But The Consulate Said…

When I write my “how-to” book about the consular practice aspect of immigration law, the title will be “But The Consulate Said…” This is because I am saddened and amazed at how often visa applicants receive either inadequate or simply inaccurate information from a consulate. While there may be disagreement as to the causes of this problem, the fact remains that the problem exists. This is due to various factors, only six of which I will mention here:

  1. First, immigration law is complex, yet clients want simple answers. Most of the time this is just not possible. Asking what it takes to obtain a Green Card is like asking a doctor what it takes to perform surgery; the answer is “it depends on the facts of the individual case”.
  2. These days it is exceedingly rare for a caller to be able to speak with an actual U.S. diplomat (known as an FSO, or Foreign Service Officer), rather than a local employee (known as an LES, or Locally Employed Staff). In fact, in Germany callers can now only speak to outside contractors who man the telephone center; they don’t even reach LES. Regardless of with whom they speak, however, a key fact remains: the provider of the information is not an advocate, and thus has only limited incentive to help find a solution to the inquirer’s problem.
  3. The staffs at all U.S. embassies and consulates are terribly overworked; they often do not have the time or resources to do their jobs properly. This is another reason why they sometimes cannot help even when they want to do so.
  4. Not only do time constraints prevent the consular staff from learning all of the facts of a particular case, but in the case of FSO’s, their prior postings may lead them to rarely give the benefit of the doubt. For example, if an FSO’s first posting was in a country with a high fraud rate, such as India or the Philippines, then for the rest of her career she will be inclined to give much less credibility to an applicant in a questionable case than if her first posting was in a country such as Japan, where the fraud rate is very low.
  5. Applicants may state a fact which they believe to be innocent or of no importance, yet under the law may be very damaging. There is no such thing as an “off the record” remark to a consular official.
  6. Germans rightly expect their civil servants to be knowledgeable about their jobs and the government regulations affecting the programs they administer. When a German asks a government clerk for information, he can count on receiving the correct answer. Unfortunately, that expectation extends to their dealings with consular officials, and here they are often unfounded. A combination of thirty years’ worth of “government bashing” by conservatives, reduced resources, and unfortunate changes in the State Department’s recruitment and promotion policies have led many of the most qualified people to leave Government service as soon as possible, and to make potential new employees look for jobs in the private sector. The result is that many consular officials are simply not equal to the task.