that it is not as important that the applicant can afford to pay for the trip to the US, but what does the applicant have that would compel her or him to leave the United States. If the applicant has more reasons to stay in the United States than they have to leave, then you are required, by US law, to refuse the visa. In Mexico, that is a heavy burden for an applicant to overcome. There are so many reasons for an applicant to want to enter the US legally (it is much safer than taking the risky desert routes--it is also much cheaper). I am guessing that most of your applicants have very few reasons to return to Mexico. Good luck!

  6. Kristin,

    Actually, the majority of our applicants have very solid ties to Mexico. Of course, money is not the only factor we look at. What I meant is that here at the border, you only need $.25 to cross the border, whereas if you were in Nepal, for example, you'd need at least a few thousand for the plane ticket. Does that make sense?

    We issue far more than we deny, here, so there certainly are perfectly good (and numerous) reasons to overcome 214b!