A few weeks on the job

As I expected, it’s been hard to maintain a steady stream of blog entries given the sensitivity of the job I’m doing.  In consular training, the constant refrain is that consular officers (or ConOffs in State-speak) have the best stories.  They are not wrong.  I have the pleasure of interviewing about 30 people a day who are seeking to come to the United States for just about every reason you can imagine.  Students coming to study.  Specialized workers coming for a dream job.  International corporate executives being transferred to a US office.  Seamen needing to dock at US ports.  Caregivers looking to travel with families on vacation.  Circus acrobats getting the call to join the big show.  And Disneyland.  Lots of people who want to visit Disneyland.

Unfortunately, I can’t describe the specifics in such an open forum.  Everyone, whether issued a visa or not, is entitled to their privacy. I can say, however, that I find the work interesting and, dare I say it, fun.

While my specialization (or designated cone) is political affairs, we all do one assignment in consular affairs.  In Ottawa, that means adjudicating non-immigrant visa applications.  It is no secret that many officers dread doing their requisite consular tour.  Some posts can get very monotonous due to the number of applicants and the ubiquity of a common scenario.  Some posts in Mexico, the Philippines, and India will see hundreds of applicants — all with the same story — seeking a visa.  Plowing through 120 applicants per officer per day in these posts can no doubt be difficult.

Ottawa has been anything but routine, thankfully.  Because Canadian citizens, except for very few exceptions, do not require a visa to enter the United States, we see only citizens of other countries.  Thus, in a typical day, I will interview people from India, Nigeria, Cuba, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, etc.  In a typical month, we’ll get over 100 countries’ citizens come through the Embassy.  While there are some scenarios we hear more than once, typically each applicant has a unique situation.  This means we spend more time per applicant than a lot of posts.  It can be challenging and fascinating.  For me, it is sort of like doing 30 depositions a day, albeit very compressed.

Many are routine interviews with very obvious outcomes, either positive or negative for the applicant.  Other interviews, however, can result in shock, laughter, confusion, crying, and anger.  That was all just last week.  I’ve certainly had periods of time in which I’ve worked many more hours than I do here.  By the end of the week, however, I find myself just wrung out.  It’s tiring, but often gratifying, work.  While I’m looking forward to the political assignments coming up in the future, I’m in no hurry to finish my consular assignment.


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