The Foreign Service Journal, September 2010

6 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 0 Interviews Matter I really appreciated Richard Silver’s article, “Why Consular Interviews Mat- ter,” in the June issue. I’m a consular- coned officer who did two straight consular tours in Yerevan and Paris be- fore my current out-of-cone excursion. Reading the article made me miss working at the visa window. I still remember the pep talk we got in A-100 from Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Maura Harty about how important it is to be the face of America to visa applicants. I have al- ways taken that to heart, and I’ve been well served by it. I’ve never done the kind of follow- up Silver did, but I’ve had a few “walk toward the light” interviews where I found the applicant qualified by taking some more time for an interview in what would normally have been a slam- dunk refusal. I find these situations one of the most rewarding parts of the job. Thank you for reminding all of us why it is important sometimes to take a little more time and get it right, and how rewarding consular work can be if you look at it the right way. Jeff Gringer Economic Officer Embassy Islamabad A Consular Case Study After reading Edward Alden’s fasci- nating contribution in the June issue, “Remembering Mary Ryan,” I would observe that it is a pity that State did not revoke the Christmas Day bomber’s tourist visa. However, in his sidebar, “What Went Wrong with the Nigerian Bomb- er,” Alden does not investigate the cen- tral question: Why was a visa issued in the first place? Why was an out-of- district “tourist” (especially one from a country with such a high rate of visa fraud) “visaed” in London, instead of being told to apply in his home country where authorities knew him best? To reduce the chances of future dis- asters, this case should be used by the State Department as a teaching oppor- tunity: release the documents that ac- companied this visa application, exam- ine their soundness, and ask why the consular officer, if not Embassy Lon- don and the department itself, felt compelled to issue. Were there letters of recommenda- tion from institutional and governmen- tal authorities such as congressional letters of interest? Were there affi- davits of support? If so, who wrote them? If the documentation was thin, the question resonates even more loudly: Why was this visa ever issued? The issue of terrorism aside, a Jus- tice Department immigration official recently stated on C-SPAN that 30 to 40 percent of illegal immigrants come to the U.S. not over the Mexican border, but with visas in hand. To this retired FSO—who has writ- ten letters to members of Congress and op-ed columns asking that sunlight be shone on the Abdulmutallab visa case and never received a substantive reply — it appears that, on both counts of terrorism and illegal immigration, our visa defenses were down in London, if not worldwide. Heaven forbid that they are still down. Richard W. Hoover FSO, retired Front Royal, Va. Consular Revolution Ann B. Sides’ opening sentence in her June article, “The Consular Revo- lution,” set the stage for her own piece and the rest of the issue. The sidebar, about a typical day 25 years ago, must have set many heads nodding as read- ers recalled their own consular section days that will live in infamy (for any number of reasons). Each of the other articles provided insights that enlighten all of us on the new realities of consular work and the efforts to deal with almost unthinkable challenges. I especially appreciated the assessment ofMary Ryan, whose tenure encompassed a period when terrorism created conditions for the consular pro- fession that demanded new skills hardly contemplated in the past. Those of us in Mary’s generation, schooled inmaintaining a healthy skep- ticism of visa applicants’ motives, could L ETTERS