The Foreign Service Journal, December 2019

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2019 35 William R. Rivkin Award for a Mid-Level Officer Anna Boulos Reforming the Visa Lookout Accountability Process W hile serving in Tijuana, Consular Officer Anna Boulos challenged Mission Mexico’s consular manage- ment over policies and practices that exposed adjudicators to an increased number of Visa Lookout Accountability violations, which, in turn, harmed their chances for tenure and promotion. Consular officers are trained to carefully use the Visa Lookout system and to avoid VLA viola- tions, which occur when an officer fails to prop- erly resolve derogatory information about a visa candidate before issuing a visa. They work hard to avoid issuing a visa to an applicant ineligible under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Careful adjudications are vital, but adjudica- tion can be more difficult when considering the complex immigration histories of those who have held H-2 visas for seasonal work and have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border for many years in connection with that work. H-2 visas allow individuals to work temporarily in the United States in certain sectors, including the agri- cultural industry. Because of the importance of timely H-2 visa issuance to Congress and the White House, Mission Mexico’s consular management prioritized processing H-2 visas quickly. In 2018, Mission Mexico performed 13.8 percent of all adjudications worldwide in all visa categories, but its officers accounted for more than 30 percent of the VLA violations recorded that year. Ms. Boulos challenged Mission Mexico’s centralized consular management procedures in a letter to AFSA that was signed by 60 current and former Mission Mexico entry-level adjudicators. She highlighted the perception that Mission Mexico prioritized visa processing speed over critical assessment and therefore, for example, had adjudicators inter- viewing five to 10 H-2 applicants at once. Adjudicators were instructed to issue H-2 renewals without an interview if derogatory information had been previously addressed. This policy violated regulations and exposed officers to VLA violations if the original adjudicator made a mistake. Ms. Boulos requested AFSA’s assistance to advocate for reforms to VLA procedures within the Visa Office at post and to advocate for improved disciplinary procedures for officers who received VLA violations with the Office of Employee Rela- tions’ conduct, suitability and discipline division in Washing- ton, D.C. COURTESYOFANNABOULOS Anna Boulos speaks at the AFSA Awards Ceremony Oct. 16. AFSA/JOAQUINSOSÁ Above, Robert Rivkin (left) presents Anna Boulos with the William R. Rivkin Award at the AFSA Awards Ceremony Oct. 16. Left, Anna Boulos in Tijuana in early 2019. AFSA/JOAQUINSOSÁ 2019 CONSTRUCTIVE DISSENT AWARDS