Sunday, June 11, 2017

Life Seen Through the Visa Window

I have now spent four years adjudicating non-immigrant (NIV) and immigrant visas (IV) in two countries, two languages, two cultures. 

At the NIV window, I have heard every story imaginable about why people want to visit the United States: from vacations in New York, Miami and Vegas to routine business meetings with headquarters; from cotton-pickers going to Arkansas to fish processors in Alaska; from PhD students in theoretical mathematics headed to M.I.T. to ESL learners going community college in Chicago; from teens competing in robotics competitions to one President; and along the way - about a billion exchange visitors coming to an amusement park or life guard chair near you. I've evaluated investors' business plans for a franchise in Texas or a start-up in San Diego.  I helped seamen get to their ships to bring our stuff from one place to another and saw pensioners' photos of the grandchildren they'll visit in Detroit. 

At the IV window I've heard (and seen the pictures) of how people met their fiance or spouse, how often they talk on the phone and what their wedding plans are. I've reviewed their criminal records, read about their medical conditions, noted how many tattoos they had and what they depicted, untangled how they entered the U.S. hidden in the trunk of a car and listened to the plans of Diversity Visa lottery winners settling in a country perhaps they've never before seen. I've told kids that I can't issue them an immigrant visa because actually, unbeknownst to their parents, they are already U.S. citizens. They say that adjudicating IVs has higher highs and lower lows and I've seen my decisions cause all types of tears: from issuing visas to parents who can now reunite lawfully with their families, to those who are permanently barred from entering the United States due to certain immigration law violations.

I've been flat-out lied to by ATM skimmers and gang members and have had the pleasure of refusing (or later revoking) their visas when the truth comes to light. I learned that when you let people talk by simply listening, most are surprisingly frank, especially those who've lived unlawfully in the U.S. for many years, as if finally admitting it out loud to an immigration official relieves them of a heavy burden. I just keep a flat expression and nod as they tell me their secrets. Every day someone makes me laugh and someone makes me shake my head in wonder.  Every day is the same job and every day is a different set of stories. 

There is a space on the visa application where they describe their current (or past) job. My all-time favorite was from a pensioner my colleague interviewed who simply wrote: 
"I made hats. Many hats. Maybe 600 hats." 

Summing up this tour, I follow his example.

I adjudicated visas. Many visas. Maybe 31,000 visas.