Back when I was working in the NIV (non-immigrant visa, or tourist visa) section, a common part of the interview was to ask people about their jobs. In Juarez, a major source of employment is the assembly factory industry, known locally as maquiladoras. Massive operations they are; we took a tour of one of the larger ones in the city and I was awed by the organization, division and sub-division of labor on such a large scale. One of the jobs many people have is that of Group Leader, or in Spanish known as Jefe de grupo. As the title suggests, this person generally leads a small working group and acts as the link between that little pod of workers and others.
This month I am Jefe de grupo, or more correctly the feminine version - Jefa de grupo, of our IV (immigrant visa) section. It's a rotation that any officer with six months on the line can volunteer for and it means stepping away from the interview window for the month and picking up the fire extinguisher. USCG Ciudad Juarez processes 20% of the world's immigrant visas (not Mexico's - the world's!) and therefore we're a pretty busy place. Therefore the new position felt overwhelming at first, facing the unending stream of people needing assistance all day (and I mean "unending" it the literal, non-exagerrated sense). Whether it's responding to requests to reinstate visa petitions that have had no activity for a year, correcting printing errors on visas, assigning tasks to the line officers, trouble-shooting system errors with our IT departments, communicating to the line officers about the daily workload, working with our managers about staffing shortages or making decisions on cases for officers who have moved on - the work flows in from all directions and has to be continually re-prioritized, or triaged.
Fortunately, I now find the stream of requests invigorating as they require either simple actions I don't have to think too much about, or real puzzles where I need to consult any number of people to solve. Through this problem-solving, I'm gaining a better understanding of the whole process of immigrant visas: from first petition in the U.S. to the final printing and delivery of the finished product here in Mexico. While I miss hearing the day-to-day stories from our applicants via the interview window, the management challenges are stretching other mental muscles. It's also putting me in direct contact with all sections of our own maquiladora that is the Consulate floor, and the other jefes de grupo to help solve problems, plus it's nice now to have more names behind the familiar faces.
The closest approximation from my prior life is restaurant work, especially working as a hostess. The guests continually came through the door hungry and hopeful, everyone wanted a window table, all the waiters were "too busy to take another table now," the cooks were shouting to get the food out faster, the bar tenders needed more ice, clean glasses or change for a hundred dollar bill and we'd inevitably run out of the prime rib. Honestly, the survival skills learned in that setting are keeping me alive now.
Lesson learned once again: the actual work of diplomacy, in all its facets, can't easily be replicated, but all the tools needed can be picked up in any number of places.
Until next time, back to the factory!