Non-Immigrant Visas, Visa Waiver Program, and Refugees

 

I watched news clips recently of Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, Michelle Bond, in Congress being questioned about where the 9,500 people with terrorist connections whose visas have subsequently been revoked are. She couldn’t answer the question. And Congressmen appeared to take delight in having put her on the spot. I’d like to come to her defense with one statement – it isn’t the responsibility of the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs or anyone else in the Department of State to know where anyone is once they enter the United States or to take action to ensure the removal of such a person. It is the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security.

There is so much talk these days about the need to “fix” the vetting process for the issuance of visas of all types, for approving refugees for entrance, and for getting rid of the visa waiver program, but I am concerned that the discussion is based on multiple misunderstandings. I served in two countries as a consular officer – Germany and Barbados – where I only issued non-immigrant visas, including fiancee visas – and it has been a long time since I had that responsibility, so I’ve only cited examples that I know are still processed the same way today.

Checks and Balances

Department of State Seal by DonkeyHotey, on Flickr Department of Homeland Security by DonkeyHotey, on Flickr
Department of State Seal
(CC BY 2.0) by  DonkeyHotey 

The decision to allow someone – anyone – to enter the United States for either a temporary visit or as an immigrant or refugee involves multiple agencies which ensure there are checks and balances in place. Sometimes the process begins with the Department of State (State). Sometimes the process begins with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Agents from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), a part of DHS, make the decision to allow travelers to enter the United States. In all cases, at least these two federal Departments are involved. There are checks and balances in place already.

Non-Immigrant Visas

The simplest type of visa is a non-immigrant visa, but simplest doesn’t mean simple.

First, there are many different types of non-immigrant visas and some of them require additional documentation before they can be issued. For example, student visas can only be issued if the applicant has an I-20 form from the school the student plans to attend. Each school has its own requirements for the issuance of an I-20. When I worked at San Francisco State University, the American Language Institute (ALI) issued I-20s for its students to be able to study English prior to attending college or university.  But having an I-20 in hand still does not guarantee the applicant will receive a visa because of the next condition.

Second, anyone who applies for a non-immigrant visa is presumed to be an immigrant and must overcome that presumption to the satisfaction of the consular officer. There is no checklist. If there were, people who wanted visas would manufacture the evidence called for in the checklist and the decision would be reduced to a matching exercise. Letter from employer to verify the applicant has a job when he returns? Check. Letter from bank to verify the applicant has enough money in her bank account to cover the trip? Check. Letter from a minister/politician/well-known personality to verify what a good guy the applicant is? Check.

Instead of a checklist, a consular officer reviews the information on the application form and passport, including the pattern of travel indicated in the passport, and evidence the applicant chooses to include to demonstrate their strong ties to their home country. If the type of visa the applicant needs requires additional documents, such as the I-20 mentioned for student visas, the applicant must have it and still overcome the presumption the individual plans to remain in the U.S.

Third, there are several types of ineligibilities. Most people who were determined ineligible could still travel to the U.S., but first they must receive a waiver of the ineligibility.

Sometimes the ineligibilities change from time to time. Who does that? Congress, of course, based on the feedback their members receive from their constituents. For example, long before I arrived in Germany to work in the non-immigrant visa section, having been a member of the SS during World War II was an ineligibility, lumped together with membership in the Communist party. Under that ineligibility, there was still a way for the ineligible applicant to travel to the U.S., with a waiver. But just prior to my arrival in Germany, a new ineligibility without the ability to obtain a waiver was added for those persons who participated in the persecution of Jews and others during the Holocaust. Understandable.

Here’s how that played out in one case. An elderly man who had traveled on a visa with a waiver to see his daughter several years earlier, applied again, aware that it would take some time for the waiver to be processed. But instead of that little bit of extra paperwork, we needed now to interview him much more closely to see if his actions as a member in the SS were so abhorrent that he would never be able to obtain a visa again or if he was a “foot soldier” and therefore eligible for a visa, this time without a waiver. That process took so long that he died before we received approval to issue him a visa.

Fourth, in all cases, a security check is also completed before a visa is issued. That check includes derogatory information from all federal agencies. Many times these checks result in even more restrictive processes must be followed, waiting for a specific agency to give the go/no go decision to the consular officer.

Fifth, since 9/11, many additional forms have been added in specific cases, such as a supplemental form for student and exchange visas and detailed travel histories.

Sixth, visas have been made much more tamper resistant than they were in the days I served as a consular officer. Visas now include the digital photo and biometric information of the individual.

That’s for the simplest of the visa types. And it’s just the beginning of the checks and balances.

