Rarely have I had the opportunity to see three consular posts so clearly juxtaposed as I have over the past two weeks in dealing with Tashkent, Moscow, and Jakarta. The experience only reinforces the notion that it is the decisionmakers and consular managers who drive visa policy, not the other way around.
Tashkent has come a long way since we filed a Complaint with the Department of State Office of Inspector General in 2008. Tashkent is a post with numerous challenges, including fraud, Lottery intermediaries extorting money from Lottery winners, visa overstays, and operating in a relatively poor country. David Mico, the Consul from 2010 to 2012, was a very good manager who kept an open mind in reviewing visa applications and decisions. He was not afraid to correct a mistake made by a consular officer. His replacement, Otto Westhassel, has followed this tradition by re-opening visa decisions when convincing new evidence is presented reflecting an error in a visa decision (e.g., a sham marriage finding, education qualifications). The DV-2012 program wound down the last week of September, and Mr. Westhassel and his staff worked tirelessly in reviewing as many applications as possible and giving a fair shake to any selectee who had an application under consideration.
This stands in stark contrast with Moscow, which continues to sit on USCIS-approved H, L, O, and EB-5 petitions; impermissibly readjudicate those approvals, sending them back to USCIS for revocation; and refuses to re-open visa applications when convincing evidence is presented to reflect consular errors. Doron Bard, the Consul General, and Bill Bistransky, the NIV Chief, run an insular operation, where consular ”infallibility” reigns and third parties are deemed to be unnecessary interlopers.
Just this past week another successful Russian businessman L-1 applicant had his petition returned to USCIS for revocation after more than three months of review. A different Russian visa applicant found herself in the middle of a consular shell game. This student visa applicant, who had already completed three years of US university and was on track to graduate, returned to Russia during the summer of 2011. After that, over the course of 12 months, she was denied three times. While the consular officers would not tell her explicitly, she was able to deduce that she was being accused of illegally working in a NY nightclub; this despite the fact that she had spent a grand total of nine hours in NY (on a flight layover). When she attempted to present information and documents confirming her story, the consular officers refused to accept any evidence. (Prologue: To Mr. Bard’s credit, the consular section finally agreed to accept evidence from her, after we had written to Mr. Bard on her behalf this week.) This comes on top of a recent case where Moscow, over the course of more than a half year, actively concealed from an applicant erroneous information in its database about a SEVIS violation. This is how Moscow shows “respect” for applicants and treats them with “dignity”, as required by the Department’s Customer Service Statement.
Moscow is bad; Jakarta is ugly. We recently represented an Indonesian visa applicant whose daughter is a US citizen. Her daughter is married to a US service member, who is being deployed on a carrier in January. The couple has two American citizen children, and sought to have her mother visit her daughter and grandchildren while he was being deployed. She had no interest in immigrating to the US; because her daughter is a US citizen she could do so quickly and easily. But because she has five other children in Indonesia and several grandchildren there, and lives comfortably, she only wanted to visit for six months and return to Indonesia. But she was denied under Section 214(b), and told flatly to apply to immigrate. In other words, she was told that she must immigrate if she wants to see her daughter and grandchildren in the US. In a follow-up conversation, the Consul General, Thurmond Borden, advised me that one of the reasons for the denial was because her daughter had remained in the US to marry a US citizen after receiving a B visa. The implication was clear: we are punishing this visa applicant – and keeping her away from her daughter and her grandchildren – because of her daughter’s “transgression”.
The above is just a microcosm of what visa applicants are dealing with all around the world on an everyday basis – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Unfortunately, there is still way too much “bad and ugly” in the way that consular officers treat visa applicants.
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