The other day a colleague mentioned we should hold a small party for a someone who would be leaving our section of the Consulate for another and in the process toast “the 10,000 club.” I must have had a quizzical look on my face as she went on to explain that surely I too am a member of the 10,000 club – the club for Consular Officers who have adjudicated at least 10,000 visas. She mentioned it’s a pretty big deal to be a part of this club as not all officers get there.
I do not think this club is a real club. I doubt there are secret handshakes and induction ceremonies or even awards and recognition. (Or I have yet to receive my engraved invitation!) It is just a way for some of us to participate in a little self-congratulation for having reached a milestone, an often unsung one, in our Foreign Service Officer careers. So yes, I am a Foreign Service Officer. And yes, that means I am a diplomat. Right now though my specific position is that of Vice Consul and what I do is interview visa applicants and adjudicate their cases.
All U.S. Foreign Service Officers spend at least one year of their careers adjudicating visas. Often officers spend a full two-year tour doing so and increasingly, as there is a rising demand for visas to tour, work, study, and live in the U.S. particularly from countries such as China or Brazil, some officers spend three or four years of their careers adjudicating visas. That is what I will be doing. I have spent two years here in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico adjudicating visas. I spent my first 14 months working in the Immigrant Visa (IV) section and then my last nine in the Non-Immigrant Visa (NIV) section.* I head next to Shanghai, China where I will work my entire 2 years in NIV (unless I am the lucky recipient of a rotation to another section such as American Citizen Services). I will work in two countries with a lot of demand for visas. Basically, I am going to adjudicate A LOT of visas.
Did I join the Foreign Service to adjudicate visas? Well no, not exactly. I joined as a Political-coned officer right from the test registration. However, adjudicating visas is part of the process of becoming one. I’ll be honest here, no need to sugar coat it, there are days this is hard to do. Day in and day out interviewing people “on the line” can be mentally and physically draining. On the IV side, the cases can be emotionally draining as well. I have cases from the IV side I will never forget – some because they were so heartwarming and some because they were so heartbreaking. With IV cases, which are very paper intensive, we are generally expected to conduct 5 interviews an hour. With a 5-6 hour interview day, that is 25-30 interviews a day. Mission Mexico standards for the NIV side are 80 interviews and 40 interview waiver cases per day, though in many posts other than Juarez the sheer volume of applicants is so high that officers are interviewing more like 120 or 150 applicants a day.
Soon after my arrival in Juarez, just before the end of the fiscal year 2012, Mission Mexico reached 2 million visa applications (and issued about 1.3 million NIV visas)! The only other countries to currently issue more than a million visas a year are China (Hello, second post in Shanghai!) and Brazil.
And so today, yes the very day that I am posting this, I reached and surpassed 15,000 NIV visa adjudications. From my IV time I adjudicated just a few short of 4,000 and exactly 100 fiancé visas. I have only a few days left in Juarez but I have two more years in Shanghai – so the 10,000 club is just the first of many milestones I will reach.
*Yeah, so 14 months and 9 months do not equal 24, but rather 23 months. It’s true. I have not lost all my math skills since joining the State Department. I arrived in late July 2012 and I depart 1 July 2014. It is all perfectly legit.