Business/Tourism Visas – B1/B2

Let’s just stick with the most basic of non-immigrant visas – the B1/B2 business/tourist visa. If a consular officer is convinced that the applicant’s intentions are consistent with business/tourism and that the applicant plans to return from the U.S. at the end of the stay, a visa will likely be issued. But a visa is not “permission to enter” the United States. It is “permission to apply to enter” the United States. The agency that permits people to enter the United States is Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a part of DHS. If the CBP agent believes the person’s intentions do not match the issued visa, the agent can order a secondary inspection. If evidence is found that indicates the person intended to stay for a longer time or permanently (letters from the family in the United States welcoming him, cards of congratulations from her former colleagues, dozens of suitcases instead of the one or two most tourists bring), CBP can send the person back where they came from. And if that happens, the airline that accepted the person on the flight eats the cost. So even the airlines have a role in determining if the passenger’s visa is appropriate for the trip.

If a person has a valid visa, issued by a consular officer based on the facts on the application and as stated by the applicant, but the applicant was lying and somehow manages to get past CBP, there is still another check. An applicant who arrives on a non-immigrant visa may request to adjust their status to permanent resident or student or temporary worker or au pair, each of which has different requirements. In those cases, a copy of the application is sent to the consular section where the visa was issued in order for the consular officers to determine if there was fraud involved in the application. If the consular section staff provide information to indicate the visa was obtained through fraud, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), another DHS agency, uses that information, along with whatever else they have to determine if the applicant’s status is adjusted or the person is deported.

Discussions including demands that the vetting process be fixed focus on what else must be done. Adding steps to an already lengthy process for issuance of immigrant visas or adjudicating refugee requests will have the unintended consequence of increasing the number of people willing to try to get in without a visa instead of their requests being processed systematically, through multiple agencies. And I don’t think that is what anyone wants.

connect, respect, protect

tv_flashpoint01I hate to admit this about any television program, but I’ve become a Flashpoint junkie.  I never watched this Canadian television program when it debuted, but ION Television bought up the rights to the series from CBS and has been rebroadcasting the seasons nearly every day recently. I recorded them without realizing what the series was about. The title was intriguing enough to catch my eye.

Initially, I thought this series would be so easy for Second City TV, if it still existed, to parody. Instead of the three and sometimes even four black vans with dark-tinted windows and flashing blue lights making their way in single file through Toronto’s downtown streets without problems, I’d like to see them encounter normal downtown traffic, preventing the last vehicle from keeping up with the others, peeling off one more at successive traffic lights until they are each on their own. Or, instead of the six members of Team One jumping out fully covered in their armored vests, pants held tight just above the knee with a holster for weapon or equipment, and carrying high-power long guns, able to jog from the vans to the site of the emergency without breaking a sweat or even breathing heavily from exertion, I’d like to see one of them trip on that gear and fall down, knocking the others over like dominoes.

But I’m willing to suspend my disbelief regarding all their gear because I am charmed by their motto — connect, respect, protect — and by how they approach both those they are there to protect and those they need protecting from.

Unlike episodes of U.S. cop shows where the SWAT team arrives with a battering ram to break down the door so those with the long guns can start shooting at anyone in sight, Team One members follow their motto — protecting those who need it, respecting everyone in the area, and connecting with those holding guns, knives, bombs, or hostages to defuse the situation, ideally without anyone being injured. Like all law enforcement officers Flashpoint team members train to keep fit physically as well as to maintain their sharp shooter skills, but they also train to improve their negotiation skills and to recognize behavioral clues that indicate state of mind so they can adjust their plan accordingly. They use the clues to determine how to connect with victims and witnesses, to gather information to learn the suspect’s motivation, and to help anticipate what the suspect will do next.

I’ve picked up some negotiation tactics myself as a result of watching the shows.

  • First, establish rapport by telling the other person your name and asking for his.
  • Second, point out that nothing done up to this point is irreversible. It is possible to end the standoff right here and right now.
  • Third, you always have a choice, but some choices are better than others.
  • Fourth, consider the consequences of the choice you are contemplating now, and then consider the consequences of other choices so you can identify the best option, the best choice, for now.
  • Only use force when necessary, and deadly force is always the last option.

These tactics are appropriate in less than life-threatening situations as well — well the first four anyway. Imagine a situation when a friend has disappointed you, or you feel that you have disappointed a friend. First, establish rapport — with the other person or even with another side of yourself — by finding common ground, something to agree on. Second, point out that the friendship is still what is important. It is possible to close the distance between one another right here and right now. Third, you always have a choice, but some choices are better than others. Fourth, consider the consequences of the choice you are contemplating now and then consider the consequences of other choices so you can identify the best option, the best choice, for now.

