The making of a Consular Officer part 2

I’ve been here two and a half months. Most of the first week is spent getting your bearings and going through a rather detailed check in process at the Embassy and I did my first visa interviews about nine weeks ago. I’ve been here long enough that I know everyone now and am no longer the FOB FNG. There are people here who are newer than me and I’ve seen some friends leave as they transfer on to their next assignment.  That’s kind of disappointing, just as you are getting to know people, they leave, but that’s the nature of the job. I’m happy that the new section chief and one of the other officers and I arrived at roughly the same time to provide some good continuity in our section.

The new officer is replacing a colleague who’s been my mentor these last few months. It’s exciting to have the new guy here; we’d met in DC before I left so that adds to the fun factor, and the departing colleague is still going to be at the embassy, just transferring to a different section for her second year of the tour.  She’s been a great friend, patiently enduring my non-stop questions and desires to probe the edges of knowledge and rationale for why things are the way they are.

I’ve gotten very comfortable asking a lot of questions, but I realize now that its time for me start to be a bit more self-reliant. We got a new section  chief a couple weeks ago which is great to have, as we’d been operating without one just as a scheduling gap. My more experienced colleagues did a great job of running things but it is nice for them to hand off those extra responsibilities as well as to have the veteran guidance. I’ve noticed that I’ve been a bit of a burden on her though, since I naturally turn to the boss for questions but she’s still settling into the role and learning how things work in the section as well as the unique aspects of the job associated with working in Nigeria.

The Foreign Service seeks people who are independent, self-reliant, and able to deal with things on their own as needed. I’m comfortable with those expectations and responsibilities, but the nature of this job in particular requires that you hold back long enough to make sure you actually know what you are doing. US law is pretty comprehensive and it makes our job easier in a way.  Pretty much every scenario you’ll ever encounter is covered with some pretty good reference material that helps you understand how to apply the law.  But because it is the law and the decisions I make have a very real effect on people, I really want to get it right, you know? There are considerations when making an adjudication as well as general processes with the workings of the embassy.  I was also aware that my sectionmate in the desk next to mine was leaving for a different section in September and I wanted to get as much from her as I could. She was very patient, thankfully.

I realize that many of my questions recently have been more of the confirmation variety than of the clueless type. It always bugs my wife when I ask questions to just confirm my suspicions or expectations, but confirming what I think know gives me the confidence then to run with it once I know I’ve got it locked down. There is still plenty that I don’t know, but I’ve done a couple thousand visa adjudications, I’ve got a pretty good sense of what is going on. The new officer is going to depend on me for help and the chief needs me to step up as well.

I don’t really talk in specifics for a couple of reasons. The U.S. has very clear prohibitions on violating the privacy of others, be they employees, U.S. citizens, or visa applicants.  We have a very transparent visa process and there’s not great secret about how we make our decisions, but its important not to talk in specifics to avoid either violating privacy or revealing something that would provide applicants with an edge or a motivation to try to game the system. Many times ineligible applicants want more detail about why their application was denied. We can tell them that they don’t overcome the assumption of intending immigration (which is an assumption made about every applicant that they must overcome through the application process and interview). But there aren’t any magic bullets that will automatically qualify you for a visa, so if we provide any more detail, some applicants will believe that THAT is all that is needed and tailor their application (sometimes by misrepresenting themselves) in a certain way.  This information also gets shared among the applicant community and it isn’t fair to them or the officers who have to then shift through more crud to get to the underlying issues.

This has been kind of a rambling post (but if you’ve been reading this blog, you’re probably used to that).  I just wanted to try to explain how I’ve gone from the bewildered new guy trying to remember everything from the training to someone who knows is feeling comfortable assuming the mantle that is expected of me.  It’s exciting and to be honest, a proud development.

I absolutely love this job, in a general sense. I’m happy to be serving my country, I’m happy to be doing visas in Nigeria even though it is a pretty demanding job, I’m really really happy with the people I work with. Other than the obvious drawbacks of being separated from my family, I got no complaints, at least not yet.  We’ll see how well I hold up over the next 11 cycles of 2 months.

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