Perhaps I am just rationalizing my Flashpoint habit by finding something positive, some lesson, some take away — it isn’t just entertainment; it’s educational, too! But the clincher for me is that motto — protect, respect, connect. A good story that illustrates the power of those three words is worth telling, and retelling. If you haven’t watched Flashpoint yet, I encourage you to check it out.

lessons from the dalai lama

For his 80th birthday, the Dalai Lama’s shared eight lessons for living and asked that we all try to follow them.

  1. LIVE LIFE WITH A FREE MIND AND AN OPEN HEART.
  2. PRACTICE “UNIVERSAL COMPASSION.”
  3. REDESIGN THE WAY WE EDUCATE.
  4. STAND UP AGAINST INJUSTICE.
  5. MAKE HUMANITY THE BOTTOM LINE OF BUSINESS.
  6. ALWAYS LEND A HELPING HAND.
  7. PLAY YOUR PART IN HEALING THE EARTH.
  8. USE YOUR PERSONAL POWER TO BE A FORCE FOR GOOD.

For more information about each of these lessons, see this article from GetOld.com.

what to do? what to do?

Compact Calendar Card - Design 3 by Joe Lanman, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Joe Lanman 

Those who have retired before keep reminding me that it won’t take long for me to wonder how I did anything while still working. My days will be filled with projects until there isn’t any more time left.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

photo (56)So, even though it might sound like work, I plan to schedule my time in blocks of 1-2 hours in this new retirement state. I have a white board positioned to my right, under the window of my office, at just the right height for me to add items while sitting at my laptop.

I’ll include those tasks I never could find time for before, like housework (thanks, Sweetheart, for filling in when it was clear I wouldn’t). Two hours each day, at least for the first week. And I have a stack of recipes I want to try – rhubarb upside down cake, orange scones, rhubarb pie – so one of those will go on the schedule for each day. And I plan to write more, for this blog and for myself. That means some time needs to be scheduled for research, another 1-2 hours.

Then there are the presentations I promised to do for Ladies of Valhall (the women’s auxiliary of Sons of Norway out here in San Diego) in September and for the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild in August. They will each take 2-4 hours to prepare.

Every other week I meet with my critique circle. I need to have a new piece written (or an old piece rewritten so that it is worth sharing). That requires another 4-6 hours every other week.

There are audio tapes from Great Uncle Henry from his years living in China while he worked for the Chinese Maritime Customs Service in the 20’s and 30’s. I keep picking them up to transcribe them, but get stalled in the same places each time. I’ve been reading books and books about China’s history in the period just before he arrived there, during the years he was there, and even some of the history afterwards to try to absorb more of what he assumes his listener knows. Transcribing the tapes I have will take weeks, not hours.

Through all of this I have to continue maintaining the website for the Writers Guild, adding posts regularly to improve the likelihood that new people will discover it and decide the Guild is worth looking into. That takes 1-2 hours every day.

I also hope to dig deeper into my family history, to learn more of just who our ancestors were and how their hopes and dreams have influenced mine. Everyone I know who is into genealogy tells me there aren’t enough hours in the day to devote to this project. There is never a point at which the work is “done.”

There are photos to organize (and scan), papers to file (and others to shred), closets and cupboards to organize, and trips to plan.

photoThere are now 8 more hours in each week day that can be scheduled and that means I need to keep a paper calendar with me at all times because I won’t be able to keep all the possibilities in my head. I tried scheduling everything on my iPhone, but it just doesn’t look like a calendar. I need to see not just the events I have scheduled but all the days between them. Look left to see what I mean.

I must leave time for reading. I am reading Peder Victorious, the sequel to Ole Rolvaag’s Norwegian immigrant saga, Giants in the Earth. And yesterday I borrowed the third in Norwegian mystery writer Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, The Redbreast. I’ve read four of his books, three from the Harry Hole series (The Phantom (9th), The Bat (1st), Cockroaches (2nd), and am now working my way through them in the order Nesbo wrote them) and one standalone novel, Headhunters. I won’t be satisfied until I’ve read all the books in both those authors’ series.

But most importantly, there are the grandchildren. Not working any longer means we can help out during the day, not just after my work day ended.

Ufda! I think I understand what those kind folks advising me about the future mean. I don’t know how I’ll ever get all of that done. But I’ll let you know if I discover any tricks.

poetry – an antidote to depression

Bibliotherapy, the practice of prescribing literature for its rehabilitative effects, is the latest addition to my lexicon, gleaned from a Washington Post article about a teenager’s winning letter in the 2015 Library of Congress Letters About Literature competition. The winner, 16-year-old Aidan Kingwell of Oak Park, Ill., wrote her letter to Mary Oliver, the author of the poem Aidan credits with turning away from suicidal thoughts when she was 13, When Death Comes.

The Washington Post article ends with the following two paragraphs:

Aidan Kingwell’s entire “Dear Mary” letter is available here.

For copyright reasons we are not able to reproduce the poem here. Go to page 10 of the book by Beacon Press here. You can hear Mary Oliver read the poem here. 

 

thank you nancy and genie

Robin Williams - May you Rest In Peace by !efatima, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  !efatima 

All of my life I have experienced mood swings. For years I thought my emotions were something I had to fight, to stop from appearing when anyone else was in the room. After all, in grade school my lack of control gained me the very unwelcome nickname Crybaby.

In high school and college, I attributed my mood swings to the normal process of growing up. I still found I would cry at the first sign of a sad story – or at a perceived slight from friends. My friends told me I was too sensitive.

Then I got married. And still the mood swings happened. I read somewhere that birth control pills sometimes caused depression, so I stopped taking them and instead settled for an IUD. But the periods of depression continued, followed often then by extreme happiness – euphoria. But I noticed the moods were cyclical, so I concluded the cause was chemical, hormonal. And I was happy enough to know that the depression would be followed by happiness and I thought nothing more of it.

But as I exchanged my stable lifestyle of living in the same community year after year for a career that required I move every two or three years, depression followed each move. I just waited for it to stop even when I couldn’t see the cycles any more. I just waited.

If I hadn’t ended up working in a place with two Registered Nurses, Nancy and Genie, my life would probably have continued with the occasional mood swings. And I would have clung onto the expectation that the depression would be followed by happiness. But when the dark moods hit, I would turn to Nancy and Genie to see if one of them had a cigarette (I had stopped smoking but I knew what comfort the first drag would bring me) or valium. Thankfully, the two of them realized neither was a productive way for me to deal with the moods or, as I insisted on referring to it, the stress. So without telling me, they called in an expert, the regional psychiatrist, to talk with me about the mood swings. He told me about options to deal with the swings – more specifically the depression – in less destructive ways. With my consent, he prescribed anti-depression medication.

That was in 1998. After about three months, I told Genie that I now knew what it was like to be happy. What I had considered happiness, except for those years when I experienced euphoria, was really just the absence of the depression.

I have been taking one anti-depression medication or another ever since, except for a couple of drug holidays that I took without talking with any doctor about. In both instances, I was fine for about two months, and then the irritability would return. And I would go back to taking the pills.

Yesterday I took part in a three-hour session at my church about depression. The suicide of Robin Williams was the provoking act for the session being scheduled. I hadn’t planned to attend. After all, I knew that the regional psychiatrist I met with back in 1998 said he believed that I could avoid being diagnosed with clinical depression by taking medication. So I didn’t think I was really depressed.

How deluded I had been. The presenter of the session yesterday is a clinical psychiatrist who talked about the full range of depressions – she was very careful to use the plural form during most of the session. And one of the conditions on the spectrum she described fits me perfectly – dysthymia.

Dysthymia is inherited. It presents in adolescence but is rarely diagnosed then because everyone knows adolescents are dealing with hormonal changes. And dysthymia is the only form of depression that does not respond to medication over a limited period of time. It requires taking medication over an entire lifetime. Drug holidays just don’t work for dysthymia.

So thank you Nancy and Genie, for noticing that my mood swings were not normal and that my handling of the darkness, the stress, was destructive. Thank you for bringing in an expert who could provide a solution. Thank you for caring enough to do something.

fireside chat with audrey kletscher helbling

Today’s Daily Prompt from WordPress is “What person whom you don’t know very well in real life would you like to have over for a long chat in which they tell you their life story?”

Since taking part in WordPress Blogging 101 last November, I have been following a number of bloggers, all of whom provide food-for-thought on a variety of topics. But I find myself drawn most often to Audrey Kletscher Helbling’s blog Minnesota Prairie Roots. Reading her posts feels like sitting at the kitchen table across from a friend, with a fresh cup of steaming coffee and a piece of apple crisp in front of each of us. There is so much to look forward to: the warmth of the coffee, the taste of cinnamon and apples, and the promise of an interesting conversation.

Audrey’s posts include photos of everyday items – buildings she passes frequently, especially when she notices changes, such as the changes in a small town in Wisconsin. She includes photos of people, people who may otherwise may be unnoticed, people like Layton Fossum whose positive attitude inspired those around him during his too short life. Audrey’s posts remind me of home, the home I couldn’t wait to get away from for the first 20 years of my life and that I find myself longing for now that the average life expectancy of my ancestors indicate I am likely in the last 20 years of my life.

Audrey’s blog goes back to July 15, 2009. And her posts are regular – at least one a day. That’s impressive and inspiring.

If I had the opportunity to sit down around the fireplace to talk with Audrey, mugs of coffee or hot spiced apple cider in hand, I know it would be a long conversation. I have so many questions. One is this: just how does she do it, every day for more than five years?